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.

MS Dhoni and his race to the finish

ms1

As Jaspreet Bumrah walked away after the 19th over, Virat Kohli ran up to Hardik Pandya. Kohli left after a couple of pats on his back. Suresh Raina arrived. After a brief neck massage, Ashish Nehra was in his ears. By the time Pandya reached MS Dhoni, everyone had a twitchy bum. They knew what was coming. A famous Dhoni punt.

***

Harbhajan Singh went for 36 in his three. RP Singh was done with his overs. India’s best bowler Irfan Pathan had capped off a brilliant spell. The options left — Yusuf Pathan and Joginder Sharma. India’s new captain didn’t seem flustered as he tossed the ball to the man from Haryana. While entire India screamed -“WTF” in anguish, India’s long-haired captain shouted – “Upaar daalna” and walked back to take his position behind the wicket.

***

Dhoni walks back after a long chat. He didn’t want this. It came to this. He would have preferred Bumrah or Ashwin or Jadeja or Nehra or anyone but a spunky 22-year -14 games-old medium pacer. Bangaldesh had played it perfectly. They pressed India. They have forced Dhoni’s hand. He had to bring Ashwin early. Soumya Sarkar’s assault has messed with his plan. As Pandya ran in, the nerves jangled. Wide and full — Mahmudullah steers it past point looking for a two. Rohit Sharma sprints like a gazelle and keeps it to one. Nehra sprints up with his advice. Dhoni prowls behind the stumps. His discomfort visible, surprisingly.

***

It’s never comfortable when you have Ishant Sharma on the other end while you’re chasing 15-runs in the last over. MS Dhoni had been farming the strike — pushing singles, denying singles. He wanted to take the game deep. He had. Now, he had to deliver. Shaminda Eranga ran up. Full and wide outside off-stump. Dhoni swung. Dhoni missed. Dhoni tightened his velcro.

***

The pressure showed on Pandya. Wide half-volley outside off-stump. Mushfiqur Rahim goes deep into his crease and away she went through covers. Pandya needed help. Hardik needed Mahi bhai. Time for a mid-pitch conference.

***

Six off three — Vinay Kumar on strike. Lasith Malinga steamed in. Dhoni at the non-strikers end looked calm. He hadn’t been timing it. He had missed the first two. Kumar got one. Dhoni got one. Kumar ran himself out. Dhoni on strike. Umesh Yadav had walked in. Four needed to win. Dhoni had to muscle it out, somehow. Malinga fired it in, wide. Dhoni stretched out on one leg, reached it and scooped it over extra-cover.

***

CRICKET-WT20-2016-IND-BAN

Dhoni doesn’t like talking. With Pandya, he has to. He wants him to listen to the plan. Memorise it. Execute it. Pandya – sporting a dazed look – runs in and delivers. Back of length. Mushfiqur swivels, gets a bottom edge. Dhoni dives, in vain. As the balls rolls over the boundary, Dhoni lies flat on the ground. Mushfiqur lets out a roar, punches the air and celebrates. Bangladesh isn’t losing this. Bangladesh can’t lose this. Surely, not from here.

***

13-runs needed off the last over. Xavier Doherty had bowled a gem of an over — got wickets, kept runs in check and bowled dots to Dhoni. Clint McKay read Ashwin’s movements. Dot. McKay followed Ashwin again. Single. Dhoni on strike. McKay made the mistake. Length.

***

Nehra’s talking. He talks some more. A little bit more. Mushfiqur loses his cool. Slaps the ball high up in the air. The Bangla tigers let off a desperate cry. Wasn’t needed Mushy. Shikhar Dhawan settles under the ball. Mahmudullah has crossed. India still can’t win this. India shouldn’t win this.

***
Dot, six, wide, wide. What is wrong with Dhoni? – the crowd yelled – Why Ishant? England was romping home with Eoin Morgan guiding the ship. Then, the English fleet hit the iceberg. Morgan, Bopara, gone. Both caught by Ashwin. Hang on. When did MS move him from mid on to square leg?

***

Two runs off two balls — surely Mahmudullah has got this. Pandya has to get it right. Full toss. Knee-height. Mahmudullah goes for glory. Six? Four? Will it land safe? Ravindra Jadeja runs, turns and pouches it. Super catch under pressure. Heck, brilliant. Hang on. When did MS swap Dhawan with him?

What happened next will be played on a loop in every TV channel, for years to come. In international cricket, you don’t win games. You win moments. MS Dhoni is a master of moments. He senses it before most. He sees it coming and when he does, he pounces on it. Just like he threw away his keeping gloves before the last ball. Just like he asked Pandya ‘not’ to bowl a yorker. Just like he beat a young fast bowler in a 30-yard sprint.

Call him lucky. Call him smart. Call him whatever you want but in a race to finish he seldom comes second and the legend of Dhoni grows richer with every passing game. He is the ultimate finisher — with bat, with the keeping gloves and with his supercomputer brain. Forget the fat lady, it’s not over until MS Dhoni decides to finish it.

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

MS Dhoni – The stain on India’s white flannels

MS Dhoni : At his sweeping best

MS Dhoni : At his sweeping best

I like MS Dhoni. I love MS Dhoni.

I love him as a Test batsman, a Test wicket keeper and yes, even as a Test captain. I loved the way he went about his job. Quaint, elegant and exuding a lot of class. The numbers didn’t add up, fair enough. They never do, most times.

Five Test series defeats overseas — no, even a Dhoni fan-boy like me can’t justify that. Although, I have braved the cynicism over the years and tried to defend him, let’s admit things went wrong. Especially, for a man who was tagged as a ‘lucky’ captain, things really went south.

In the longer format, he took Indian cricket backwards. Yet, he was the only one who took us to the top. The ascent was fascinating but he could never arrest the slide that followed.

Defeat after defeat. Whitewash after whitewash.

Then again, if cricket only meant stats, he is also the most successful Indian Test captain.

****

MS Dhoni has had a complicated relationship with the Indian fans. No wonder the social media went ballistic with the news of his retirement from Tests.

Shocked, surprised, thank God — the reactions traversed the entire spectrum. It was expected because in India, few love him while the rest, hate his guts. In fact, in the last few years, for Indian fans, he has been nothing but a puppet of the BCCI’s big boss.

We hate him because he dropped Virender Sehwag. We hate him because he kept picking Ishant Sharma. Then, he delivered Lord’s.

We hate him because he couldn’t become our Adam Gilchrist in Tests. He poked, prodded, walked across his stumps, took hits on a bare forearm. He looked dirty as a Test batsman and couldn’t win it in the last over. Then, Chennai happened. With India reeling at eight for four, he mopped up the Manchester mess. And then those 39 deliveries at the ‘G’.

We hate him because he never dived enough to his right. We hate him because of that god forsaken leg slip.

India lost. We blamed him. India offered a handshake at St. Lucia. We blamed him. The bowlers messed up. We blamed him. The batting collapsed. We blamed him. The slip fielders turned up with Teflon-coated hands. We blamed him.

We lost. We lost some more. We tagged him as the stain on India’s white flannels. He didn’t even flinch. We blamed him for not declaring. We blamed him for losing the toss.

****

His press conferences were a work of art — short, sharp, witty. Dignity was the operating word; never took the screws to the opposition, hardly whined and veiled his team like a shield.

He tried to be funny but we never got his humour.

We hate him because he never got angry. We wanted him to scream in anguish, gush in glory, show his wounds and thump his chest in bravado by hurling verbal volleys at the opponent.

We wanted him to show his care for Test cricket but like the estranged boyfriend, he refused to update his relationship status as “in love with”. It wasn’t important for him to show. It was to us.

We couldn’t stand his poker face.

****

“Congratulations”, said Mark Nicholas as he turned towards MS Dhoni during the presentation. The Indian captain’s left eyebrow arched a bit. He was stumped, just for a moment.

Only for that moment.

Next, he did what he always does — gathered himself, kept his emotions in check, answered everything even before the question was asked, praised his team and refused to comment on Australia’s late declaration.

“Cheers Mark”, his parting words.

Mark Nicholas took a dig at India. That “congratulations” was wrapped in an envelope of well-crafted sarcasm. Nicholas congratulated India because they somehow saved a Test. Sitting in my office in Mumbai, my ears burnt and a chill ran down my spine.

Forty five minutes later, MS Dhoni declared.

Well…Of course!

Indian cricket : Time to reboot the ‘process’!

Fletcher and Dhoni - End of road?

Fletcher and Dhoni – End of road?

When Rahul Dravid was appointed as the batting consultant before the Test series in England, every Indian fan, including yours truly, was overjoyed. Suddenly, the atmosphere was electrifying and you got a feeling that BCCI has finally played a blinder in hiring a ‘cool’ customer.

And after 28 years, the victory at Lord’s was sweetly timed with Dravid returning home thinking that the result will do India’s confidence a world of good during the rest of the series!

Then, it all collapsed dramatically as Cook’s men threw the kitchen sink at India. It went bad at Southampton, worse in Manchester but the Oval saw the worst. There were no half-measures from England – they took the aerial root, tightened the screws on India and bounced back like a tracer bullet to win the series!

However, after the annihilation at the Oval, we all got a feeling that something’s gotta give and if you aren’t tired of the clichés already and are still reading this, the news from the centre is that, BCCI is all set to end their ‘foreign coach’ honeymoon as Joe Dawes and Trevor Penny have been awarded well deserved ‘breaks’.

Sorry for all of the above but when the God of clichéd commentary becomes the head of Indian cricket, it’s a little hard not to go overboard. However, before I get rapped on my pads with too many Shastrisms, let’s get back to the matter in hand.

For the upcoming ODI series in England, India would feature an entire new set of support staff.

Ravi Shastri – Director of cricket

Sanjay Bangar, B. Arun – Assistant coaches

R. Sridhar – Fielding coach

BCCI has flashed and they have flashed hard!

But is it what the doctor ordered for Team India? (Sorry, just couldn’t help myself!)

Will these changes fix the leaks and transform the mentally battered Indian unit into a winning squad?

The answer is NO.

The changes are mostly cosmetic and they have been incorporated to appease the Indian fans. Nonetheless, these moves can be productive if persisted with. Then again, BCCI did persist with Duncan Fletcher and we all know how that panned out. In fact, the persistence has taken Indian cricket a couple of steps back and now, it needs a complete reboot.

That means, bidding goodbye to Duncan Fletcher and MS Dhoni.

Often during the England series, Nasser Hussein has heaped praise on Fletcher as being the best man to iron out technical deficiencies in young batsmen. Hussein kept raving about how Fletcher masterminded the Ashes triumph back in 2005 and converted the English tail-enders into better batsmen.

Fletcher made Harmison and Jones better with the bat but he couldn’t sort out Virat Kohli’s technical glitches. Neither could he improve Che Pujara’s batting record overseas. He has failed to cure Shikhar Dhawan’s poking syndrome and hasn’t been able to put a lid on Gautam Gambhir’s jumping jack rendition.

Two whitewashes in a row and now, another English embarrassment – Fletcher needs to go, period. He might have turned England into a potent force, back in the beginning of 2000s, but has done nothing for Indian cricket to argue his cause.

When Gary Kirsten left in 2011, Fletcher had the job to see-off the smooth transition of Indian cricket. The legends were entering the sunset of their careers and a host of exciting young talent was making all the correct noises in the horizon.

He botched it up miserably and has failed to deliver on that promise.

MS Dhoni - Time to go... skip!

MS Dhoni – Time to go… skip!

MS Dhoni, however, is a different case but he needs to take moral responsibility of this recent failure. As a batsman, he performed remarkably well in adverse conditions but as a captain and a wicket-keeper, this England tour has to be his poorest.

He is a leader of a kind and India will never have a captain like him. India might get captains with better cricketing acumen, but MS Dhoni is a different breed.

His unusual ways have brought both success and failures. While he has mastered the art of marshalling his resources brilliantly in the shorter versions of the game, he’s always run out of depth in Tests. He elevated his show with the willow with immense gumption but has failed in inspiring his team to cross to the next level.

MS Dhoni needs to step down from the longer format because right now, he doesn’t have anything more to offer as a leader.

In 2011, he had a mission of rebuilding Indian cricket with new players. When Rahul Dravid retired, Pujara was the answer, Virat Kohli was the heir to Sachin Tendulkar’s throne and Ajinkya Rahane was to slip into the VVS mode! MSD picked his soldiers, laid his ‘process’ in place and asked the fan to hang in.

After three years, the ‘process’ has failed. There is nothing to rebuild because there’s nothing new available. The one’s that failed are the best that he’s got! No wonder, the excuses suddenly lack steel and the sarcasm misunderstood.

However, India is not ready to let him go because the man, who was being groomed for the job, is now clouded with self-doubts. India can’t let him go because we don’t yet have the answer to the question – “Who’s next?”

Still, MSD has gone past his expiry date as a Test captain.

Shastri the saviour?

Shastri the saviour?

One would normally point fingers at BCCI for being unprepared, but this time we need to understand the problem they face. BCCI hasn’t got a replacement for Dhoni; neither do they have a new man for the coaching job. They didn’t expect the ‘process’ to fail and after Lord’s they, like most of us, actually expected the ‘process’ to bore results!

Now the wheels have come off the ‘process’, so, they have done what they do best – play the ‘Shastri’ card!

That’s been BCCI’s quick fix for the last decade. Whenever they run out of ideas, first, they pull out either Shastri or Gavaskar to get a hold of the situation. Then, they arrange a home series against a weaker opposition to get the team back on its feet.

The contingency is in place but Indian cricket is losing the plot, thick and fast. Right now, BCCI needs something (or someone) that’s more result oriented. By clipping Fletcher’s wings, BCCI has showed some intent but for the fans, it’s going to be a really long season.

The questions are tough and the answers unavailable. BCCI needs to mount a time-bound ‘process’, rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard moving until they can find the right answers and the right men for the job.

Till then, hope that #ShastriTheSaviour sees us through the crucial phase so that at the end of the day……

The Manchester Mess – Blame it on MS!

190755

Abject – Harsha Bhogle started his post match show with that word describing whatever happened in the last session of Day 3 at Manchester.

How do you describe that batting display from India?

You don’t. After watching that parade, you switch off the television, log off twitter, disconnect from the internet and curl into bed trying to forget the way India threw away the game.

Too harsh?

May be but I am angry and if MS Dhoni is not, then there are serious issues that lie ahead.

21st July, I was overjoyed but in two weeks, the Indian cricket team has managed to pull off a string of displays that’s made Harsha Bhogle struggle for adjectives.

“We were not up to the mark”, – MS Dhoni said to Mike Atherton.

Sorry MS, you got that wrong. India weren’t off the mark. In the words of Billy Bean – first, there’s the mark, then you miss the mark, then there’s fifty feet of cr*p and after that there’s the batting display from India in Manchester!

I normally don’t fly off the handle. Neither am I a harsh critic because, unlike most fans, I understand how hard the game is and so, try to reason out a bad performance.

Sadly, I can’t do that after Manchester and neither can the Indian media. So, we have done what we do best – ‘Blame it on MS’!

Manchester was a tough loss to digest and it took me good two days to calm down and put things in perspective (if there was one, that is!) but I was appalled by the way the Indian media has found a way to spin the ‘Manchester mess’ as a direct result of Dhoni’s tactics.

And here I thought, after a long time, MS Dhoni got things absolutely right the day the Test began.

He picked five bowlers – as ‘we’ prescribed. Dropped Rohit Sharma and included Gautam Gambhir and Ashwin in the eleven – again as the billion ‘intelligent’ minds recommended. Won the toss and elected to bat – as Dada and Shane Warne advised in the pre-show.

Where was the tactical mistake, again?

He did exactly what was required. On a brown pitch, bat out the first hour and the game was there for the taking. Instead, India slumped to eight for four (yes, I had to put that in words!). There was a bit of nip off-the-track and England bowled brilliantly, take nothing away from them but apart from Murali Vijay, every one of those wickets could have been avoided had the Indians applied themselves.

A couple did – R. Ashwin, who looked like a million dollars with the willow in hand and MS Dhoni, a man who isn’t supposed to succeed in English conditions. Ashwin batted delectably for his 40 but MS Dhoni’s innings of 71 was an underrated gem, given the circumstances.

India, somehow, scraped to 152 and with an okay-ish bowling effort, the match was still on. All India had to do was to dig in on a good track, build an innings and let hurricane Bertha take care of the rest.

India blew it and how!

However, according to the media and a few ‘experts’, MS Dhoni is the one to be blamed for it!

The collapse happened because Pankaj Singh started the proceedings of Day 3 and not Varun Aaron. The collapse happened because Ravindra Jadeja bowled a middle-leg stump line in Southampton. The collapse happened because MS Dhoni placed the leg slip a couple of degrees closer than normal.

Mind you, that collapse had nothing to do with Gautam Gambhir’s non-existing footwork, M. Vijay’s diminishing confidence, Che Pujara’s lapses in concentration, Virat Kohli’s refusal to learn from his mistakes or Ajinkya Rahane’s ‘I-will-play-one-silly-shot-every-innings’ syndrome.

190781

The collapse happened because MS Dhoni charged down to Moeen Ali and threw away his wicket.

The Indian media is justified in blaming MS Dhoni because the more you think of that batting performance, the worse it gets. Durban 1996 springs to mind, but there you had Donald, Pollock, Klusener, McMillan to deal with. Barbados 1997 flashes by but that featured a four-pronged pace attack led by King Curtly.

Manchester 2014 has Moeen Ali etched on it – a man who’s spun a yarn that has evaded the likes of Shane Warne, Muralitharan and Graeme Swann.

Now that’s a piece of history (and mystery!) that has confounded both the Indian media and Kohli and co.

In the 1990s, fingers were easily pointed at the W.V. Ramans and the Vikram Rathores but 2014 Manchester doesn’t give us that luxury.

Virat Kohli, Che Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, M. Vijay, Gautam Gambhir – that’s serious quality. However, this batting unit has succumbed under pressure a few times now, especially, the middle-order. They are not bad players by any stretch of imagination but have played poorly.

The shot selection has been substandard, the zeal of digging-in missing and the skeletons of their techniques have been exposed. And after about 30 Tests, the excuse of being ‘inexperienced at Test level’ is also running thin.

Then again, arguments like ‘technical deficiencies’ don’t really appeal much to Indian audiences, but a #yoDhonisodefensive trend immediately hits home.

Since the Lord’s Test, India has hit a downward spiral and MS Dhoni has his share to be borne. He has made mistakes. Glaring ones too. His wicket-keeping has been below par and a few of his on-field decisions have been baffling. But hoping that we will get the sarcasm behind – “We will get two extra days of rest,” – was perhaps the biggest one.

So, MS Dhoni was the man behind the ‘Manchester mess’, period.

May be he was because he is now India’s worst captain overseas and when Harsha Bhogle says, “Does MS Dhoni really believe his team can win?” and bails out the batsmen, a #Dhonifanboy like me can only smile, nod and join the #Dhoniout bandwagon, however, abject it might sound!

Sorry MS, we don’t care how well you bat, we just don’t know who else to blame!

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

10227

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.

10274

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!