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.

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

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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.

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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’?

How is my hero in real life? I don’t care

He signed an autograph and then we went for dinner!

He signed an autograph and then we went for dinner!

“What is Rahul Dravid in real life?” 

I don’t know. As a cricketer, brilliant but I have no clue how he is in his real life.

The above question is from a post in Quora.com. People ask a lot of questions on Quora and interestingly, it seems to have an answer to everything. So, when I was pinged the link, I was convinced that, today, I will finally learn – “How (‘what’ sounds wrong, doesn’t it?) Rahul Dravid is in real life?”

Not that I cared, but out of sheer inquisitiveness, I read on.

“I recently met him at his house to show a product that I had developed. I had always heard about his humility and down to earth nature, I was nervous anyway. I was waiting at his office in his house, he came down in around 5 odd minutes. Just as he came, I stood up and introduced myself,” Hi I am M***.” He shook my hand and replied, ” Hi I am Rahul, nice to meet you”. I was awestruck, he introduced himself to me! I could not reply, the man that the whole of India and the cricketing world knows and adores, still introduced himself just like anyone else does. Later on thinking, I myself thought that during my team as the head of the organizing committee of my college festival, when juniors would have come to meet me to discuss something, I would not have introduced myself, assuming that they know me. My respect for him, which was really very high before, went up even more.”

This guy was ‘awestruck’ that Rahul Dravid introduced himself. What a legend! He got his basic decency right, bravo! But isn’t it a basic protocol to introduce yourselves during an official meet, irrespective of status and hierarchy?

Then he narrates how he was the “head of the organizing committee of my college festival”  and never introduced himself to his juniors.  He needed Dravid to teach him that, you shouldn’t be a dick even if you are the “head” of some committee in your college.

It went on and with every answer my heart went “awwwww….”. People shared it on Facebook, on WhatsApp and then it became an annoying viral post.

I searched a bit more. Quora even has “What is Roger Federer in real life?” (Okay, ‘what’  sounds really wrong now)

Humble, awesome, kind – It was fantastic to read. I almost had a lump in my throat.

I still didn’t care.

Then, a certain Rahul Dravid fan forced me to find out “How awesome Rahul Dravid is in real life?

Before I go any further, let me clarify that this is not a defamation post and I am a Rahul Dravid fan myself and do consider him as the second best Test batsman to hail from India.

But that’s pretty much it.

I have no interest to find out how he is in real life. (How sounds way better than what, proved). But fans are fans. They start raving about their hero, go on a bit more, then they forget to turn it off and then it turns tad bit annoying.

I haven’t got a problem with hero worship but what annoys me is people believing unverified stories about their heroes.

For example, when this post was shoved down my throat, I retorted with a story.

My brother was playing for a club side at Eden Gardens and MS Dhoni turned out for them. He got out early and so he was sitting in the dressing room. The batsmen in the middle asked for some water and there was no 12th man, so MS went out and handed a bottle.

“Wow” – was the reply, “Mahi is awesome!”

Great story. One problem. It’s a story. But hey, people believed it!

Image is Everything!

Image is Everything!

That’s the problem. People meet celebs, click selfies with them and then, form a story around it. A few days back, Kapil Dev visited our office for doing Hindi commentary. I grabbed the opportunity and clicked a photo with him.

Guess what he said to me?

Nothing.

I greeted him, he smiled, we clicked a picture, I thanked him and that’s it.

But that doesn’t make a good story, does it?

We talked about Indian cricket and he actually paid heed to what I said –now that’s a nice boost to my ego. Another instance, when I bumped into Sourav Ganguly in a flight. I got an autograph but that was it.

But when the plane landed, I heard a guy standing at the conveyor belt bragging about his experience of meeting DADA on phone – “Arre Dada is brilliant yaar. Photo khiche, baat kiye, I asked him about Sachin, Dravid. Too good yaar.

In reality, he did sign autographs but slept through the entire journey.

Coming back to the Quora post.

“When he was walking in front on me, I realized he was “Rahul Dravid”, wearing a yellow Polo T-Shirt, A simple brown Nike Hat and blue jeans. He had earphones in his ears and was carrying his own luggage. I was awestruck!”

Rahul Dravid was wearing a t-shirt and a blue jeans — WOULD. YOU. BELIEVE. IT? We all imagined he always walked around in a Tom Ford suit.

Then, He was wearing a simple Nike hat — there’s nothing simple about a Nike hat, it costs a bomb and he was wearing it because India is sponsored by Nike, it was his commercial commitment and so, even if he wanted, he couldn’t have flaunted an Adidas floppy.

The post was a farce but a bigger farce was the way people reacted to it.

In India we are so smitten by our heroes that we want to know everything about them and we tend to staple their on-field persona on their off-field behaviour as well. So, Dravid can’t be rude, Kohli is a brat, MS Dhoni is cool and Cristiano Ronaldo is an asshole

Anything beyond these perceptions are completely unacceptable and the PR agencies feed off it. These images work for them and they work their campaigns around them. Without their nod of approval, the celebs can’t even say “hello”. They even scout the restaurants before they go out for dinners. Then they call in the paparazzi and voilà, Kohli had dinner with Anushka!

A brilliant example of PR-power was the “Kohli’s kiss” drama. Here’s how the events unfolded. It didn’t happen in the first game, neither did it happen in the second. It happened with India sealing the series — a happy moment for fans.

Moreover, Kohli’s image needed resurrection. After a disaster of an English tour, Kohli needed to make a statement, both about his batting and his personal life. The Hyderabad ODI was perfect — series win as a captain, fastest to 6,000 runs and then the flying kiss conveying the message – “I don’t give a fuck to what people think.” Also, Kohli is very close to the Indian captaincy, so now, he has nothing to hide anymore and oh, PK is releasing on the 19th of December.

Conspiracy theory?

You may not like it, but this is the reality.

Praise your heroes for their on-field achievements but keep out of their personal lives. Keep a tab on their technique but trying to find how they are in real life is a waste. All you’ll ever get is an image because in the realms of celeb-management — “Image is everything!”

P.S. – Keep posting those answers in Quora…Stellar read!