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.

Virat Kohli vs Sachin Tendulkar — the greatness debate

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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.

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“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.

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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.