Shapoor Zadran and Hamid Hassan – the engines of the ‘Kabul Express’

Hamid Hassan - Fierce yet innocent!

Hamid Hassan – Fierce yet innocent!

1992: Wasim Akram

1996: Aravinda de Silva

1999: Lance Klusener

2003: Sachin Tendulkar

2007: Glen McGrath

2011: Yuvraj Singh

My list of stand out performers from the past World Cups.

World Cup 2015 has just begun but I already have got my pick of this edition — the Afghan pair of Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran. Forget AB de Villiers, Brendon McCullum and Virat Kohli, these two fast bowlers have already stolen the show Down Under.

There’s something about fast bowling.

All of us at some point in our lives have wished to be a fast bowler, not a medium-fast one but someone who charges in like Brett Lee and celebrates the ‘Shoaib Akhtar’ – way after sending the stumps flying.

Even Sachin Tendulkar wanted to become a fast bowler.

Fast bowling is a sight in itself — the long run up, the fluttering mane, the gravity defying jump, the windmill action of the arm and then, the follow-though ending up under the batsman’s nose accompanied by a cold stare.

I too, wanted to be…that.

I couldn’t. The hair was in place, the headband was bought, the new 10-spikes were raring to go but the wiry frame and a fragile lower back revolted.

It’s a difficult art to master but it’s uncomplicated. It’s physically taxing because the human body isn’t built for it. It’s mentally exhausting because the human mind isn’t programmed to race at that pace, yet in its act, it is simple — adrenaline over brains. That’s why although, fast bowling is dipped in a sea of masculinity, there’s an amazing innocence in fast bowlers.

Hamid Hassan is an example of that innocence.

In today’s age of cynicism, how many cricketers can put on a headband, wear face paint and still expect not to be laughed at?

It’s not easy to rock a headband unless you are John Rambo. Hassan dons a multi-coloured one. Not only that, he also paints his country’s flag on his cheeks.

Then, he bowls at 145 km/hr.

Now, that’s a serious package.

In most ways, Hassan is the modern avatar of Dennis Lillee — not in skills but in spirit. In an era where fast bowlers prefer the old ball to bowl change-ups and slower bouncers, Hassan runs in with the sole purpose of intimidation. Strong, fit and fierce, Hassan is an old school nasty fast bowler. A wicket-taker by nature, he doesn’t care about finesse. His brief is simple — steam in and hurl thunderbolts down at the batsmen. At full tilt, he has the ability to shatter the defences of Kumar Sangakkara.

He’s frightening while he runs in, yet he’s innocent. He tries the worst cartwheel celebrations of all time and gives the management a heart attack — again, lacks the skills but makes up in spirit.

Shapoor Zadran - the engine of the 'Kabul Express'

Shapoor Zadran – the engine of the ‘Kabul Express’

His partner-in-crime, Shapoor Zadran or ‘Shahpur’, as his jersey spells it, is a touch different. Already a superstar in the Afghan team, Zadran is the mirror image of Shoaib Akhtar.

Tall, strong with a flowing mop of unruly hair, Shapoor is a much improved version of Md. Irfan from Pakistan. While Irfan is still figuring out what to do with his height, Shapoor is scaling the TRP ratings in the cricket world. A favourite with the ladies, this Pathan is turning heads with both his smoldering looks and his performances. Like Hassan, Shapoor also belongs to the old school of fast bowling. By his own admission, he is always angry at the batsman and uses his rage as his main weapon.

However, it’s not the technicalities of their bowling that has ‘wow’-ed the fans and made this pair such a box office success in this World Cup.

There are quite a few deadly new ball bowling combinations going round the world right now — Southee and Boult, Steyn and Morkel, Mitch and Mitch, Anderson and Broad. Yet, none of these pairs offer what the Hassan-Zadran partnership does — the sheer “bad-assness” of fast bowling. The Steyns and the Andersons bowl the perfect channels but the engines of the ‘Kabul Express’ bowl you over with their infectious energy.

They put on a show and make it an elaborate one. They run in like steamrollers with bustling actions, they go over-the-top with their celebrations and with funny headbands and painted flags on their faces look juvenile but they have won hearts all around because they when they walk out, they wear their hearts on their sleeves.

World Cup 2015: Time to Bleed Blue…Again

India_World Cup

All set to Bleed Blue!

Defending Champions — sounds like a joke. Has any defending champion ever entered the World Cup as the least favourites to retain the trophy?

It’s depressing to watch the current Indian cricket team play. They are in shambles right now and going into the World Cup, this is the worst preparation ever. Forget winning, India have struggled to even last 100 overs in an ODI game.

The Test series was fine. There was grit, there was fight. The ODI tri-series, though, knocked the wind out of India. Australia delivered a painful combination to the gut and then England floored MS Dhoni’s men with a solid right hook.

This Indian team reminds me of my engineering college days — I knew what I had to do but I couldn’t do it. All I wanted was to get it over with. I lacked the aptitude but this Team India lack skills and cricketing acumen. The batting is at an all time low. The bowling, unbearable and even Suresh Raina is dropping catches.

It’s one thing to bowl badly but the Indian bowlers has crossed over into a different dimension. Watching them run up just to get smashed into next week, often makes me wonder – how can a group of individuals be so bad at something that they specialise in?

The batting has collapsed on numerous occasions. Shikhar Dhawan has gone into Rip van Winkle mode and no one knows if he’s ever going to wake up from his slumber. His partner, Rohit Sharma burns brightly for some time and then burns himself in the glare of his own talent.

Virat Kohli has now ended up with a string of six one digit scores in a row. In a previous article, I pointed out his technical flaws. As expected, the “Virat-ians” (whatever that means!) murdered me on social media. He’s scored a lot of runs in the last Test series but rewind to Brisbane — pace, bounce, caught in slips, played-on. Now, fast forward to the tri-series and the warm ups — pace, bounce, caught in slips and played-on.

Let’s leave Suresh Raina aside because sooner or later, he will top edge one while trying to hoick over mid-wicket. Ajinkya Rahane has been the only bright spot in this batting unit but then again, he has to play a bad shot after reaching a milestone. He was phenomenal in the Test matches but come the ODIs, he feels obligated to play that bad shot.

MS Dhoni hasn’t scored for a long time.His technique has been found wanting against the bouncing ball. His captaincy too, has been bland and he looks like the shadow of the man who lead us to the triumph of 2011.

Okay, end of rant. Let’s get reasonable now.

Let's stand behind the Men in Blue

Let’s stand behind the Men in Blue

Things are bad. Very bad. The injuries have made the situation even worse. With the opening game staring at India, most of us are certain that Dhoni doesn’t need to give back the World Cup, it will snatched away from him.

Every morning a former cricketer slams the Indian cricket team.They point fingers at the bowling, find faults in the batting or question the team selection. That’s their job, they are paid to say things and those who aren’t getting the fat cheques, those 350 words of scathing criticism gets the spotlight back on them.

The experts are skeptical. They always are but it’s disheartening to see the fans give up. India aren’t going to win the World Cup. Certainly not with THAT bowling but the fans just can’t give up.

Reminder: FAN 101 – Change your wife, your job, your car, your religion but never give up on your team because, in any sport, the fans are the soul of a team. Without them, a team is as empty as Rocky without Adrian.

The Indian cricket team fans have had a complicated relationship with MS Dhoni’s team. Most don’t even consider this team as Team India and would rather label it as Chennai Super Kings, version 2.0.

The team has let the fans down with their recent performance, no doubt. Every fan is hurt, including me but, in retrospect, we have let the team down as well. We have gone overboard with our criticism and have slandered the players beyond limits. We have mocked at their skills, bickered about their integrity and with someone like Stuart Binny, we have ripped him apart to the last shreds of his dignity.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s mighty tough to support a losing team but then, the concept of supporting a team is also irrational.

Yet, we do.

Our team is the magnification of our ambitions. We all want to be the best but most of us are failures in our lives. We aspire to fight our demons but lack the zeal or the courage. Our team does that for us — they fight, they win and that boosts our ego. We revel in their success and every Indian, over the past four years, have taken a fancy to the “World Champions” tag and worn it with immense pride.

Now, the test arrives. The Indian cricket team will show their mettle on-field but the fans would face the heat off it. Not many of us have faced it before, 1983 was too far back and so, 1987 isn’t relevant.

2015 is.

Hence, the fans are faced by a few daunting questions.

Do we have the heart to support a losing cause? Can we clap in rhythm to Shami’s run up knowing that he might deliver a full toss that will sail over the ropes? Can we chant “Dhooooni…Dhoni” when we know that he was instrumental in not picking our favourite player? Can we strain every sinew in our neck screaming – “we won’t give it back” – when the Indian team is being ripped apart by the opposition?

Do we have the stomach to fight alongside our team?

This isn’t the team we deserved, yet THIS is our team.It’s time to Bleed-Blue again because Team India needs a transfusion. So, stop spitting venom and bear your hearts for them. Let everyone know that Team India’s biggest strength is a billion fans, who can scare the living daylights out of any opposition.

India might lose but let them lose due to batting collapses and poor bowling. Don’t let them go down because their fans failed to turn up. From February 15, suspend your judgments and stand-by Team India in the Blue corner.

Don’t worry, we already have our “Garry Potter” for company:  “India have a good chance of retaining the World Cup” – Gary Kirsten