Virat Kohli – The pretender and the throne!

Virat Kohli

“Anushka Sharma ke saath T20 mein busy hoga to Test kaise khelega Kohli….” – the tweet read. The claws are out, the knives are sharpened and operation ‘dethrone Virat Kohli’ has begun.

Cricket is a cruel game – first it giveth and then it taketh away.

Welcome to Test cricket Virat Kohli.

Let’s go back a few days. When India landed in England, not many expected them to win the series. Forget the series, most didn’t expect them to win a single Test. They weren’t entirely wrong. India was on a ‘no win in 14-away Tests’ sequence and according to the experts, this MS Dhoni-led Indian contingent lacked the stomach for a fight and lost their mojo when win stared them in the eye.

The experts were divided in their opinion about India’s fortunes and raised concerns about India’s weaknesses. The opening batsmen were a mess, the middle order was brittle, the bowling was juvenile and the captain had question marks and an arrest warrant hanging over his head.

However, if there was one issue that everyone was confident about, it was Virat Kohli tightening his perch at the sacred number in the batting order and rising to the fore as India’s saviour.

But as Sir Geoffrey Boycott says, “cricket is a foony game”.

1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28 – three Tests into the series, Virat Kohli is yet to hit a fifty and is struggling to come in terms with the rigors of Test cricket. Clearly, the Delhi lad has landed in the worst slump of his life and poor Anushka Sharma keeps trending every time he walks back to the hut.

That’s India. When Kohli scored those pompous hundreds, his alliances with the Bollywood divas were acts of bravado but now, his flirts around the off-stump are a direct result of his association with Anushka Sharma.

How?

Don’t ask me, that’s the story for the gossip columns and the ‘hit-crazy’ so-called sports websites.

But Kohli is struggling. He is struggling to get his basics right and England is reaping rewards of that. In fact, it was in New Zealand where he first showed glimpses of minor glitches creeping into his technique, especially around the off-stump.

Kohli has a solid technique and he meets the ball with a straight bat. He is light on his feet and has positive and decisive movements. He either goes back and across and gets behind the line of the ball, else stretches right forward. His bat comes down straight and his immensely strong wrists impart power and direction to his shots.

All that works brilliantly when the ball is within the stumps. Bowl him on his legs, he will flick you through mid-wicket. Bowl him on the off-stick and be ready to be scorched through the covers.

The problem begins when Kohli is forced to play around his fifth stump in the ‘corridor of uncertainty’.The corridor of uncertainty is the best line to bowl to any batsman but Kohli seems to have developed a weakness around that.

In India, where the ball doesn’t move off-the-track, he can stand up, trust the bounce and slap the ball with a straight bat. In England, it’s a little tough. The ball not only swings but does things off-the-pitch as well.

So, even if one covers for the swing, the seam off-the-track makes it move a tad bit more and if one scrutinizes Kohli’s dismissals this series, him trying to compensate for that extra half-an-inch of movement is evident.

In Trent Bridge, the ball was short-of-good length. If it was in India, Kohli would have stood up and cracked it through covers but at the Bridge, it moved and Kohli had to cover for that. As a result, the feet jammed, the hands took over, the bat face opened and the ball found the edge.

The 1st innings in Southampton saw a similar poke and roll back a few months, Hamish Bennett forced exactly the same dismissal.

In Lord’s he got a cracker of a delivery but go back to the 2nd innings at Trent Bridge, Kohli messed up his basics again.

Stuart Broad kept it in the ‘corridor’ but this time, the ball jagged back in. Kohli was already covering for the ball moving away, so he went across rather than going forward. The seam movement made his head fall towards the off and sent the balance for a toss. The bat swooshed in front of the pads and he was a dead duck!

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Kohli is an aggressive batsman who wants to dictate the flow of the game and he has the skill to offer the most audacious strokes to good deliveries. That’s what makes him a special batsman, that’s what makes him India’s best batsman and that’s why he is the heir to the throne.

But at times, the audacity blinds one towards their weaknesses and exposes them to the world. That’s exactly what has happened to Virat Kohli. He has become a victim of his own strengths and now he is gifting his wicket to Moeen Ali.

Virat Kohli is a sensational ODI player but in the Test arena, he is still a newbie. It’s tough to score runs in Tests but when you inherit the spot in the Indian line-up, it gets tougher. The glitches cloud the mind and the string of low scores dents the confidence.

And then the real test begins.

For the last three years, Kohli has hardly failed. He broke records at will and dazzled the cricket world with his repertoire of amazing strokes. He chased down unthinkable scores with ridiculous ease and had exceeded almost every expectation.

Finally, he has hit a wall and may be this slump was a required reality check for the stylish right-hander.

It’s time to dig deeper because now, a 350-chase at Mohali is a passé. Now, India wants him to do a Chennai 136, a Perth 114, a Cape Town 169, a Jo’burg 111 and even may be a Sydney 241.

Kohli has passed the ‘test of skills’ emphatically but now it’s time for the tougher questions. He has already become one of the most dissected batsmen around the world and the teams are ready with their traps.

It’s time for Kohli to step up and destroy those traps. It’s time for him to dig himself out after falling into one. He has already displayed what he can do when he is in form. It’s time he illustrates what he can do when he isn’t in form!

One man did all that for 24-years and suddenly all the records of that diminutive Mumbaikar seem monumental. Suddenly the number four spot feel like a  throne of thorns. Suddenly, the pretender looks out of his depth.

Suddenly India is missing Sachin Tendulkar…Again!

England v India: Lord’s, MS Dhoni and a bunch of trolls!

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What exactly happened at Lord’s yesterday?

Even the best of script writers would struggle to match up to what transpired at Lord’s in that hour after lunch.

Take a step back and your mind off that hour. The Lord’s Test match has been weird.

A green pitch turned into a dust bowl in a matter of four days, Murali Vijay scripted one of best Test knocks of the year, Bhuvneshwar Kumar switched on the Jacques Kallis mode, MS Dhoni pulled out his gully cricket fundas, Ishant Sharma delivered a devastating spell and Ravi Jadeja turned into a cult figure.

After replaying the five days of cricket at Lord’s in my mind, am pretty certain that something serious went down in the player’s tunnel at Trent Bridge.

Cast your minds back.

When was the last time, you’ve seen an all-out attack from an Indian team?

After the Monkey-gate, may be.

But when was the last time have you seen an Indian team launch such a brutal attack on an opposition?

And when was the last time have you seen an Indian team lay out a plan and execute it so perfectly?

The series started a bit differently though. Trent Bridge was timid. On a flat deck, both teams were happy dancing in the ring while swaying away from each other. No serious punches were thrown and no one was hurt. It was a win-win for both teams because the criticisms were hurled at the groundsmen while the praises were showered on the players.

Then something happened.

“It’s not something that we have done. Let’s realise the fact. Like in a press conference you can ask me tough questions. I have the right to answer them or not to answer them, but in no way can I go and touch you. Or you can come and touch me. You can put it in whatever way you want to but there are certain things that need to be followed, and it should be followed.” – MS Dhoni

When was the last time MS Dhoni spoke so freely in a press con?

Play the video and listen to him, again. This time forget the words; focus on the intent behind those words. He was angry and when he said, – “It was good on Jadeja’s part to not really do something.” – One felt that India was gearing up for a stern reply.

England was ready too.  In complete contrast to Trent Bridge, they prepared a lush green ‘we-are-coming-for-you’ pitch at Lord’s. They even snatched the advantage when the coin came down in their favour.

But that was the end of that. From there on it was all India. Out of the 14 sessions played in the Test match, India won an overwhelming nine.

And they did it with players whom even most of the Indian fans don’t fancy.

Ishant Sharma, Murali Vijay and Ravindra Jadeja – along with Rohit Sharma, these three form the famous quartet that dominates the social media whenever the Indian cricket team loses. In the recent months, Rohit Sharma has somehow managed to squeeze out of the group but these three still top the charts as the most trolled cricketers in India.

Ishant Sharma can’t bowl, Murali Vijay is the captain’s pet and Ravindra Jadeja is the alter ego of Rajnikanth. It has been the pattern and to be fair, not completely unjustified.

Ishant Sharma has been frustrating the Indian fans since that Australian summer. Murali Vijay irritates everyone by playing a horrible shot after a pretty twenty and Ravindra Jadeja behaves like the weather – brilliance coupled with devastation. However, despite bearing the wrath, the trolls and puns of the fans, these three continue to be an integral part of Team India.

The fans don’t like it but MS Dhoni does.

He is strange captain who does weird things. He puts his faith in the Joginder Sharmas, the Munaf Patels, the Piyush Chawlas and then churns out match winning performances. When it comes off, he looks brilliant but lately, his Midas touch had deserted him.

However, Lord’s seems to bring out the best in him. In 2011, he removed his pads and came on to bowl. He drew immense flak from all quarters for tinkering with the sanctity of the occasion but then he almost got Kevin Pietersen out. In 2013, he brought on a low-on-confidence Ishant Sharma to bowl the 17th over in the Champions Trophy finals and sealed the trophy for India.

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This time he took it up another notch. First, he played five batsmen on a green track, batted number six with his jugaad technique, stood up to the stumps for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and stood behind for Ravindra Jadeja.

If this wasn’t enough, he played his wild card just before lunch on Day 5 – the short ball strategy. Bouncing a team out is luxury for teams like Australia and South Africa.

They do because they can.

Most batsmen aren’t too thrilled about a Dale Steyn or a Mitch Johnson hurling 90 miles/hour missiles at their head but when they see Ishant Sharma at the bowling mark, an unintentional smirk is bound to appear.

It could have gone all wrong. In fact, it started to. 20 runs in the first two overs and blurry images of Johannesburg and Wellington started to appear on the horizon. Joe Root was doing a Faf du Plessis while Matt Prior was reminding of a certain James Faulkner of Mohali.

But just when twitter was about to explode with Ishant Sharma puns, the Delhi-lad got one right. It climbed on Prior, got the top edge and found Vijay in the deep. Ishant stood in the centre of pitch letting out a war cry while MS Dhoni leapt at least two feet off the ground, punched the air in a rare display of celebration.

What followed next was carnage. England gave India a foot in the door and MS Dhoni blasted them open at the Mecca of cricket.

28 years is a long time and to fail over those 28 years makes it even longer.

Even this year, India was not supposed to win. India was supposed roll over on a green pitch without a fight. Alastair Cook was supposed to go up and face Mike Atherton with an ‘I-have-got-this-covered-bro’ smile. Lord’s was set up for England to get them back on their feet but India cut them off from their knees.

India won because they bullied England. England was ready for Virat Kohli’s greatness but India threw Vijay’s resolve, Pujara’s solidity, Rahane’s resilience, Bhuvi’s silent brilliance, Jadeja’s swagger and Ishant’s valour at them.

MS Dhoni has won a lot for India. He has won every possible trophy a cricket team can but 21 July 2014, will be a very special day for the Indian captain because it was not only about breaking the 15-match away Test jinx for him, it was about scripting a fairy-tale on the hallowed turf with a bunch of unfancied trolls.

P.S.: India 1-0 England but Jadeja 3-0 Anderson.

The Indians not only have their noses ahead in the battle, they are winning the war as well!

Refreshing the sporting world – the green canvas and the colour white!

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Wimbledon, British GP, MCC XI v ROW XI –  Now, that was quite a weekend for London. If you were in London and didn’t attend at least two of the three, then you’re leading a sad life.

With the Football World Cup approaching its business end, the first weekend of July had to be a dream come true for any sports enthusiast. Sports often meddles with your sleep and upsets the body clock but when all the action live up to their billing, sleep and early morning appointments take a back seat.

Just like it happened this weekend.

There was so much happening at one particular time that even with six television screens installed over my workstation, I struggled to keep up. There were way too many candies in the jar and I had to choose.

I did.

Saturday was devoted to the MCC game while on Sunday, the vocal cords geared up for Roger Federer. And right now, as I pen down this piece, I am glad that I made those choices.

Giving up the Grand Prix was tough but as soon as Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari crashed out, the moral dilemma parted and the focus shifted towards the contest between the King and the Djoker.

I am not a huge tennis fan but Wimbledon is different. Normally, I dip in and out of the other Grand Slams but Wimbledon has always had my full attention. May be because it was the tournament that introduced me to the world of lawn tennis.

The grass courts, the traditional green and purple coloured uniforms, the referring to players as “Mr.” and “Miss” and of course, the all white code elevates the Wimbledon to a different level all together and keeps a tennis noob like me hooked for hours.

The single-handed back hand of Roger Federer adds to menu but when one tops it off with the passion and vigor of a Novak Djokovic, the entrée reaches a divine level and the contests turns into spectacles.

And what a spectacle it was!

When you hit 30-odd aces and still end up on the losing side, you know your opponent has dished out something special and to beat Roger Federer, in Wimbledon, special isn’t enough.

Djokovic brought his ‘A+’ game to the table and displayed his class on and off field. If his tenacity on the court drew the applause, his – “Thanks Roger for letting me win” – speech earned him a few more stripes off it.

Saturday was a lot easier though. Cricket has always been higher up the preference ladder, so choosing ‘Sachin v Warne’ was quite easy. Although, I missed the beautiful Bouchard being butchered by Kvitova, the MCC match was more than just a game – it was a virtual time machine that threw me back into my childhood.

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Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Muralitharan, Rahul Dravid, Brett Lee – cricket’s finest came together at Lords to create its own ‘Expendables’.

Just like the movie, the story didn’t matter, the ensemble of cast and the premise did.

“Bas ek straight drive lag jaye yaar….” – I overheard in the office. Although, it turned out to be a solid 50-over contest, none of us were in it for a Saeed Ajmal magic spell or a demolition act from Aaron Finch.

Those happened, great! But it was all about that one last straight drive from Sachin Tendulkar, a crunching Brian Lara cover drive and Adam Gilchrist exclaiming – “Bauwling Shaiiine!!!” – from behind the stumps after a leg break turns square to beat the bat!

It was about an ageing Brett Lee running in at top speed and bespectacled Virender Sehwag punching the ball straight down the ground. It was about reminding you about your favourite Rahul Dravid moment when the 40-year-old snapped up a sharp chance at gully.

It was about the white flannels, the cable-knit jumpers, the county caps and about a thousand memories that flooded into one’s mind every time the camera panned on one of these stalwarts.

“We live in a cynical world…a cynical, cynical world, and we work in a business of tough competitors…” –  and this environment of cynicism and competition has turned us into not-so-likable people. We fight for selfish needs, bicker about our lives, snarl at other’s success and mock at our heroes on social media.

Although, we all reside in our own not-so-happy grey zones, the world has become very colourful. From iPhones to the IPL, everything around us is about flash and colour, and we have handpicked our tinted glasses through which we look at the world.

Then comes along a weekend that suddenly takes those glasses off our eyes, rolls back time and wipes away the entire palate.

It strips you naked of all the colour and you’re left with a host of incredible indelible memories and the colour white. You can’t lie in white, you can’t cheat in white because it’s so radiant that even the smallest speck of grime shows. It’s pure and it rinses even a Lou Vincent with innocence.

No, Tendulkar didn’t score a hundred. Warne didn’t bowl a single delivery. Lara didn’t light the world on fire, neither did Federer win the Wimbledon but this weekend, the sporting world was refreshed by the colour white adorning the greens of the Mecca of cricket and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

It’s simple, yet there’s something incredible about the colour white.