500th Test, the Monk’s cap and a ’90s Test cricket loving hopeless hipster

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Cap on against the Black Caps: Vijay goes old school at Kanpur

First things first, Kane Williamson will become one of the finest modern era captains. Not that he has much competition but the diminutive Kiwi displayed immense leadership to snatch the control from India on Day 1 at Kanpur.

Then again, he might end up being whitewashed in this series.

Test cricket is back in India and after a long time, I did nothing but watch cricket. I did express my ‘expert’ opinion on Twitter but I had no alerts to send, no ticker to fire, no copies to write, no galleries to compile and I couldn’t care less about Virat Kohli’s new hairstyle.

Instead, the day was spent admiring Neil Wagner’s doggedness, Cheteshwar Pujara’s comeback, Mitchell Santner’s accuracy and Kane’s spirited kaptani.

However, my biggest takeaway from Day 1 was Murali Vijay’s cap.

The Indian opener went past his fifty and asked for his cap to continue his innings. There were two spinners bowling in tandem but nowadays, not many cricketers ask for the cap while batting.

They shouldn’t, especially after the Phil Hughes incident. But, there’s something enthralling about a batsman when he removes his helmet to opt for his cap.

Cricket is a dangerous game because there’s a hard spherical object hurled at a batsman six times an over. The helmet is a must but the cap brings the batsman closer to the audience. It conveys the message, ‘Don’t worry, I got this.’

It also portrays a dash of arrogance.

Remember Michael Clarke, standing on the verge of a hundred on Test debut, asking for his Baggy Green?

For all the strategies and number crunching, it’s hard not to be romantic about Test cricket.

But over the last couple of years, my interest in cricket has dwindled. Not because of T20s. The game has just failed to deliver on the promises it made to me.

Growing up, Test cricket was serious education. As Ian Chappell often says, “Test cricket is aptly named because it tests your skill, your courage and your intelligence.”

And all my life, I’ve been a humble student of Sachin Tendulkar’s hunger, Wasim Akram’s skill, Shane Warne’s showmanship and Rahul Dravid’s determination.

Don’t get me wrong, the modern greats like Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Ravichandran Ashwin, David Warner and AB de Villiers are no less. They’ve taken the game to the next level and Kohli in particular, has set unbelievable fitness goals for every sportsman.

But the education isn’t there anymore.

The sweat’s there. The blood’s there. But, the tears have gone missing.

Cricket, as a game, has become a tad plastic. It’s too perfect. It’s too elaborate. It’s too gaudy and everything is directed towards one goal – winning. Winning is important, trust me it is, but to my limited understanding, Test cricket was not designed with a ‘winner takes it all’ objective.

Test cricket was played to inspire excellence.

At the end of each day, a player came out with a better understanding of the game. A fan came out with a better understanding of life.

India are currently playing their 500th Test match and I, being an ardent Tendulkar fan, have bore witness to almost 200 of them. After Day 1 at Kanpur, I closed my eyes to recollect my favourite memories.

The last few years drew a blank.

It did because now Team India, like most teams, play Test cricket the wrong way. They have got the strategies spot on. They have assembled a strong team. They have Virat Kohli. But somehow, they have failed to keep the heart of Test cricket in place.

Murali Vijay didn’t last long with his cap on but those 10 minutes were a major #Thursdaythrowback to a different era – an era where the finer touches had more meaning than the broad strokes.

India might go on to win the series emphatically but those 10 minutes were special.

Thanks Monk for adding a small image to the imaginary sepia tone montage of a ’90s Test cricket loving hopeless hipster.

World Cup 2015 – South Africa and their ‘deserving’ dilemma

One for the 'chokers' hall of fame

One for the ‘chokers’ hall of fame

The word ‘deserve’ is the most used word on my timeline now. It always is whenever South Africa crashes out of a mega event. However, if a ‘top’ side fails to make the final cut for any big event for 20 years, do they really deserve the ‘deserving’ tag? Doesn’t their misfiring at the big occasion scream loudly about their incompetence at handling pressure?

South Africa have more fans in India that in South Africa itself. Indians connect with the Proteas because just like them, most of us do a really good job at bottling up at the wrong moment.

We Indians, underrate our own cricket team. We call them lucky, we tag them as ‘flat-track bullies, we look down upon their success but with South Africa, every time they fail, we get ‘choked’ by emotions.

Over the years, South Africa have been a great side, make no mistake. The 1992 side didn’t ‘deserve’ their fate but from then on; the Proteas have pretty much brought failure onto themselves.

So, they ‘deserved’ to crash out every time, more so this year.

The Proteas came into the World Cup as firm favourites. Their batsmen were in prime condition and on bouncy pitches, their bowling was supposed to spit fire.

None happened.

It didn’t because they had an average side that wasn’t ready for the World Cup. They came to Australia riding back-to-back series wins against Zimbabwe and West Indies. Read again, Zimbabwe and West Indies.

They were found out immediately.

Zimbabwe gave them a scare in the first game but India and Pakistan took them to the cleaners. India outclassed them, while Pakistan left their famed batting in shambles.

However, a few easy games and a poor Sri Lanka got them to the semis. Then, they were found out again and hence, ‘deserved’ to go out of the World Cup.

The word ‘deserve’ is often over-used and abused. Let’s be clear, no one ‘deserves’ anything in this world. You achieve whatever you do because you’re good enough and not because you ‘deserved’ it. No one ‘deserves’ to win a lottery. Conversely, no one ‘deserves’ a plane crash. But the world doesn’t work that way.

Similarly in sports, the word ‘deserve’ has no place. It screams judgment and becomes a veil over glaring cracks that invites downfall.

South Africa have been a victim of this ‘deserve’ phenomenon. The Proteas are mighty talented with cricketing skills but at the international level, most teams are. The difference lies in handling the pressure and the men from the Rainbow Nation just can’t step up when it comes to the crunch.

They can’t because like most Indian fans, they also believe that they ‘deserve’ a World Cup in their cabinet. So every time they fail, they feel hard done by something or the other. Since the 1992 edition, the Proteas have been hard-wired to think that way.

Hence, they haven’t found a fix to their problem.

Every captain, from Hansie Cronje to AB de Villiers, has fought tooth and nail with the media to make them drop the ‘chokers’ tag but on-field nothing has changed. They have ran between the wickets like mad men, dropped dolly catches, missed run outs and this time, with the match hanging in balance, their premier bowler chose to bowl length.

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Elliott or South Africa – Who deserved it more?

Today, they got their body language all wrong. Right after AB de Villiers missed the run out, the expression of – ‘Oh, no! Not again!’ – was evident on his face.

The whole team followed suit. It was a massive chance but then, they got two more. It felt that instead of staying in the present, they all crossed over into a zone, where their previous failures were being played out in front of them as a sepia tone montage. The result – Quinton de Kock fluffed an easy run out and the Farhan Behardien and JP Duminy made a mess of a top edge.

That’s what happens when you think you ‘deserve’ more. You lose perspective and it becomes a defence mechanism that stops you from being yourself. It puts a glass shield between you and the others. You can see them, run behind them, track them but you are never quite there.

Imagine what would have happened if the ‘de Villiers debacle’ didn’t boggle the Protea minds? Imagine what would have happened had the entire team believed that the only thing that mattered was the next ball?

Imagine what would have happened if South Africa would have enjoyed the moment instead of being too serious about it?

Ask Grant Elliott.

Before the World Cup began, I saw Elliott’s name over Jimmy Neesham and tweeted, Elliott didn’t ‘deserve’ a place in the Black Caps unit. Today, he has smashed my ‘deserving’ tweet over wide long on and into next week.

That’s the funny thing with ‘deserving’. The one who ‘deserves’ seizes the initiative, takes action and sucks up the hard parts. Even when the stakes are loaded against you, it’s about knowing that at the moment, no matter what happens, you’re enough.

Elliott knew he was enough for the Kiwis.

South Africa, as always, clung on to their ‘chokers’ tag and ‘deserving’ dilemma.