Sir Ravindra Jadeja’s Excalibur: It cuts. It cuts deep

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November 5, 2009 brings back bittersweet memories for every Indian cricket fan. In a cliff-hanger against the mighty Australians, Sachin Tendulkar produced a modern age classic. Chasing 351 runs to win, Tendulkar scripted an epic knock of 175. But India fell short. India fell heartbreakingly short. India lost the game by mere three runs.

The superhero’s carnage made it into the history books but that night India found a new villain. A 20-year-old. He didn’t do much wrong. He scored a 17-ball 23 and looked steady. He almost took India home. He faltered at the finish line. He ran for a non-existent single and became the whipping boy for a billion people.

That was the start of a hate story.

It gathered wind in 2009. While chasing 7.5 runs an over, he blocked his way to a 35-ball 25 against England. It became worse in the 2010 World T20s. First, a walloping against South Africa. Then, an Aussie chastening. Finally, a pestering in the hands of the Windies. He single-handedly confirmed India’s exit from the tournament.

The ‘Rock star’ label peeled off and Sir Ravindra Jadeja became a cult figure. With every failure the legend grew. So did the boos. Sir Jadeja became the toast of the internet, the darling of the Twitteratti.

The axe came down in 2011. India won the World Cup and Sir Jadeja began his journey towards oblivion. But fate wouldn’t have it. Yuvraj Singh’s health gave in and India needed an all-rounder — a player who can blast the ball in the end overs and can chip in with valuable breakthroughs. Yusuf Pathan failed. As did Piyush Chawla.

The selectors turned towards MS Dhoni and the man from Ranchi fixed his gaze on IPL’s ‘rock star’. He threw Jadeja into the deep end. He made Jadeja swing his bat. He made his left-arm fall off his shoulders. He made him cover every blade of grass. Jadeja dropped short. ‘Aage daal Jaddu‘ – shouted Dhoni. Jadeja threw darts. ‘Ek chakka khake dikha’ – screamed the skipper. Then, Jadeja turned one off-the-track. ‘Howzaattt’ – Dhoni whipped the bails off in a flash. Jadeja failed. Dhoni pushed. Jadeja failed again. Dhoni pushed harder. ‘Are you out of your mind?’ – The nation wanted to know. But Dhoni never answered.

He didn’t because Merlin had found his Arthur.

He took him to England. With India struggling, Jadeja walked out at Lord’s. Moeen Ali was spitting cobras. Liam Plunkett had his tail up. Then, there was Jimmy Anderson. India needed a partnership but Jadeja decided to make a statement. Out came the sword from the scabbard and the ‘Saurashtra Bradman’ tore into the English bowling in true Rajput style.

That was the start of a new love story. Sir Jadeja’s cult was now official.

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“Some time ago people didn’t consider me a Test bowler. This season is a good response to them”, said Jadeja after picking up his Man of the Series award.

In December 2012, he was ranked 89 in Tests as a bowler. December 2014, he was at 20. 2015 saw him at 23. Then, he took off. December 2016, he chased Ravi Ashwin. Now, he isn’t Ashwin’s plus one anymore.

Sir Jadeja has finally taken over.

The ‘Jadeja story’ should be widely celebrated. It should be because he is scripting our story. He’s fighting those scorns after failure and the disapproving nose twitches. He taking on the bullies for us and explaining what m*d**c**d really means. He’s teaching us a power packed lesson on improvement and self belief. The best part, he’s doing it with aplomb — he’s put his arm on auto mode, picked up his Excalibur and is swinging it.

He’s swinging it bloody hard.

Arsene Wenger: For the Ned Stark of Islington, the winter has arrived

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“We are fully aware of the attention currently focused on the club and understand the debate. We respect that fans are entitled to their different individual opinions but we will always run this great football club with its best long-term interests at heart.”

Arsenal chairman Sir Chips Keswick released a statement after a horrid month for the Gunners. Someone had to speak. Someone, other than Arsene Wenger, had to say something.

Cue,  the Arsenal media management team.

Read the above statement again. The conclusion is crystal: Arsenal’s media management is worse than their first XI’s game management. No quality, no substance, no style; just dry words wrapped in corporate bullshit.

In some way it depicts the rot that runs through the club. It sheds light on the poor governance that’s led to the decade-long stagnation. The fans are angry. The players unsettled. The manager weary. And the club comes out with a ‘we-know-what-we-are-doing’ press release.

It’s absurd. It’s hilarious. It’s a new low. But hitting new lows is the ‘in’ thing for this Arsenal. If anyone thought 8-2 was bad, try wrapping your head around 10-2. Yes, that’s the new banter number for the Gunners.

Teams lose all the time. In sport, you lose more than you win but what sets teams apart is the way they lose. Arsenal aren’t just losing. Arsenal have lost faith. Arsenal have lost substance. Over the last decade, Arsenal have struggled. Arsenal have struggled bad. But Arsenal never grovelled.

Arsene Wenger is adamant about ‘the good shape’ of the club. Financially, Arsenal are stout. Debts under control, stadium liability paid off, money in the bank — the Gunners are one of the most stable corporate set-ups in European football.

Sportingly though, they are on their knees. They lack a blueprint for sporting success and that impotence has created an unrest amongst the fans. Player rifts have raised their ugly heads and Arsene Wenger isn’t in charge of the dressing room anymore.

Once upon a time, he was. He never was tactically brilliant but his vision, innovation and man management skills catapulted Arsenal into the top tier. His arrival ushered a new era in the Premier League. His teams created history and his ideology changed the way football was played in England.

20 years on, he forgot to change himself.

Now, he’s the Ned Stark of Islington – a man stuck in an infinite loop of his own ideals, morals and the code of honour. Great qualities to admire but we all know how it ended for the Warden of the North.

However, the Professor’s delusion isn’t the biggest problem at the Emirates. It’s the set of self-serving Greyjoys he has fostered at the London Colney.

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Over the last month, experts and social media have waxed lyrical about Alexis Sanchez’s fighting spirit, his winning mentality. People writing Arsenal’s obituary have gone on about how a ‘loser’ club doesn’t deserve the Chilean. May be they don’t. But after the second leg against Bayern Munich, neither does he deserve to wear the crest on his chest.

Alexis is a great player but his smirk that night left fans around the world in shock. You want to leave, fair enough but why ridicule those who made you a superstar? The Catalans didn’t care about him because they had Lionel Messi. Alexis was Arsenal’s Messi. Alexis is a winner but he wants to win alone. A real ‘winner’ never whines and gives up on his troops, no matter how inferior they are. He digs deeper, takes control and fights harder to elevate the ones around him to the next level.

The Theon of the team, Mesut Ozil, has the ‘Fabregas’ flu. He goes bowling the night before the game but is never fit enough to play. He’s taken advantage of Wenger and hid behind his trust. And now with the club on stranger tides, even £ 280,000 per week isn’t enough.

The less you talk about rest, the better. They aren’t Arsenal quality. They have the skills but they haven’t got the shoulders to carry legacy of the heavy cannon.

Hence, it’s not November pain or flimsy February  anymore, Arsenal are in free fall. The season’s gone bust. Even the ‘top four’ trophy is eluding their grasp. For the first time the furrows on Le Professor’s forehead are deeper and are crying out for help. Sadly, the Tomas Rosickys aren’t on the bench anymore.

Can Arsenal survive this? Of course. They are too big a brand to fold and have deep pockets.

Can Arsene Wenger survive this? He might. A new contract is on the table but signing it might destroy him forever because for Arsene, the winter isn’t coming anymore, the winter has well and truly arrived.