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

255739

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.

260499

“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.

Rahul Dravid – a flop mentor but the one that Team India needs

Dravid

Rahul Dravid: Flop as a mentor but still the man for Team India

2013 – Play-offs
2014 – Group stage
2015 – Play-offs
2016 – Group stage

That’s Rahul Dravid’s CV as a coach/mentor. Add a Champions League final loss and a defeat in the World Cup U-19 final to that.

The problem with Dravid, the mentor, is that his teams don’t win trophies. In fact, when the big match arrives, they do a South Africa, every time.

So, when he was appointed the mentor of Delhi Daredevils this season, you knew what to expect — a team brimming with young talent that will play exciting cricket but will fail to deliver on the most important day.

The major problem with the Dravid, the mentor is that he is fantastic at nurturing skillful young players but fails to create ‘badass’ superstars who will bully the opposition and deliver the trophy.

Look at the teams he has mentored. Rajasthan Royals was called the ‘nursery’ for Indian cricket. Except Ajinkya Rahane, they have done nothing for Team India. Three years back, Sanju Samson was supposed to be India’s heir-apparent to the ‘MS Dhoni’ throne but even now, he’s struggling to decipher his role in the side.

Take the Delhi Daredevils, Karun Nair and Shreyas Iyer were the men to look out for this season. While Nair offered flashes of brilliance, Iyer was canned after a string of bad performances.

Now, look at the Indian U-19 team. For the first time in the last 15 years, an Indian underage team has failed to deliver a big name. Every season whether India wins the U-19 World Cup or not, we hear at least one name ready to romp into the senior side. Yuvraj Singh, Md. Kaif, Virat Kohli, Ambati Rayudu, Sanju Samson, Unmukt Chand, Baba Aparajith, Kuldeep Yadav — the names buzzed after every youth World Cup.

This season, even after making it to the finals, not a single player has staked a claim for promotion. The U-19 captain has vanished, Sarfaraz Khan has been sidelined due to ‘weight’ issues and every other player, including Rishabh Pant, has looked half-cooked in the IPL.

Dravid is a bit like Arsene Wenger. Like the Arsenal manager, he has an eye for young talent, has revolutionary ideas, encourages an exciting brand of sports but somehow, cracks at the moment.

54340

Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan did things differently for Delhi Daredevils

Yet, as the BCCI head, Anurag Thakur should draw up three contracts, right now. Rahul Dravid as head coach. Paddy Upton as assistant coach and Zaheer Khan as the bowling coach.

He should because even after his failure to deliver a trophy, Dravid is the one for the Indian coaching job. He should because Team India and Rahul Dravid cancel each other’s deficiencies out.

With Team India, Dravid doesn’t need to worry about creating ‘badass’ superstars. In Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin, they have quite a few. They are skilled. They are bullies and they know how to win.

However, those superstars need a man to fix their problems. Remember the England series when Kohli couldn’t put bat to ball? Remember the Australian ODI series where he kept struggling with hard hands and wobbly front foot?

That’s when you need a Dravid. You need him to correct Shikhar Dhawan’s weakness against off-spinners. You need him to sort out Suresh Raina’s jammed feet against the short ball.

You need a Dravid because a Kohli can’t be fixed with a Bangar.

But most importantly, Team India needs Dravid to aid Virat Kohli, the captain. For all his batting exploits, Kohli is an ordinary captain and loses the plot too fast when under the hammer. He doesn’t have MSD’s poise and he’s no where near Ganguly’s tactical acumen.

That’s where Dravid needs to float the ideas just like he did with the Daredevils. Let’s be honest, Delhi didn’t have a champion side yet they caught the attention. They did things differently. Stupid at times, but different. They didn’t know their best eleven, hence went for the ‘horses for courses’ theory. It worked, it didn’t work but it was different.

In Team India, the nucleus is settled and solid. Even the fringe players have quality and in MS Dhoni, Dravid will find a strong ally in the limited overs format.

And in Test cricket, with Dravid with Kohli at the helm, India can replicate a Hesson-McCullum partnership. Not replicate but do better because Team India has players who can handle crunch moments way better than New Zealand.

This IPL has been boring but Kohli’s prolific form and Dravid’s toying around with the Daredevils might have given Indian cricket a new direction all together.

Remember what happened when Arsene Wenger led a team of skillful ‘badasses’?

Virat Kohli vs Sachin Tendulkar — the greatness debate

collage1

India loves Virat Kohli. India loves Sachin Tendulkar. And India loves to agrue. So, it’s time we declare the house open for the engrossing – “Is Kohli better than Tendulkar?” – debate.

I never understood how two players playing different roles can be compared. I never found a common yardstick because the variables – conditions, bowling attacks, situations, team compositions, injuries – seem too widespread. I, in my minuscule capacity, have never found enough correlation.

Reading the recent Kohli versus Tendulkar debates made me realise that Indians will never let Tendulkar off-the-hook. Even after his retirement, he has to be a part of every cricket conversation. Let’s make it clear at this point that I am not a butt-hurt Tendulkar loyalist. I surely am a big fan and before keying this in, I scanned through various comparison articles.

Here’s what I found – Why Brian Lara is better than Tendulkar? Why Ricky Ponting is better than Tendulkar? Why Rahul Dravid is better than Tendulkar? Why Jacques Kallis is better than Tendulkar? Basically, everyone is better than Tendulkar. But he’s the one who ended up with 100 international tons. And for the latest – why Kohli is greater than Tendulkar  – even ESPNCricinfo couldn’t stay away –

“Tendulkar, at least to this observer, never gave off that particular vibe. He gave off many others, and is responsible for many of the best cricket-watching experiences of my life. But he never, to my eyes, gave off that almost chilling aura of stone-cold certainty. That, I think, is the crucial difference. Tendulkar gave you hope. As long as he was there, the match wasn’t done. But Kohli gives you certainty. When he comes in, the match is done.”

The author states Tendulkar lacked an aura of certainty. Clearly, he fails to fathom the hold Tendulkar had on Indian psyche. Tendulkar gave you hope and that’s why a man unaware of the score always asked, “Sachin hai na?”  It didn’t matter to him if India were five down, he had hope because Sachin Tendulkar was still battingKohli gives us certainty but we don’t lose hope even if he fails because we know Dhoni hai na.

c0b91d360d0e1d5a23c2ab0be5acd7fb

“There are others with that Kohli-esque aura; Michael Bevan and MS Dhoni spring immediately to mind. But Bevan and Dhoni played the role of finisher, where it’s much easier to be Mr Wolf. Not because the task is easy, but because the opportunity is frequent. That’s why I want to compare Tendulkar with Kohli; why I think Kohli is remarkable. It’s a lot harder for someone in the top three to make you think: he’s going to fix this.”

There’s no run chase that Kohli can’t fix. His job is to anchor a chase. Sachin Tendulkar, on the other hand, wasn’t Mr. Wolf for India. He went after the bowling early to get ahead of the chase. He was the first runner in the relay who sets the pace of the performance. Kohli has the licence to push for singles for a late flourish but Tendulkar had to take on the McGraths and the Akhtars to throw caution to the wind.

As must happen with all adolescent phases, Tendulkar gradually grew out of the punk. He got a steady job, ascended the company ladder at a dizzying rate, settled into a comfortable middle age. Not for him any longer the mad incandescence of youth. He was no worse, on some scales even better, but he was different. He became a kind of cricket supercomputer, processing match situations, conditions, his own form, and doing what he thought all those factors together demanded. He became, in a word, a reactive cricketer.

Here, the naivety  shows through. It’s humanly impossible to play for 24-years in the same mode. A batsman’s biggest asset is adaptation and acceptance of the changing peripherals. Tendulkar, in his prime, was supremely attacking. He  changed his game-play to suit the demands of a dodgy elbow, an unreliable back and an unforgiving left toe. Kohli, touch wood, haven’t suffered a major injury setback, yet.

20016

Of course with age, Tendulkar’s powers waned and he handed the ‘mauler’ role to Virender Sehwag and moulded himself into a consolidator. Moreover, he was a part of a side that challenged. Dada’s army for all its swag hardly won anything. Kohli, on the other hand, plays for a team that wins. India, under Dhoni, is an unstoppable force in any LOI competition. They set the mark. They rule the roost. No wonder, their star player is the biggest bully in the yard.

I can go on but it defies logic. Kohli isn’t comparable to Tendulkar because from their mindset to game-play, everything is different. But in India, we love a comparison, especially if it belittles success. It’s in our psyche because all of us have fought off a Sharmaji’s son and have grown to hate the guy who comes first in class. For us, he is the teacher’s pet. He mugs up without understanding and he’s the guy who our crush chooses to go to prom with. To demean him, the new kid on-the-block is the favourite bet.

Virat Kohli is already a LOI legend. He’s getting there in Tests but even when he does, he will not be a Sachin Tendulkar. He will win us games but he won’t bat for our insecurities. He will win us World Cups but he won’t fight the bullies for us. He might crush every  record in the world but he won’t be the guy who will inspire a generation to shake off mediocrity and aim for excellence. Virat Kohli will be our Ricky Ponting. Being Tendulkar, is a different ball game all together.

 

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