Category Archives: Cricket

The Taste Of A Test!

Gosht Nihari is one of the best Dishes I have ever eaten. It is cooked over a painfully long time. The aromas keep tempting you, You nearly get frustrated many times and are about to eat it prematurely and find it under-cooked, or at times you are so pissed off with the idea of waiting, that you give up the idea of having the dish at all. But the cook doesn’t give in to your demands and cribbing until the dish is perfectly cooked. And when it is finally cooked, and served, only then does one realise, that the wait was worth it!

Close-in Fielders!
Close-in Fielders!
The Ongoing Adelaide test match reminds me of eating Nihari.
It is a complete, delicious package. Unfolded like a saga. For an Indian 48-year-old fan, it is not very uncommon to get up early in the morning to watch a game played in Australia with great hope, and just by the time you get ready to go to work, the hopes evaporating like a drop of water on a hot dosa plate. The start to this match was no different. Indian Openers, and captain were back in the hut in no time, the so-called dependability of Ajinkya had failed him once again as it has done frequently in this season, and India looked to be staring into the defeat in the very first session of the test match. But Cheteshwar Pujara cooked a good Nihari.

He threw in the first ingredient of patience early on in the innings, added an impenetrable concentration to it, and wore down the Aussies at one end.He did not succumb to the pressure of the consumers’ expectations, and cooked his dish delectably well. Ashwin, resolutely stood for his twenty-five runs, and Rohit and Pant played two cameos which were irresponsible to say the least, yet contributed a valuable 62 runs between them which, while looking at the equation of the match appear more precious than they did on the first day. Yet Pujara stood out. He is head and shoulders above many poster-boys of Indian cricket when it comes to playing test cricket. When all the other front-line batsmen were lured into the same trap of undulating deliveries of fast bowlers outside the off-stump like a bear to honeycomb, Pujara left them alone like a celibate sage. He had unwavering concentration, and yet he was very much in the game to pounce on the very few scoring opportunities offered by the disciplined Australian attack.

Though it may have looked audacious bordering on the frenzy of madness, his up and over square cuts played when he was in his 90s were a perfectly calculated risk, The Square boundaries on the Adelaide Oval are short, and once connected, the ball is sure to have carried over the ropes. Pujara was the rock of Gibraltar. Immovable. Very patiently, he had moved in to his nineties, and he had changed gears once Ashwin fell. He was aware of the Indian lower order’s incapability of resist and hang in there, and so had to accumulate runs quickly. He did it but didn’t look as if he’d lose his wicket playing these strokes. He had analysed and memorised the bowling attack and the behavior of the wicket like his wife’s birthday and was not going to take any wrong step. No bowler could get him out, and ultimately, he got run out. India scored 250 with just under half the runs coming in from Pujara.

The Bowlers responded to Pujara’s effort splendidly, sawed off the first four Australian wickets when they had not even scored 100. Then, rookie Travis Head started playing an innings beyond his years, and in a sedate matured manner batted with Handscomb to add 33, and the tail supported him too limit the Indian lead just to 15. But slender or whatever, India had taken lead over Australia in the first test match of the series, and it was a huge confidence booster. K L Rahul’s slam-bang approach to batting, for this instance worked, and the needed impetus was given to the innings at the very start. Scoring 18 off 53 balls, Murali Vijay played a good hand in blunting the new ball. Then Pujara was joined by his captain and both of them between them added 105 runs in 308 balls, biding precious time and ensuring that Indian wickets didn’t fall in a avalanche like they often do. Kohli’s departure for 34 brought in Ajinkya, who carried on in the same vein and India were at a healthy position at 243 for 3. But Pujara’s fall for 71 then brought the Indian lower order back in their elements, and 7 wickets fell adding a mere 63 runs between them.

India have set the Aussies a target of scoring 323 to win in 140 odd overs. With 4 Australian wickets down, a further 219 required to win, and the wickets crumbling, the odds are heavily stacked in India’s favour. Some Indian fans must’ve already put champagne on ice. All looks good for them in Indian test cricket. Being an Indian fan, I am delighted too. But what has excited me more than a probable Indian victory is the way in which India has played this test match. There was irresponsible batting, not playing in the team’s interest in the name of “natural game”, overambitious stroke play, complacency and as usual the big-mouthed coach bragging, but there were players who put their hand up, rose to the occasion and hung in there on both sides. Patience, perseverance, and grit was amply on the display.

The opening notes of this symphony called the Border -Gavaskar Trophy 2018-19 series have been savory to the ears and the unfolding melody promises to be pleasing too. Lets hope this performance is repeated repeatedly. Yes, one likes to see his side winning all the time, but the battle should be closely fought. The tantalizing uncertainties which have punctuated this match are ones which make the plot intriguing and puts bums on seats. A 300 scored against a hapless bowling attack can never substitute a century scored against a potent bowling line up, where the fast bowlers are always at you, breathing fire and their tails up, and a quality spinner is spitting venom. Yes. I found watching Pujara’s 123 more gripping than watching Matty Hayden flaying the Zimbabwe attack for 380 runs. And as the number of overs in a game reduce, the possibility of such tales with numerous twists and turns is further reduced. All that people get to watch is a mindless, frenzied slam, bang wallop game, where the bowlers appear just like whipping boys, meant only to get pummeled by the batsmen. Test cricket has it’s own flavour. It is to be had like wine, sip, swirl, and let it glide down the throat. It is not to be swallowed like beer or gulped like a vodka shot. The intoxication is slow, serene and supreme, and it takes watching cricket to a next level, where we start appreciating the fact that the game is played 10% on the field and 90% between the ears. I feel we’re going to end 2018 and start 2019 by a feast of good, hard and intense test cricket. Amen. 😊

From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 15

Virat Kohli took over the captaincy from Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2014. There can’t be two characters who are so contrasting, yet very similar. Kohli is fiery, MSD is Ice Cold. Kohli wears his heart on his sleeve, MSD is immune to emotions. Kohli retaliates with anger, MSD is coolly sarcastic in reply to criticisms. Kohli, as a cricketer, is one of the technically most sound, MSD is unorthodox to the core. Virat is supple, graceful, and attractive to watch when he bats, MSD just either pushes and prods or butchers the bowling. MSD has only two gears, first and top (sometimes reverse too, these days). Virat likes to play along the ground, MSD loves taking the areal route. The Only similarity is, both are extremely aggressive, yet the expressions of their aggression are polarly opposite. Yet, when it comes to the results they produced while captaining the Indian team to England, no dissimilarity was found. Just like Dhoni, Kohli too lost the series in England.

Virat Kohli in action!
Virat Kohli

Not that he was not trying to win. It was just that the team let him down, more often than not. Kohli the batsman excelled in the tour, and outshone virtually every batsman in either side, with circumspect technique, great temperament, and fighting with the skin of his teeth, placing a large price-tag on his wicket. Yet, though Kohli sold his wicket very dearly, the other batsmen kept falling prey to the deliveries outside the off-stump, not leaving them alone, and getting drawn to them like young men to naked breasts. The team fell apart around Kohli, but he stood tall being a tower of courage. Though the bowlers pulled their weight in, the fielding was poor, and batting even more so, excepting the captain.

Kohli was no foreigner to the English conditions, he had been there on the 2014 tour, and had failed dismally. He was an Anderson bunny then, but so were all the Indian batsmen. While Kohli had learnt from his experience of the earlier tour, all other batsmen kept repeating the same mistakes, and India lost the series.

India went into the first test after losing the ODI series 1-2. Edgbaston was cloudy when Kohli lost the toss, and he might’ve chuckled when Joe Root chose to bat first. The fast bowlers were licking their lips. Just before the match, Michael Holding had had a chat with Ishant Sharma about the lengths which should be bowled in these conditions. Strangely, Ashwin came in to bowl in the 9th over and promptly removed Cook. After the spinner had drawn the first blood, Keaton Jennings stuck together with his captain and they strung together a decent 72 run stand. Jennings fell for 42, and Dawid Malan followed quickly and Johnny Bairstow joined Root to add 104 runs and take England to 216/3. But Bairstow and Root fell in Quick succession, making 80 and 70 respectively, and for once, India didn’t let the tail wag too much and England was all out for 287.

Virat Kohli- Century Celebration
Silent celebration post century

Ashwin and Shami were the picks of the bowlers for India taking 4 and 3 wickets respectively. Indian reply had a solid start, with Dhawan and Murali Vijay put on exactly 50 for the first wicket, before losing their wickets. Then KL Rahul fell quickly at 4, and India were tottering at 59 for 3. Then the captain took over. Kohli single-handedly took India to 274, in the process scoring a very matured 149 runs. There was no support from the other end, though Ajinkya and Pandya hung around for an hour each, their scores of 15 and 22 were no pretense of support for the captain. But Kohli was “in the zone”. He shielded the tail-enders, farmed strike, and played a Steve Waugh kind of an innings. He scored a whopping 54% of the team’s runs and looked impenetrable. When he was last out in search of quick runs, India had conceded a slender 13 run lead to England. Debutante Sam Curran took 4 for 74. The England batting too crumbled in their second essay, and apart from Sam Curran (63 n.o.) none made a sizeable score. Ishant Sharma claimed a five-for and was well supported by Ashwin and Umesh Yadav.

England were all out for 180, leaving India a target of 193 for a win. In pursuit of 193, India began shakily, they quickly were reduced to 78 for 5, and the captain was the only hope to either save or win the match for them. Kohli found some support in Dinesh Kartik and Pandya, but it was not enough. With the score on 141, he fell to Stokes, making 51 in just over 3 hours. Sedate by his standard, but he had shown immense maturity in playing according to the situation. Still 52 short of victory, and with the tail-enders only making token appearances with the bat, Pandya opened up a bit, but fell as the Last Indian wicket with India still short by 30 runs. India lost, but not without putting up a fight, and that was the silver lining to the cloud. The team was at least showing intent to fight. Only the batting needed to click.

In the second test the Lord’s history loomed over the Indian team, and they performed dismally. The first day was washed out, and where the wicket would have sweated and offered more juice to the quick bowlers, India made a baffling decision to play two spinners. India made 107 in their first innings, and James Anderson picked up 5 wickets at the cost of a mere 20 runs. With India a fast bowler short, England smashed the Indian bowling around, and despite being in a hole at 89-4, they came out of it due to some lusty hitting by Johnny Bairstow and Chris Woakes, the former making 93, and the latter scoring a brutal 137 (n.o.). Sam Curran continued his purple patch making a quickfire 40, and England declared at 396/7, 279 ahead of India. In the second innings, Anderson and Broad picked 4 wickets apiece and Woakes took 2. India all out for 130. India had vastly improved on their margin of loss, this time losing by an innings and 159 runs.

2-0 down India lost the toss and were promptly put in by England. The openers put on 60, but both were out in quick succession, followed by Pujara. India again 82-3. But the captain was there and had an able ally in Ajinkya Rahane, and the two added 159 runs. Kohli made a fine 97, and Ajinkya made an obdurate 81. Then the tailenders too contributed bits and pieces and India for the first time in the series crossed 300. In reply to India’s 329, England batting was all over the place. Hardik Pandya broke the backbone picking up 5 for 28 in a mere 6 over spell, and England folded up for 161. With a 168 run lead, India would have backed themselves to win this test, and they batted with a new-found confidence in their second innings.

Dhawan and Rahul gave India a fine start, Pujara made a characteristically defiant 72, And Hardik Pandya made a run-a-ball 52, but the pick of the Indian batsmen was Kohli. He had missed out on a century in the first innings by a mere three runs and was well set. He knew the importance of hanging in there and made a fine, fine 103 in just under 5 hours, punctuated with 10 gorgeous hits to the fence. His innings was a masterclass in batsmanship. He was sound, confident, alert, and his footwork was assuredly quicksilver. India made 352/7 before declaring their innings closed, and gave England a monumental target of 521 for a win. The English top order faltered, and they lost their first four wickets for 62 runs. But then both Ben Stokes and Jose Butler played innings which were very much contrary to what they are known for. Both these dashers showed exemplary defiance and took England to 231 before Butler fell for a well-made 106 in just over four hours. Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad and Anderson, all tried to resist, but eventually, England wilted and were all out for 317. Bumrah took a five-for, and India won the test by 203 runs, giving themselves a chance to square the series.

The fourth test at Southampton began very well for India. Winning the toss and batting first, the decision looked to have backfired on England, as they were quickly reduced to 6 for 86 by Ishant, Bumrah and Shami. Moen Ali (40) and Sam Curran (78) put on a handy 81 runs for the seventh wicket, and another 33 run partnership between Curran and Broad took England to a respectable score of 246. In reply, India made 273, Pujara making an obdurate 132 not out, and Kohli making 40. None of the other batsmen contributed anything of significance. Five Indian wickets fell to Moen Ali’s pretense of off-spin. He continued to make merry at India’s expense. England made 271 in their second innings, riding on Butler’s 69 and Useful 40s from the captain Root and the ever contributing Curran. Mohammad Shami was the pick of the bowlers taking four for 57. India had to make 245 to win. Definitely gettable, just they had to hang in there. But that is precisely they did not do. Apart from Kohli (58) and Ajinkya Rahane (51), no batsman thought it was worthwhile to stay at the wicket for more than an hour, and India folded up for 184. Again, Moeen Ali took 4 wickets, bagging 9 in the match and in the process, sealing the series for England.

The fifth test was a dead rubber, and the master opener Alistair Cook was going to call it curtains after this test. England were keen to give him a winning send-off. Electing to bat first, England made 332, Cook himself making 71, Moen Ali Batting one drop making an even 50, and Jose Butler continuing his dream run with a score of 89. “Sir” Ravindra Jadeja took 4 wickets and Ishant Sharma and Shami took 3 apiece. Indian reply was lacklustre. They made 292, the main contributors being Kohli (49), Hanuma Vihari (56) and “Sir” Jadeja 86 not out.

In the second innings, Alistair Cook came in determined to make his mark on his last test. He batted for six and a half hours and made a superb, stoic and sensible 147. Joe Root too, after the first test found form and made a scintillating 125, and riding on these two hundreds of contrasting nature, England declared their innings closed at 423/8. Mohammad Shami and Ravindra Jadeja came under a lot of stick, conceding 110 and 179 runs respectively.

India were to make 464 to win. They were quickly 2 for 3, losing Pujara and Kohli for ducks. Kohli made a golden duck, out first ball. But for the first time in the tour, KL Rahul was batting with a great deal of assurance. He was joined by Ajinkya Rahane, who batted well, hanging on for nearly two and a half hours before he fell to who else? Moeen Ali. Though the 118 run partnership had retrieved the situation, India were still in danger of losing another one badly. Much was expected of Hanuma Vihari, after his defiant first innings half-century but he didn’t trouble the scorers. It was Rishabh Pant who had to support Rahul to help India save the match. But the young wicketkeeper had other ideas. After getting his eye in, he launched in a flurry of strokes, Making 114 studded with 15 fours and four sixes, adding 204 with Rahul for the 6th wicket. With the score on 325, Rahul fell for 149 and immediately after three runs were added to the score fell, Pant. Indian lower order didn’t do much and India were all down for 345 losing by 118 runs and losing the series comprehensively; 4-1.

Kohli the batsman in this series was superb. He was in the form of his life (as he had been since 2015), scored 593 runs at an average of 59.30, the best performance by an Indian captain on an England tour. He learnt and remembered his lessons from the previous tour. When you have got the talent as much as Virat Kohli is blessed with, you have to be more aware of what not to do, than what to do. It is simple for him. If he stays at the wicket, runs invariably come at a good clip. The next best Indian Batsman was Pujara with 299 at 39.71. It is this chasm between the Scores of Kohli and the others, which tells the story of the series. The bowlers did their job admirably, more often than not. But the batsmen let the team down. Kohli the captain, came in for a lot of criticism, but a captain is only as good as his team and in the end, is judged by the number of wins. On that count, the captain had failed. Nevertheless, India had been fighting well in the series, but when the bowlers brought them back in the match, the batsmen frittered the advantage away. Too much T20 was showing it’s effect.

Kohli was also a lot unimaginative as a captain and failed to make things happen on most occasions. Besides, wrong team selections cost him at least two matches. But this doesn’t mean he is a bad captain always. Yes, he is evolving as a cricketer, as a captain, is supremely fit, and has an astute cricket brain, Besides, he can channel his aggression well, and motivates players of similar combative nature, like Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant, by backing them to the hilt to play their natural games. One disappointing series doesn’t write him off as a captain, and looking at his form and fitness, he has at least a decade to play and take Indian cricket team to new highs.

And yes, he leads from the front. And always does himself what he asks his team to do.

Hope you liked the final part of the series- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 15 . Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 14

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is Street-smart. He always has been. As a young boy, he never was in awe of any cricketer. He had no idol. He never watched cricket on TV. He never was very passionate about cricket till his mid-teens. Cricket along with basketball, badminton and football was just another sport for him. He played all the sports which came his way and was the goalie of his school football team. His sports teacher asked him to keep wickets in the cricket team. Seeing the popularity of cricket in the country, Dhoni agreed to. At the time, being good at a sport was the only means for him to get into a decent university. Excelling in sports was much easier than burning midnight oil for studies. Yet, there was a hitch. Being a son of a pump operator meant he would have to support his cricket on his own. Cricket is an expensive sport.

M S Dhoni
Captain Cool- MSD

He did a lot of things for that. Blessed with the strength of a bull and speed of a gazelle, he knew that he had the basic attributes to excel in the sport. And he also had immense stamina. He took to playing tennis ball matches and taking money for it. Took up a job of a ticket collector. But kept playing. An entry to a university never happened, but he entered seamlessly in the most glamourous field in the country. Suddenly, in fray for a place in the Indian Cricket team. That too didn’t happen without drama. The Bihar Cricket association didn’t deem it appropriate to intimate a player from Jharkhand that he has been selected to represent the East Zone in the Duleep trophy. A congratulatory call from a friend of a friend was the means by which Dhoni came to know he has been selected. Yet it was too late, and despite desperate efforts by his friends, Dhoni missed the flight to Agartala.

However, Dhoni went to the next match in Pune as the 12th man. He kept performing enough to remain in the fray for the next 3 years, but the national call up won’t come. Things changed in 2004, India A, ODI and Test match debuts happened in a year’s time, and the small-town boy had made it big. Dhoni quickly became a brand second only to Sachin Tendulkar. Within three years, Dhoni was leading the Indian Cricket team in all the three formats.Much has been written and cinematographed about his story thereafter, and there’s no point in repeating the same here.

The Indian team which went to England in 2011 under Dhoni was on a high, having won the 2011 world cup. They felt invincible but were brutally brought to the ground by the English Cricket team. Just like the West Indies had slaughtered the Indian Cricket team with vengeance after winning the 1983 world cup.

The first test was the test match # 2000, and Dhoni, winning the toss, put England in. Bad move to start with. Initial success came as Cook fell for 12 when England had made 19, and Strauss for 22 when the score was 62. Then the South African imports, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pieterson got together and added 98 between them before Trott fell for 70 workmanlike runs. His name is Trott, but he made his runs in a saunter always. Bell (45) added another 110 runs with the in-form KP. Thereafter, another import, this one from Ireland (Eoin Morgan) lasted only 3 balls and didn’t bother the scorers, and with England score 270/5, India could hope to make a comeback in the match. But wicketkeeper Matt Prior and Pieterson added 120 brisk runs and snatched the game away from India. England declared at 474/8 and KP was unbeaten on 200.

Zaheer Khan picked 5 for a 106, but just when he was bowling well, got injured and was ruled out of the remaining tour. The Indian openers, Abhinav Mukund and Gautam Gambhir put on 63, but both were back in the hut by the time the score had reached 77, and it fell on the senior pros Dravid and Tendulkar to salvage the situation. They added 81, but that was not enough. Thereafter, it was a mere procession to the pavilion with only the captain and the ex-captain showing any resistance. Dravid finally got himself on the Lord’s honours board with an unbeaten 103 and Dhoni made a patient 28 off 102 balls, and added 57 with Dravid, but as India were wrapped up for 286, even saving the match was going to require a gargantuan effort. Yet the bowlers hadn’t lost heart. They made the new ball talk, and reduced England to 62 for 5, and then 107 for 6. But the first innings villain Prior was not done with tormenting the Indians. He scored an unbeaten 103, and along with Stuart Broad, (74 off 90 balls) added 162 and put India completely out of the game.

Indian second innings was a sad story. All their batsmen got starts, but only Laxman (56) and Raina (78) could convert. India all out 261, but they played 96 overs for that. Anderson (5/65) and Broad (3/57) destroyed the Indian innings, and led England to a handsome 196 run victory, to draw the first blood in the series.

In the second test, Dhoni again won the toss and put England in. Yuvraj Singh had come in for Gambhir. But this time around, the bowlers proved him right. Ishant Sharma, Pravin Kumar, and Shantakumaran Shreesanth all claimed 3 wickets apiece and bundled England out for 221. Stuart Broad (64) top scored for England. India opened with Dravid and Mukund, and Mukund was out without scoring. Dravid and Laxman then added 93 stoic runs and Laxman fell making 54. Tendulkar failed so did Raina and Yuvraj combined with Dravid to add 128. Yuvraj made 62 and after he fell, the remaining 5 Indian wickets could add only 21 runs. Dravid was out 9th, making 117, his second century of the series. Broad claimed a six- for and India secured a lead of 57 runs. In the England second innings, Ishant Sharma removed Cook cheaply, and then came Ian Bell. He held the England Innings together with a masterly 159.

Dhoni recalled Ian Bell to bat again when the latter was given wrongly run out. It won Dhoni the spirit of cricket award for the year 2011, but lost India the match. Prior, Pieterson, Prior and Bresnan all responded with big half centuries and England put up a mighty 544 and set India an improbable 478 to win. Bresnan and Anderson scythed through the Indian batting and reduced India quickly to 55 for 6. Sachin Tendulkar (56) and Harbhajan Singh took India past 100, then the little master fell, and Praveen Kumar threw his bat around for a run-a-ball 25. But 478 was too imposing a target and India folded up for 158, losing by 319 runs.

India were down and out, trailing 0-2 in the series and in the Birmingham test, they were ground to dust. Batting first, India scored 224, Gambhir and Laxman made 30s and the captain made a fighting 77. England put on an epic 710/7, Cook making a career best 294 , Morgan made 104 and Strauss, Pieterson and Bresnan made fifties. In the second essay, India made 244, the captain made another fine 74, and Tendulkar and Praveen Kumar made 40s. India lost by a small matter of an innings and 242 runs.

A thoroughly demoralised India went to the Oval to play the final test England won the toss, made 591/6 and put India out of contention right from the day 1 of the match. Ian bell made a silky 235 and Kevin Pieterson hammered 175. In reply, India reached 300 for the first time in the series, the “Wall” standing tall for a stoic 146 and carrying his bat through the innings. All the batsmen did come to the wicket, but they might as well have not, as their stays were short, and contributed precious little. Dravid found an unlikely ally in the rotund Amit Mishra who scored 44 and added 87 for the 7th wicket.

The injured Gambhir walked in to bat, hung around grimly for an hour and added 40 for the 8th wicket with Dravid. RP Singh threw his bat around for 25, and India made an even 300. Following on 291 runs in arrears, India made 283 in the second innings, Sachin Tendulkar (91) and Amit Mishra (84) being the only innings worth a mention. Another innings defeat, and a 0-4 whitewash. India were never in the game for the whole series, and barring Rahul Dravid and Dhoni, none of their batsmen showed the grit to graft in tough situations. The bowling was lackluster and so was the fielding. No wonder the result came out as it did.

Yet three years later, Dhoni was again at the helm when India toured England. And he was there on Merit. India was the number one test side in the world, it’s young batting line-up was formidable on the paper at least, and the bowling attack too was of a high quality. BUT THERE WAS A HUGE DIFFERENCE THIS TIME AROUND. None of the fab 4 were in the team, and the team had a point to prove, that despite losing 4 great batsmen to time, they yet were a formidable unit.

In the first test at Nottingham, Dhoni won the toss and chose to bat first. India made a formidable 457. Murali Vijay made 146 gorgeous runs, Dhoni made 82, but the highlight of the innings was the 107 run 10th wicket partnership between Bhubaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami. Both scored individual 50s. England replied with 496. Their rising star Joe Root made an unbeaten 154 and added a mighty 198 runs with James Anderson for the last wicket. Anderson made 81. Garry Ballance and Sam Robson made fifties. It was a peculiar case where the 10th wicket partnerships had crossed the 100-run mark in two successive innings of a test match. India batted again making 391/8 declared, debutante Stuart Binny made 78, Vijay and Pujara made 50s and Bhubaneshwar Kumar made his second fifty of the match, scoring 63. The five days were over and the match ended in a draw. But both the teams looked even Stevens in their form, promising a closely fought series ahead.

The second test was at the Lord’s. Captain Cook called correctly, and put India in. India made 295, riding on rookie Ajinkya Rahane’s unbeaten 103. Anderson took 4/60. England replied with 319. Garry Ballance made 110 and Liam Plunkett 55. Bhubaneshwar Kumar took 6 wickets for 82 runs. India in their second innings, made 342, Murali Vijay making 95, Sir Jadeja made 68 and Bhubaneshwar Kumar, carrying his batting form from Nottingham to Lords, made another 52. England were set 319 to win, but the lanky Ishant Sharma went through their batting line up like a hot knife in butter, and bowled a man-of-the-match winning spell of 7 for 74. Only Joe Root (66) and Moeen Ali (39) showed some fight and England folded up for 223. India had won at Lord’s after 18 years, and gone one-up in the series.

Stung by the defeat at Lord’s, England came back strongly in Southampton, piling up 569/7 in their first innings. Cook made 95, Butler 85, and Ballance and Bell scored big hundreds. The hero of Lord’s, Ishant Sharma was out of the team due to injury and the rest of the bowlers looked hapless. India scored 330 in reply. All their batsmen got starts, but only Rahane and Dhoni could make 50s. England didn’t enforce the follow-on and scored a brisk 205/4 in their second innings. Cook and Root made 50s. Ravindra Jadeja took 3 for 52. Set 445 to win, India made only 178. Rahane made his second 50 of the match, but that wasn’t enough. Of all the people, Moeen Ali, who bowls innocuous looking off spin took6 for 67. India has this knack of making heroes out of unlikely players. England levelled the series with two more tests to go.

The fourth test found India hitting a new low, getting bundled out for 152 and 161 in their two innings. England made 367 in their only innings of the match, riding on fifties from Bell, Root and Butler. The only scores worth mention from the Indians were a vigilant 71 by the captain in the first innings and a brace of fighting 40s by Ravichandran Ashwin in each innings. But that was not enough. India lost by and 54 runs as the match ended in 3 days’ time.

In the final test at the Oval India stooped further, making only 148 in their first innings, the captain again making a valiant 82 and after being reduced to 9 for 90, adding 58 valuable runs with Ishant Sharma who hung on grimly for an hour and a quarter. In reply, England made 486, Cook, Balance made fifties, Butler made 45 and Joe Root a fine, chance less unbeaten 149. In their second essay, India capitulated for 94, thus ending the disappointing series, the only bright spot being the win at Lord’s. After this series probably, it was total loss of motivation for Dhoni to Continue leading and Playing for India in the test matches, and he suddenly announced his retirement from the format in the following Australian tour.

Yet, Indian Cricket will never forget MS Dhoni’s contribution. He was the coolest head in the team, always unperturbed, through the Best and worst. And his journey is one of the most amazing tale of self-belief and perseverance.

Starting as a small-town basher, the guy went on to become one of the most successful Indian Cricket Captain. He placed India at the top in all the three formats of the game, winning the T20 and ODI world cups, and also getting India ranked at Numero Uno in the ICC Test Rankings. A goodish wicketkeeper (wouldn’t call him one of the best), a very aggressive batsman, when he got in, and a very astute, and attacking leader, for most of his career (He appeared a bit lackluster due to loss of motivation probably, towards the fag end of his Test Captaincy career).

As a captain, we would rate Dhoni as inspiration. He never appeared to be agitated, irritated, or never did his shoulders sag in adversity. Dropped catches, bad batting displays, typically Indian bowling woes overseas, nothing could ruffle his feathers anytime when on the field. He looked like a tower of peace, notwithstanding what was going on around him. That doesn’t mean that he was off guard or unaware of his job. He did it well, most of the time. He gambled quite a lot, and also had the guts to back himself in tough situations. More often than not, he was also able to inspire his players to rise to the occasion. It is not so easy to captain a team which has a Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, and Kumble in it, but MSD did this with consummate ease, and to a very good effect. He didn’t like criticisms. He kept backing players like Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, though they were not always consistent performers, and could extract flashes of brilliance from them, nurtured Virat Kohli’s potential, and also the senior players were not far behind in contributing.

People who go by stats, forget that by changing or sacking or blaming a captain, they are doing no good to the game or to the team more so in case of Dhoni.

Despite all these achievements, his leadership in England Tests was not rewarded with results, and though he came out as a fighting batsman on both the tours, he found no support. And this was again to be repeated in the 2018 England tour, under a different captain, who came out as the best batsman of the Series for India, yet couldn’t secure a series win for them…

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Debdeep’s Pilgrimage to Mecca

In 1996 when I was barely 11 years old, I went to Eden Gardens for the first to watch an India vs Pakistan match. In those days, bucket seats were a fantasy. So, everyone pretty much would sit on the cement slabs and Eden could hold 1 lac people at one time. So, on the first day , Javagal Srinath ran through the Pakistan batting line up and every time a wicket fell, the crowd would be on their feet and roaring. Imagine 1 lac people roaring for 3 sticks being uprooted, sounds pretty weird but that was passion. From that day, a few things stayed with me forever and that left a big imprint on me.

First, it was the way Azhar would walk around the field as if he owned Eden Gardens and hence was always the favourite of Eden, then his trademark dive at gully to save a certain boundary which would definitely attract loudest roar of the day and then the whole crowd clapping whenever there was a great shot from Salim Malik. Eden crowd always showed appreciation for great and sporting players from the opponent. Something I miss now a days. Oh, I almost forgot to mention my backside was aching by the end of the day because of jumping up and down on the cement slabs.

India was all out just after tea and then I had what I would call my first and only man crush. I saw Wasim Akram coming at Indian batsmen at full flow. Even at that age, I could feel that he was running with fire and he was spitting venom and the batsmen had no clue what was hitting them. I have seen faster bowlers, I have seen many swing bowlers but I have not seen a better bowler. If I had to pick someone to bowl for my life, it would be Wasim Akram every time. When I left the field that day, I had fallen in love with that game and I could not stop blabbering about the same to my parents. Anyone who knows Bengali’s, football is our first love but I always felt that day cricket just took over. I started following the game, learnt the names MCG, Boxing Day, Lord’s Cricket Ground and many others. Somewhere in my mind, I wanted to go to all these places, but you never know.

26th December 2006, I was in Melbourne as a student and with another 3 of my friends were thinking what to do since we really did not want to go shopping. Just to let everyone know, during Boxing Day, you get everything for dirt cheap and usually its a holiday in Australia and somehow everyone is on the streets either shopping or drinking beer and enjoying themselves at Federation Square, if you are in Melbourne. Someone in the group suggested lets go for the match since we took it for granted that tickets wont be sold out. We went in, bought the tickets from the counter and entered the stadium.

Luckily, we got the lower tier seats absolutely next to, from the where the players would walk out to field. India were already batting and I was just standing and looking at the magnanimity of the place, the lush green outfields and everything. That day I got to see Sachin and Sourav bat together and take the Aussie bowlers to the cleaners. I somehow took a flag from someone and started dancing on the seats. Left the day highly disappointed with India playing horribly after lunch.Another Test, I went to watch and India lost, just like the Kolkata test. But what remained with me is Dada walking out to bat and me shouting ‘ Dada century chai’ and Dada turns around and gives me a thumbs up, Sachin Tendulkar warming up right in front of eyes inside the rope, I could have jumped to his feet but I was too much in awe of him at such close range. I left satisfied to have watched India play.

Debdeep at Lords
Debdeep at Lords
Cut to 9th September 2018, I was entering Lord’s Cricket Ground as a tourist and not to watch a match. I had an opportunity to watch the Test match at Lord’s but I had to pass. Anyway, the moment I entered I was a little nervous and ’96 Eden memories rushed through my mind. I turned a child again. Something was going on inside me but I could not explain it to myself even. I crossed the huge gates, security check, crossed the Middlesex shop and into the reception and the first thing that caught my eye was the Prudential Cup that Kapil Dev won in 83.

I could have fainted then & there. A group of people were there and someone was explaining the whole history of Ashes, I heard it but I kept looking at the signed jersey of Sachin Tendulkar inside the glass room behind us. We walked out and it was time to walk into the cricket ground but before you get there, you have to stand in front of the statue of WG Grace. I had no option but to show my respect in my country way. I literally touched his feet because you cant know cricket without knowing him. So everyone went ahead with the guide and I kept loitering and absorbing this huge thing and suddenly I see that a door is open, unmanned and that would lead me straight to the grass of Lord’s. I was ready to risk it and had started walking towards it. That’s when a guard appeared and told ‘ you are not allowed, Sir.’ I argued for a while but he wont relent and I had to give up.

I , finally , reached the long room where I thought the view was alright but I was itching to see the dressing rooms and honors boards. So, we first went into the home dressing room and except a few things nothing interested me so much. Then it was the turn of the guest dressing room and this is where the fun began. The guide went on to tell about different stories about the place. There were hardly any Indian in the group and there were people who did not come with the understanding of the game.

I really thought, if Sourav Ganguly is not mentioned here, I would be robbing all these innocent people off the most beautiful thing that happened at Lord’s ever. So, I asked the inevitable question, ‘ is this the same balcony where Ganguly took off his shirt?’. At the very mention of Ganguly, the guard and the guide put their hands on their head and said something like ‘ oh gosh!!! He was another one!!’ This expression of the Englishmen was priceless for me. So, they showed me the exact spot where it all happened and I requested permission from the guard that I be allowed to take a picture waving my jacket. The guard simply smiled and granted me the permission.

Debdeep imitating Ganguly in the Lords's Balcony
Imitating Sourav Ganguly in Lords’s Balcony
My wife took the photo and when I saw the photo I said to her, ‘ Now, I can die in peace.’ Interestingly, my son started showing off some of his jumping skills in this balcony and thats when I thought to myself, we own this balcony. After that, we went to the stands and that’s as close I could go to the grass of Lord’s and when I walked into the stands, it was surreal, I could visualize Kapil Dev lifting the trophy, Kaif and Zak hitting the winning runs, Yuvi running to the field and Dada taking off the shirt. I could feel all of it, right in front of me. The guide went on with the history and everything but I had just two questions, one about the Lord’s slope and why the slope has not been leveled yet.

Then , we went up to the media center which is one of the most amazing architectural work. I was amazed by the view and how sun cant disturb you ever. Then it was time to hit the Lord’s shop and then move out. Just before I was about to walk out of Lord’s I asked guard again, are you sure I cant step onto the field and feel the grass even once, I come from Kolkata which is like 1000s of miles away but again he declined. Before he closed the huge gates onto us, I looked at the ground and had a quiet conversation with it which mainly, I could not feel the grass this time, but I will be back and I will feel it, one way or the other. I think Lord’s replied ‘ will be waiting for you, mate’

I finished my trip of ‘Meccas of cricket’ and I feel happy about it. Don’t know if I can ever explain anyone the feeling of it or the madness about it. I wish someone who reads this will understand sometimes you just fall in love with some things and the child in you is spurred by those things. I had my moments and I consider myself lucky to have been to these grounds but the journey does not end here, I wish to go to the home ground of none other than Sir Vivian Richards, the man who redefined cricket.

Special thanks to Debdeep for sharing this article. Debdeep Bhattacharya is a cricket fanatic with an analytical insight of the game, a hardcore Dada fan who believes everything cant be measured in stats!

From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 13

People call Rahul Dravid, “The Wall”. He was extremely difficult to dislodge, technically correct, and yet, elegant to the eye. He could be as attractive a batsman as any when in full flow, and was just the perfect foil to the flamboyance of Tendulkar, Ganguly, and the wristy artistry of VVS Laxman. Yet, his most commendable virtue was his work ethic.

Rahul Dravid
Rahul Dravid- The Wall of India!

Rahul Dravid always played to the demands of his team. In 1996, on his debut at Lord’s he batted with the tail, farmed the strike, and in the process got so preoccupied with keeping both ends safe, forgot that he was 5 runs short of a Lord’s debut hundred, and got out on 95. No, he didn’t crib. He never cribs. For him, the team is the foremost. He is the go-to man of the team. The readers would observe that I am writing about Rahul Dravid in present tense. That is because he is the same even when coaching the U-19 and the India -A sides. Nothing deters him from serving the team. And he doesn’t say no to any task the captain assigns to him.
Bat the day out? – Sure Skipper, and I wouldn’t mind the spectators’ flak too.
Accelerate? – I’d do my best.
Keep wickets? – Yes, Captain!
Open the batting? – You can depend on me, Captain.
Captain the side? – Sure, I’d give my best.

And, whatever his record might suggest, he gave his best, sold his wicket dearly and placed the team before the individual, always.
For someone who just watches cricket as a hobby, Rahul Dravid’s batting won’t be attractive. But, the connoisseurs would drool over him for making a 30, in about 2 hours, on a sticky wicket. He can do that and despite the wicket, appear impenetrable. Not many can.
By the England tour of 2007, Dravid had shed his “Blocker” tag with some astonishingly quick innings in the 2003 world cup, and was a complete batsman, who could block when required, and attack when the situation demanded so. Mind you, he debuted in T20I in his last playing season, and his first scoring stroke was a six over long-on. The side was well stacked with talent and experience too.
The openers Jaffer and Dinesh Kartik were in good form, Dravid himself was in excellent nick. Saurav Ganguly and the “GOD” and the Very Very Special Laxman were in the side. The young wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni looked like he belonged to the international arena. Anil Kumble was amongst the best spinners in the world, with quality seamers in Zaheer Khan, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, and RP Singh.

In the Lord’s series opener, England won the toss and elected to bat. Strauss scored 96, Vaughan scored 79, while Cook and Peterson made useful 30s to take the England total to 298. All the bowlers picked up wickets, a good sign for the first test of the series. Indian reply was lukewarm. They made only 201 – Jaffer made 58, Sachin and Sourav made 30 odd each, and the captain himself made only 2. England made 282 in their second innings, with Kevin Pieterson making 134. RP Singh bagged a fifer and Zaheer Khan bagged 4. India were set 380 to win in 5 sessions. India started briskly, and the opening pair added 38 in 10 overs, and lost Jaffer. The captain followed Jaffer quickly and the score read 55/2.

Sachin Tendulkar scratched around for his 16 runs and fell with the score at 84. Ganguly and Karthik then stitched up a partnership to steady the rocking boat, and India ended the day at 137/3, with 7 wickets in hand and 243 more needed to win. But on the fifth morning, both, Ganguly (40) and Karthik (60) fell in quick succession, and Indian hopes of winning were dashed. Laxman and Dhoni hung around for 30 odd overs, but India still was staring at a customary Lord’s defeat. With 231 on the board, Laxman fell for 39.
After that, Dhoni was at one end and wickets kept falling at the other end, and India slipped to 282/9, one wicket away from defeat. It was nearly curtains for India, when the rain gods intervened, and no further play in the match was possible. The match was drawn. Dhoni had played an uncharacteristic innings of 79 in 159 balls and remained unbeaten. This show of his maturity might well have earned him India’s T20 captaincy for the inaugural T20I world cup in South Africa, which India went on to win.

After the narrow escape at Lord’s, the Indian side went to Nottingham in a more alert frame of mind. Dravid won the toss and sent England in to bat in an overcast morning. England were bundled out for 198. Only Alistair Cook made a substantial score of 43. Zaheer Khan bagged 4 wickets, Kumble 3, and Shreesanth, Ganguly and RP Singh took one wicket each. The Indian reply was a lot more purposeful.

All the top order batsmen- Karthik (77) Jaffer (62), Dravid (37), Tendulkar (91) , Ganguly (79), Laxman (54) – pulled their weight on, and India took a handsome lead of 283 over the hosts. England fared much better in their second innings. They made 355, Strauss (55), Vaughan (124) and Collingwood (63) being the main contributors. Zaheer Khan claimed a fifer, and Anil Kumble took 3. India required 73 to win, the openers scored 22 each, Tendulkar could manage only a solitary run, and it fell on the duo of their captain and the former captain to guide them across the line, which they did. India was 1-0 up in the series.

The last test was at the Oval, which has been a happy hunting ground for Indians. Oval didn’t disappoint the Indian batting line up. Once again, the entire top order Karthik (77), Jaffer (35), Dravid (55), Tendulkar (82), Laxman (51), Ganguly (37) and Dhoni (92), played their part, but none made a century. The solitary test century for India on the tour came from…. Anil Kumble. He scored a chanceless 110 and went One -up against Shane Warne in the leg-spinners’ competition going on then, though in an unlikely area outside both of their core competence. Jumbo now had a test century, and Warnie’s top test score was (and is) 99. India were all out for 664.
England replied with 345. Cook, Bell and Collingwood scored half centuries. India batted again, scored 180/6 (Ganguly 57, Laxman-46, Dhoni-36) and set England 500 to win in 110 overs. England batted out these overs, none other than Pieterson (101) and Bell (67 off 62) making a dash at the win, Prior and Sidebottom stonewalled for an hour, to ensure that they do not lose a wicket, and the match petered to a draw. India had won a series in England after 21 years, and the captain, though not at his best with the bat had inculcated a sense of purpose in the team, which saw the players sticking to their tasks, and putting clinical performances to achieve their series victory.

The same year, Dravid (and India) had a disastrous world cup in the West Indies and he stepped down from the captaincy. But the team man he is, he kept giving his best for the Indian team, and played some of his best cricket in those years. After retirement, being offered to coach the India seniors’ team, he politely declined the offer and asked to be the coach of the U-19 and the India-A team, to “build a strong feeder system to the Indian team” and the results are evident.

Yet, he has a rare dignity and sense of occasion about everything. Quiet, Methodical, and confident approach to his work ensures success, but when the success comes, he chooses to savoir it in the confines of the four walls, and not giving bragging interviews or indulging in wild celebrations. Among the subsequent India captains, despite the difference in their personalities, one admirable common attribute is evident – Work Ethic. When you are fortunate enough to rub shoulders with Rahul Sharad Dravid, you are bound to have an impeccable Work ethic.
That’s the Legacy of Rahul Dravid, which the Indian team should be indebted to.

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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 12

Sourav Ganguly was the most inspiring captain India has ever had. In spite of being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, this Behala boy had done his hard yards quite well. And he inspired his team to do the same.

Sourav Chandidas Ganguly
God of the off side- Sourav Ganguly!
He made to the Indian team for the first time during the 1992 , had an indifferent tour, then returned home trimmed to size, scored runs by tons in the domestic matches, earned his place on the England tour of 1996, had a dream Lord’s debut, followed it up with another century in the very next test, and then he was unstoppable.
After Azhar’s infamous dismissal from captaincy, he was the chosen one to lead the Indian side. The 2002 Indian team was a formidable one. Sachin, Sourav and Dravid were already amongst the best batsmen in the world, the pace attack was well populated with quality seamers in Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Ashish Nehra, and there was the ever-dependable Anil Kumble to bowl spin. The captain was in control of the team, and in spite of the occasionally abrasive nature of his, the team had supported him well. If there was a strong Indian side well balanced in all respects, all in good form, which went to England ever, this was the one. However, traditions die hard, as India were to prove at the Lord’s in the first test. Coming off a high after beating England in the Natwest “shirt- flinging” trophy final on the same ground, India were brought down immediately by England.
Nasser Hussain won the toss and elected to bat. England posted a healthy total of 487 in the first innings, riding on Hussain’s 155 and fifties from John Crawley, Craig White and the fiery Andrew Flintoff. Simon Jones made a useful 44 towards the end of the innings. India lost Wasim Jaffer early, but with Sehwag batting as if he was batting in the first 15 overs of an ODI, and Rahul Dravid refusing to give his wicket away, India were at a healthy position at 128/1. Sehwag fell for 84, Night-Watchman Nehra for 0, Sachin for 16, the skipper for 5, and India were in the familiar position of staring down the barrel at Lord’s.
Dravid made 46 in his characteristic fashion and the Stoic VVS Laxman remained unbeaten on 43. India folded up for 221. England didn’t impose the follow on and made a brisk 301/5 riding on a brace of even 100s by John Crawley and Michael Vaughan. Set 588 to win, India started positively with Sehwag and Jaffer putting on 61 for the first wicket, and Dravid and Laxman getting half centuries too. The skipper scored a first ball duck, wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra fell with the score on 170, and in walked Ajit Agarkar. Seldom would he have thought that by the end of the match he would gain a place which even Sachin Tendulkar could never occupy despite his unmatchable records- mention on the Lord’s Honours board. Batting Honours board !!! He and VVS Laxman added 126, but Laxman was removed by Simon Jones and the Indian hopes of saving the match took a blow. Kumble and Zaheer Khan didn’t last long, but surprisingly, Ashish Nehra helped Agarkar complete his century and take the Indian score to 397. Agarkar remained unbeaten on 109. India lost comprehensively by 170 runs.

In the second test at Nottingham, Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat. Sehwag made a swashbuckling start, and then batted sedately with wickets falling at regular intervals to score his maiden test hundred in England. Ganguly himself scored 68, but all the others got starts and couldn’t capitalize. India made 357 in their first innings. England replied with a mammoth 617. Riding on Michael Vaughan’s 197, Alec Stewart’s 87 and Craig White’s 94 not out. Starting badly in their second innings, India lost both their openers when their total had reached 11. But Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar steadied the ship by adding 163 runs when Sachin got out making a blistering 92 off just 113 balls off the benign off-spin of Michael Vaughan.
Saurav joined his deputy and added a further 135 to take the Indian total to 309, and slowly cruising towards saving the match when Dravid departed for a well made 115. Laxman didn’t last long, but Agarkar hung around with his captain, who looked well on the way for his third century in England. But when the score reached 378 Ganguly was removed 1 short of his hundred by debutante Steve Harmison, and it fell on another debutante Parthiv Patel to save the match for India. He and Zaheer Khan grimly hung on and the match ended in a draw with India making 424/8 in their second innings. First match lost, second drawn. Much like the previous two tours. But India were to turn the tables in the next test at Leeds.

India elected to bat first on a placid looking Leeds pitch, and lost Sehwag early. 584 runs thereafter were scored by three huge partnerships, and the scene which the Indian fans got used to, and later on started expecting every time India batted, was painted for the first time in England. The Great Indian Middle Order had fired! Though not all cylinders, (Laxman missed out) it put England out of the game by the end of day two of the match. Dravid made 148, Tendulkar 193, and the skipper made a stroke filled 128. What a treat to watch !!!
India declared their first innings closed on 628/8. Then the bowlers came to the party. Zaheer Khan and Agarkar took two wickets each and Kumble and Harbhajan took 3 each to dismiss England for 273. Only Vaughan (61) and Alec Stewart (78) showed some fight. Saurav promptly made England follow on. They made 309, Nasser Hussain made a fighting 110 and Butcher and Stewart made 40s. Anil kumble, claiming 4 wickets was the destroyer-in-chief. However their efforts came to no avail, and India beat England by an innings and 46 runs. India had levelled the series.
In the last test, England came back strongly, posting 515 in the first innings with Vaughan making a superb 195, and Trescothick, Butcher and Dominic Cork making half centuries. Harbhajan Singh bagged 5 for 115. India replied strongly with 508, with batsmen batting well around Rahul Dravid who made a mighty 217. Tendulkar and Ganguly made fifties and Laxman made 40. England had a slender lead of 7 runs, but too much time in the match had passed, and a result was not evident. England made 114 without losing a wicket in their second innings. The series was drawn at 1-1. And Ganguly was the second Indian captain not to lose a series in England, after Kapil Dev in 1986. In the very next year, he would go on to square a series in Australia in Australia, and lead India to the 2003 world cup final.

Saurav Ganguly went on to become one of the most successful Indian test match captain. His style of captaincy was a real passionate one, and he was not shy of getting under the skin of the opposition. His bare-chested display at Lord’s after the Natwest trophy win, defines him as a person. He always played to win and expected his players to do so. Some might have called him lucky, as he had Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Sehwag in his team and the batting battery was capable of dominating any attack in the world. But yet, he was a captain who made things happen. He kept Steve Waugh waiting at the toss at Kolkata when India did the epic turnaround to win the test in 2001. He also used to give it back to the sledgers with vengeance, and was never afraid of criticism. Players like Sehwag, Dhoni, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh owed their success to the confidence Ganguly instilled in them with from time to time, and his persistence with them even in their lean patches. It was unfortunate that he lost captaincy and even his place in the side due to the Greg Chappell interferences, but he was strong enough a player to make a great comeback and a great team-man to give his 100% to the team, even when dethroned from captaincy. Saurav Ganguly was a man with a lot of character and firepower. And of course, supreme artistry.

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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 11

At 8, Mohammad Azharuddin started playing hard-ball cricket. At the All Saints’ Missionary School Hyderabad, Brother Joseph honed his skills of seam bowling well enough to earn him a place in representative schoolboy cricket. He was never coached to bat. It is evident from his unorthodox, self-made technique. It just came naturally to him. So Azhar, who at 17 was a good seamer who could bat a bit made his debut for Hyderabad as a batsman who could bowl a bit three years later.

Mohd. Azaruddin
Mohd. Azaruddin- Wristy batsman at his best!

The debut first-class season was lackluste, but for a solitary fifty. Seemingly, the talent pool in Hyderabad was scant in the early eighties, and Azhar was retained for the next season. In that season, came the 1st first-class hundred, a double century in the Dulip trophy followed and then came the national call. Azhar was the twelfth man in the first and second test of the 1984-85 home series against England. In the third test, Kapil Dev and Sandeep Patil were dropped from the side for “Irresponsible batting” in the Delhi test, and Azhar came into the side as a replacement of Sandeep Patil.

He scored a century on debut. And one more in the next test. And one more in the test next to that. Three hundreds in his first three test matches and Mohammad Azizuddin Azharuddin was a world record holder at the age of 21. The performance in the second half of the 80s was nowhere near the promise shown in 84, yet he managed to perform well in the 1985 Benson and Hedges series in Australia, didn’t do badly in the 1987 Reliance world cup, and the other limited overs matches. Yet, Test cricket was an entirely different ball game for him.

He did well on spinning tracks, and tracks which didn’t offer bounce to the quick bowlers. He had an awkward method of ducking blindly in bouncers and it was his undoing in the away test matches. In the test matches in the subcontinent though, he was like a tiger. “Dada” batsman as is called in Mumbai cricket slang, a useful bowler, and a fielder, past whom it was impossible to get the ball, at any fielding position. He was actually playing for his place in the 1989 tour of Pakistan, which saw the emergence of Sachin Tendulkar.

In the first test in Karachi, he just managed to do enough to stay in the team for the next match, scoring a brace of 35s. Before the next test in Faisalabad, he came across Zaheer Abbas, who suggested that wrapping the right hand a bit more on the bat handle would help him score more runs against the pace bowling. Azhar scored a first ball duck in the first innings in Faisalabad but came back with a blistering 109 in the second dig. Then came a 192 against New Zealand in New Zealand, and the confidence in playing on seaming and bouncing wickets grew.

The 1990 series of England, under Azharuddin, was the one whom fans were actually expecting India to exceed all their past performances in England. They had an attacking captain in good batting form, the Lord of the Lord’s Vengsarkar was still very much there, Ravi Shastri had grown to be a very dependable batsman and a very miserly bowler, Kapil Dev was still in control of his all-round skills, Kiran More was one of the best wicketkeepers in the world at the time, and a young 17-year-old Sachin Tendulkar, with superhuman talent and promise, was in good nick too. The team would not be bogged down by the might of the English line-up. After all, they had won the last three-match series in England 2-0. And the combative Bhishen Singh Bedi was in the coach’s seat.

The first test started on an auspicious note for India, with Azhar winning the toss. And immediately Azhar made a huge blunder, by putting England in to bat. The weather, which was overcast at the time of the toss cleared up, and the Lord’s strip offered no juice for the Indian Seamers, Kapil Dev, Sanjeev Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar, each conceding over a hundred runs. It is history now, that Kiran More Dropped Gooch when the latter was on 36, and the blunder cost India 297 more runs. Allan Lamb and the Hard-hitting Robin Smith also peeled off centuries on the placid track, and England piled up a mammoth 653/4 in just under 2 days. Traditionally, India would have wilted under this huge score, but what was to come was an epic fightback led by one of the most aesthetically pleasing salvo by the Indian captain.

Ravi Shastri stoically held the fort for 4 hours to make an even hundred. His partners, Sidhu and Manjrekar were back in the pavilion when the score reached 102. When he was joined by his Bombay teammate and the Lord of Lord’s Dilip Vengsarkar, they added 89 precious runs and Shastri fell to the innocuous-looking gentle off-spin of Eddie Hemmings. At 3 for 191, the Indian captain came to the crease, India still in large arrears. He added 50 runs with Vengsarkar, and for the first time in 11 years in a Lord’s test match, Vengsarkar fell before reaching his hundred. He made 52. Young Tendulkar fell cheaply for 10, at 288, Prabhakar lasted only till the score reached 348, and India still had a 300+ runs deficit to erase.

The captain though seemed oblivious to any pressure despite this dire situation. He was stroking the ball merrily, playing delectable drives on both the sides of the wicket, cutting ferociously, and sending anything pitched on his leg-stump and around screaming past the boundary. At 348/6 he was joined by Kapil Dev, who was in his elements too. But the partnership didn’t last long, and Azhar departed for 121 glorious runs to his credit scored of just 111 balls. India- 393 for 7. Kiran More scratched around with Kapil Dev, and helped take the total to 430, 223 short of England. He fell to Frazer, and Frazer quickly also issued a ticket to pavilion, to the debutante Sanjeev Sharma, not allowing him to score.

Kapil Dev at one end unbeaten with a fifty-two off 70 balls with 8 boundaries. With India needing 24 more to avoid the follow-on, and with a solitary wicket in hand, in came Shri Narendra Hirwani, who looked extremely apologetic with a bat in hand. He was to survive 5 remaining balls of Frazer’s over, which he miraculously did, and Kapil took strike to face Hemmings in the next over. He played out the first two deliveries and suddenly realized that there is only one batsman remaining with him, and he too is highly incompetent. The jaunty Jat decided to take matters in his own hands. The next remaining balls of Eddie Hemmings’ over were sent packing out of the ground, 24 runs were scored, India avoided the follow-on, and promptly, Hirwani got out on the first ball of the next over. India finished at 454, 199 short of England, and the talk of the town was not Gooch’s 333 or the centuries of Lamb and Smith, but the elegant and audacious 100 of Azhar, and the daredevil manner in which Kapil Dev ensured that England had to bat again in the match. England were clinically efficient in their second innings, Gooch adding 123 off 113 balls to his first innings 333, and Atherton scoring a patient 72. England declared at 272 for 4, setting India 472 to win. India folded up for 224, the middle order making 30s yet no one being able to convert their starts.

India had revived the tradition of losing their first test of the England tour, but not without putting up a fight. And a gallant fight it was. Azhar was not an outstanding captain, he was unimaginative, but there was no questioning his supreme abilities as a batsman. With Shastri and Vengsarkar in good form, Tendulkar looking promising, and Kapil Dev striking the ball sweetly, India hoped to make a comeback in the series. Their bowling though, was a major worry.

England nearly repeated their first innings performance in the first test by posting a mammoth 519, riding on the centuries from both the openers and Robin Smith. Atherton was dour, but Gooch and Smith batted as if they were using sledgehammers instead of the bat. Indian reply was a treat to the sore eyes of Indian fans, even if they didn’t get a good start. Quickly reduced to 57/3, the Indian ship seemed to be sinking yet again, but when the technically correct Sanjay Manjrekar was joined by the unorthodox Azharuddin, things suddenly started looking better.

With Sanjay Manjrekar solid as the rock of Gibraltar at one end, Azhar could bat freely, and he made the most of it. The pair added 189 gorgeous runs, and Manjrekar departed, missing his century by 7 runs. In walked the prodigal Bombay Bomber, Sachin Tendulkar. With all the reputation he was gathering, he surprised his fans right from the outset. He took over an hour to get off the mark. Then he settled in and scored a resolute, Half century. In the meantime, Azharuddin departed for a masterly 179. This innings of Azhar was full of lyrical stroke play and quicksilver footwork. He hit 21 boundaries and a six. Once Azhar departed with the score on 358, wickets fell regularly around Sachin Tendulkar and when Sachin was the last man out for 68, India were 87 runs short of England’s total.

In their second essay, England scored swiftly, and declared on 320/4, giving India a target of 408 to win. Atherton scored 74, Robin Smith 61, and Alan Lamb an efficient 109. Indian second innings had a stuttering start, with both the openers back in the hut before the score passed 40. Then, the Bombay duo of Manjrekar and Vengsarkar steadied the ship a bit and took the score to 109 and both of them departed. The captain left soon after, contributing only 11, and the responsibility of saving the match fell on the 17-year-old shoulders of Sachin Tendulkar. He was the last recognized batsman to walk in, allrounders Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar were not in a very good batting nick, and all the onus was on Tendulkar.

Kapil and Tendulkar added a further 56 runs, and Kapil fell with the score still 225 runs short of the England total. The pitch was breaking, and even the rotund Eddie Hemmings had started to look dangerous. But, Tendulkar was in a different mindset altogether. He didn’t scratch around like in the first innings, and attacked the bowlers, especially being severe on Eddie Hemmings. To add insult to the injury to his own bowling figures, Hemmings also floored a simple caught-and-bowled chance off Tendulkar. Maybe Sachin had got the luck he needed.

His first test century came by, and the tantalizing wait for his fans, who had backed him as the next Sunny Gavaskar was finally over. Sachin had come close to a hundred in Napier earlier in the year but was out 12 runs short of three figures then. Here, with a solid Manoj Prabhakar assuring him of not losing any further wickets, Tendulkar blossomed. He batted for three and three-quarters of hours and scored 119 punctuated with 17 sizzling boundaries. And he was there till the end with Manoj Prabhakar, steering India out of turbulent waters and bringing them ashore undefeated. The match was drawn, but a Genius had announced his arrival!

Having put up decent fights in the first and the second tests, despite being 0-1 down in the series, India were down, but not out. Their spirits weren’t damp. Azhar won the toss again, and without a second thought elected to bat. His batsmen responded admirably. Shastri made 187, Azhar himself made 78, Kiran More made 61, Prabhakar, Manjrekar, and Tendulkar all chipped in with useful 20s, And Vengsarkar made 33. Kapil Dev made a sedate century by his standards, scoring 110 off 142 balls. Even the rabbit Narendra Hirwani made 2 runs. India declared at 606/9, and for the first time in the series, England were under the pressure of a pile of runs.

Azhar’s bowlers too did a fine job, dismissing England for 340 in their first innings. Prabhakar, with 4 for 74 was the spearhead of the attack. Azhar promptly asked England to follow on, but the oval pitch had eased out. Gooch and Atherton put on 176 runs, scoring 80s, And batting at three, David Gower, who was playing for his place, played the grittiest innings of his life, making 157 resilient unbeaten runs. Allan Lamb and John Morris hung around with him, and England had made 477/4 by the end of the fifth day. The match was drawn and the rubber went to England 1-0. In the subsequent ODIs, India turned the tables defeating England 2-0. Azhar was not a great captain in the series, yet his side had not done badly too. Azhar remained the India captain for a long time after that. He led India to some spectacular victories, albeit in the subcontinent only and none overseas. Azhar would also come back to England in 1996 leading the Indian team.

As always, India lost the first test. Azhar won the toss, elected to bat and Indian batsmen proved him wrong. All got starts, but none were converted to substantial innings. India made 214, largely due to Srinath’s 52 and his 9th wicket partnership with Paras Mhambrey, who made 28 valiant runs. Dominic Cork and Left-hander Allan Mullaly didn’t allow the Indian batsmen to settle at all and claimed 4 and 3 wickets, respectively. England reply was moreover the same story, but Nasser Hussein made the difference capitalizing on his start and converting it to a class 128. England led by 99 runs. Both, Srinath and Prasad, claimed 4 wickets each.

In the Indian second innings, wickets kept falling regularly. Amidst all the ruins, one man, who so often has stood tall in the Indian innings for 24 long years did it again. Sachin Tendulkar scored a counterattacking 122 out of India’s 219. India set England a paltry 121 to win, which they made losing only two wickets. Captain Atherton made 53 and saw England cross the line. The captain failed in both innings, and his indifference against swing bowling was glaringly visible.

The second test at Lord’s was a southpaws’ match, so to say. Sanjay Manjrekar was replaced by Saurav Ganguly. Mike Atherton won the toss and England elected to bat, but the Indian pace spearhead Srinath and debutante Sourabh Ganguly reduced England quickly to 107 for 5, and England appeared likely to repeat the 1986 Lord’s performance. Thankfully for them, the doughty Graham Thorpe was around, and he was joined by the eccentric painter and England wicketkeeper Jack Russel. They added 136 to take the score to 243, and Thorpe departed, missing his century by 11 runs. Russel added a further 83 runs with the mercurial Bajan Chris Lewis, and Lewis departed with the score on 326.

The rest of the wickets could count for only 18 further runs, and England was all out for 344. Srinath took 3, Ganguly 2 and Venkatesh Prasad mopped up the tail, ending up with a fifer. Russel scored a workmanlike 124. India lost Vikram Rathore early, and the makeshift opener Nayan Mongia too didn’t last very long. The newcomer Ganguly had come in to bat at three and was joined by Sachin Tendulkar who was fast climbing the summit to Greatness. Both put on 64 runs, and just when Sachin seemed to be settling in, he departed for a scratchy 31. Captain Azhar and Ajay Jadeja too didn’t last long, and fellow debutant Rahul Dravid walked in to join Ganguly. They put on 94, and Ganguly departed for a gritty 131 on his debut. It has been very often said (and I fiercely disagree with it) that Ganguly was all grace and no grit, but the people who say this should remember that Ganguly had started his test match innings with one of his grittiest centuries.

It was laced with 20 exquisite hits to the boundary, mostly between the arc of backward point to Mid-Off. The God of the off side had marked his territory in his very first salvo. Dravid at the other end was as solid as the rock of Gibraltar, and showing maturity beyond his years, farmed the strike beautifully. He added 55 with Anil Kumble, another 37 with Srinath, and 31 with Paras Mhambrey before losing his concentration and getting out 5 short of a debut hundred. The last wicket also added 10 runs and India was all out for 429. In their second innings, England trudged their way to 278 for 9 in 121 over to ensure a draw. Alec Stewart made 61, and the rest of the batsmen occupied the crease for a long time and little runs. Anil Kumble bowled 51 very economical overs to take 3 wickets, yet again proving his ability to bowl unwavering line and length, and his superb stamina. This match was the swansong of the umpiring colossus Harold “Dickie” Bird. He was an immensely popular umpire worldwide, but more in India, where a whiskey was named after him by some brewer.

After the spectacular debut of Ganguly and Dravid in Lord’s, the Nottingham test was set up nicely. Winning the toss, Azhar chose to bat first and was immediately disillusioned, when both the openers were back in the hut with the score in the 30s. Then, for the first time in international cricket, a partnership which went on to rule the world came together. Sachin and Saurav added 255 sparkling runs. Ganguly made 136, studded with 17 fours and 2 sixes. Sachin was then joined by Mumbai team-mate Sanjay Manjrekar, and the pair put on 89, and Sachin got out making 177. When he departed with the score at 377, the captain walked in but departed scoring a mere 5 runs. Manjrekar and Dravid added 61 more, and at 446/6, Dravid was left to do the job, and added 75 runs with the tail. He yet again got close to a hundred but missed it by 16 runs.

England replied with 564. Atherton and Hussain made centuries, and Thorpe and Ealham chipped in with useful scores. Nasser (Poppadum fingers) Hussain batted bravely despite a fractured finger. Ganguly was again amongst wickets, claiming 3 for 71. In their second innings, India made 211. Tendulkar made 74, Ganguly 48 and Nayan Mongia 45. But there was so little time left in the match that it was called off after the Indian second innings ended.

These were the stories of the two series Azhar led India in England. Two very similar stories. A loss in the first test, India finding their bearings in the second and third test matches of the series, on both occasions second and third tests drawn and England winning the series 1-0. India has never performed well in the first test match in England, barring the Lord’s 1986 Test. The cause has always been the same. Lack of serious practice matches. In 1996 though, India had good 7 practice matches before the first test, but the counties chose to rest their better players and played second-string sides.

Acclimatization to the foreign conditions has always been the problem for touring Indian sides. As for Azhar, he was never a good captain. He was captain for a long time merely due to an absence of anyone worthier for the post. If he put any thought in captaining the Indian sides, remains a mystery. When asked what his strategy for the match would be, he would say the much ridiculed, “we have to bat well, bowl well, and field well” on most occasions. Fundamentally correct, yet very casual. Never outside the subcontinent, it has been seen that he has been aggressive as a captain or has tried to make things happen. As a batsman, he was one of the finest though. His dazzling performances of 1990 speak for him. He was an artist, made to lead because none other would qualify. But as a leader, he reminds us of Nero, who chose to keep playing the fiddle even when Rome was burning. The 1996 tour was the beginning of the end of Azharuddin, and what a phenomenal beginning the man had had, and what a tragic end… Perfect plot for a movie which was eventually made, albeit badly.

Hope you liked- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 11. Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

What The Duck!

A cricket humourist, a stand-up comedian, author of the famous book- ‘How Sachin Destroyed my life’, fan boy with an all-access pass to the world of Indian Cricket, presenter who interviews cricketers and ex-cricketers with ease! While we have seen him mimicking few cricketers and interviewing a lot of them, here’s an opportunity we got to interview the creator of ‘What The Duck’- Vikram Sathaye!!!

Vikram Sathaye
What The Duck Moment!

So Vikram, we all are huge fans of What the Duck and we wait for the episodes- (we even tweet in case the episode gets delayed), for the benefit of our readers to know more about you, let’s have a round of Brain Fade (not in real sense) Q & A for you.

1) Finishing MBA, taking up a job, and ending up being India’s first Stand-up comedian… How did that happen?

The answer to this question is very easy. I was bored of my corporate job. I wanted to get out of it as soon as possible. I had a skill to imitate cricketers. Unfortunately, back in 2002, I didn’t know what stand-up comedy was. I used to work in MTV as a Marketing Manager. While the VJs used to do the hosting, I used to perform a 10-min skit with Cyrus Broacha and a few others. People started liking it and I realized that if I could extend this a little bit, there’s a lot of scope. Unfortunately, YouTube was not there in 2002-2003 & I didn’t have any reference of stand-up comedians from anywhere in the world. But being from Maharashtra, I knew what Pu La Deshpande (famous Marathi author P. L. Deshpande) used to do. Broadly had an idea, that when you go up on the stage, you put up a story, even if the imitations are there, it’s part of the story line. So, I started developing this concept. And, when I realized that it has started working, that was the same time I got offer to go to the 2003 World Cup in SA, for a 2 min skit in ‘Extra Innings’. People noticed and approached me saying “Humara corporate event hai, why don’t you do a ten minutes show of what you do.” When I realized that this was working, I started to put my act together. I read up and found that stand-up comedy was a proper profession abroad with people performing one hour sets, and realized that it’s something that I can pull off. When Corporates started calling me after the World Cup, and when the CEAT Awards- which was one of my first show to be telecasted on Sony Entertainment Television, I thought I was sitting on something that had a huge potential. I quit my job at that point of time. I was finding a way, and Comedy helped me get out of it.

2) When did you realize you can imitate cricketers? When was the first successful attempt in?
I have been imitating cricketers since my childhood. And, as kids, we all used to watch Gavaskar play regularly. For my first CEAT Awards show, I imitated Gavaskar. Obviously, there’s certain amount of skill that you already possess, because imitating people, either you have it or you don’t. In college, I used to imitate Tony Greig. During MTV, I refined it and added a structure to it. I started doing that, and people in MTV said this is good stuff, ‘you can do it on stage’. Slowly, I started doing cricket events in front of the cricketers and when they said they are enjoying it, I knew that without hurting them, I was doing something that everybody was liking. I used to imitate the likes of Gavaskar, Azhar, Vengsarkar and whole lot of cricketers. I was a natural imitator of cricketers, I have been doing this for a while, but in 2002 it became refined and then I made it into a career.

3) Have you ever played alongside the God- Sachin Tendulkar? How was the experience?

I have not played alongside Sachin. But when I played for U-15 for my club in Pune (I was 13 years of age), Achrekar Sir used to send Sachin to play some of the matches with our team, also. I have played in a match he was there, but beyond that nothing. It was not like I have played regularly with him, just one odd match here and there in U-15 days.

4) How was your experience in the 2003 World Cup sharing the mic with the great commentators?
2003 was a brain fade moment for me. From somebody imitating a Tony Greig or Ian Chappell, suddenly in a month’s time, I was on a flight to South Africa with an ICC accreditation & in the company of renowned commentators. I was wondering what happened in one month that changed my life so much. Now, I was required to do a segment on national television. The producer of channel went to Tony Greig and said, “This guy has come from India and apparently he can do a good ‘Tony Greig’. Why don’t you chat with him?” So, he said, “Mate come on, do what you have to.” I imitated Tony and he started laughing loudly. That was the moment that convinced me that, Agar Tony Greig hass raha hai, that means something is right, and it’s not that my friends are pulling my leg when saying that I am good imitator. Soon, from mimicking, I became popular amongst the commentators as well. That eased the pressure on me that I have to go on my own, and do something. Suddenly, Tiger Pataudi was calling and saying here’s a friend of mine, please imitate Geoffrey Boycott in front of him and I was imitating, Geoff. Kapil Paaji would come and say, “Tu yaar iski nakal achchhi kar leta hai, yeh kar.”So, for me, I didn’t know what was happening and everything was going so well.

5) Did you face any resistance from commentators?
That resistance was not in 2003. Later on, when I did a stint with ESPN, and they actually put me in the commentary box with Sunny & Ravi Shastri, that time I realized that the cricketing fraternity not necessarily likes an outsider. I never intended to be a broadcaster. I like to have fun around the game. I realized that it’s a difficult thing to be in the box being an outsider. Harsha has managed to do it very well. From 2006, I decided thatI will not be in and around the commentary box. I will do my own standup comedy and my own stuff, that would be better because cricketers (ex-cricketers, commentators) don’t really like people from the outside world.

6) Why is your first book is Titled – How Sachin destroyed my Life.
If you read the first chapter, you will realize the reason for that title. Because I have always said that during my generation, when we grew up in the times of Sachin Tendulkar, if you scored a 50 or a 70 in a U-15 game, Sachin scored a 300. Whenever you played, your mother would say- “Bagh, Sachin kasa khelto aahe”

The whole premise of my generation was that – Everything you did, you were still not equal to that ‘guy’. He gave you a benchmark that you would never achieve.

7) We have observed that you generally address the players as ‘Tu’ (Sachin, Virendra Sehwag), how did you generate that comfort level?
Comfort level with this generation was always there with Tendulkar, Viru and even for that matter Rahul, Zak and Yuvi. What happened was a very funny incident. Being a Maharashtrian, when you say ‘Tu’, ‘Tumhi’, it’s a matter of endearment. Some kids address their dad as ‘Tu’. In Marathi, ‘Tu’ is not disrespectful. But when you go up north, and speak in Hindi, you can’t say ‘Tu’ or ‘Tumhare’ to anybody. You have to say ‘Aap’. That’s something I had forgotten in the first season and while I was speaking to Sachin, I was saying “Tu”, he was saying “Tu aisa kiya tha…” – that is a typical Bambaiya way of addressing, which I have been exposed to all my life. When I did that, I got trolled from a lot of people saying that, “boss what do you think of yourself”, how can you talk with the ‘god of cricket’ like that? Bahut gali pada!!! Then I realized the gravity of situation that in north of India ‘Tu’ is considered as disrespectful. It was a mistake on my part to not understand that. But later, 99% times I have corrected it. Once in a while it did get slipped and I came back to ‘Tu’. If you realize, in the 3rd season, I have ensured that if I was speaking to Kuldeep Yadav, who is probably half of my age, I would still say ‘Sirji’, ‘Aap’, as I don’t want to commit the same mistake. So, it was not necessarily comradery with the players, but a mistake, more than anything else.

Vikram Sathaye
Brain Fade Moment!

8) Why such name WTD?
It just started on an evening when I decided to do a show. I thought, Centuries toh sabhi celebrate karte hain, why not celebrate ducks? Every person is scared of scoring a duck. The most significant moment of watching cricket on Channel 9 was this duck. If I am not mistaken, Daddles was the name of that animated duck, and that image kind of stayed on in my mind. WTD was just a way of representing that duck. If you see the first season, we had a WTD question in all episodes and gave away T-shirts, and celebrated the number of ducks they had scored. It was just a creative treatment and lighter way of celebrating something that cricketers hate having on their bio-data, the most.

9) Our favorite episode was ‘God- SRT’s episode and the best part was Debashis Mohanty’s bowling. A question in his action… Your favorite episode?
Obviously Sachin & Sehwag – I have natural inclination to call them the favorite, but personally, I enjoyed one of the other episode of Murli and Sanga. I don’t know Sanga that well. I thought Sanga hai, what will I talk? I know Murli is a nonstop talker, but Sanga, I was not sure. When I came out of episode, I learnt about the many Sanga stories & of course that of Murali, too. To me, episodes with Sachin & Viru are obviously no. 1, as even the stories that Sachin had narrated on that episode about John right, and few others, even I didn’t know of. And I knew of these stories only when I was interacting prior to the episode. Whereas Sanga & Murli, I didn’t know a single story. From just my point of view, forget about being the host, and just from a personal happiness point of view, Murli & Sanga stories were amazing. I am fan of Ashwin. I like the way he speaks. He was unbelievable with his stories in last season. For rest of episodes also, in phases, lots of interesting stuff came out. Last year, Parthiv Patel’s episode – I had liked a lot, as Parthiv also revealed some amazing stories.

10) You have been mimicking so many cricketers, has any of the senior player ever taken it as an offence?
Surprisingly, nobody has taken offence up till now. I am trying to remember in the past … did anybody … actually people had taken it as an offence in the beginning when I used to imitate Sachin, they used to say it’s not in the right spirit because Sachin had that connect with the fans. And I said “Sachin ko koi problem nahi, to tum ko kya problem hai ..” But , people can be sensitive. As far as I remember, I don’t think anyone has ever come to me and complained. I have been lucky that nobody has felt offended from the cricket field so far.

11) Is there any player you feel you can never mimic because you respect him immensely?
No, not really.

13) Why don’t you mimic women’s team players?
Apart from the World Cup, I have not followed much of Women’s cricket. Typically, observation comes only when you see something for a long time. Jhulan Goswami’s action was different. I think I will be able to imitate. For earlier generation, it was easy to pick up as there were lots of ‘characters’. Either, I have become old, or I feel that the characteristics have gone down a little bit, or maybe they are not there in the playing 11. I’m sure Mithali has some characteristics, Smriti has something, but I am not being able to pick that up till now. But, as I said, Jhulan has a unique action so I think I can manage her bowling action.

14) Season 3 was doing so well? Why did you end the season so early?
Dus ho gaya yaar. 10 episodes karte karte meri jaan nikal gayi. 20 cricketers ko ikkaththe lana, back to back during IPL, was a nightmare. Two cricketers coming together was the pain, so 10 episodes, for me was a lot of hard work. I am happy that it got over.

15) When is season 4 launching? Where can the audience see it?
Looking forward for conceptualizing something new for season 4, let’s see how it goes. This will be mostly during IPL as I will start prepping during that time, else, I won’t get time from cricketers. If I am shooting with the same lot or even others, I will not be getting any players unless, I go out and shoot in in Australia or England. Shooting with full budget, crew and doing all episodes outside, becomes a little expensive, so IPL time is the only time we can. That’s also when the budgets are pretty robust. Am conceptualizing, but if something happens, great if I get a window somewhere, some new format emerges, I might think of doing something before also, but broadly, I think, the season would happen only during IPL. The audience can watch it on Viu and YouTube together, hopefully.

16) Tell us more about ‘Bawraas’ and ‘Think Cricket’
The other passion that I always had was music as I come from a musical family. My mother teaches classical music and light music so I used to always be a ‘wannabe’ singer, you can say. Luckily, being in MTV and being in show business, in terms of doing live gigs, I was exposed to lots of musicians- Sonu, Shaan, Shankar and Shreya – they are personal friends. At one point of time, I always thought that we got lucky in our profession. People in unconventional careers, why not support them when they do something interesting and that’s when I met Krishna Patil who was India’s youngest mountaineer who had climbed Everest and didn’t have money to go to the next mountain. So, once when Swanand Kirkire, Shantanu Moitra & I got chatting, we agreed to do a concert to raise money for her expeditions. It happened on a whim and we got together, and then Shaan said he will support, Shreya said she will support. We did a concert , we raised the money for her, and that became pretty successful. Post that, we raised a little bit money for the Gopichand foundation, much before the Olympics. We raised money for an athlete called Ankita Gosavi from Pune, who had to go for the Asian Games. So, it became like, let’s do a concert for people who are doing good stuff. Unfortunately, last one year we didn’t have the bandwidth to do much, but we are reviving it by identifying two or three interesting people for whom we will do something, this year.

Think cricket was something Harsha Bhogle and me have been talking about for some time with Anita, Harsha’s wife. Between me and Harsha, we must have done 1000’s of corporate events. And over a period of time, both of us meet and chat about management and cricket, so thought why not have a platform where we chat with the clients that we have always interacted with – CEOs, VPs who come on an evening and chat cricket with them and when we chat cricket it’s a free-flowing conversation. We had Rahul Dravid speaking on the art of batting. Sundar Raman spoke on his BCCI experience, Ashwin spoke on Spin Bowling, so we keep calling interesting people to talk about cricket in a free-flowing conversation with the heads of companies. So, think cricket was something we thought we would do very regularly.

All’s well that ends well. A big thank to Vikram Sathaye to take out his precious time and answering our questions. All the best for your future assignments.

Hope you liked the special interview. Stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com for more on cricket.

Right from the Mecca of Cricket- Lord’s Prelude

In an era of muscling the balls into the stands, waiting for the first day of Lord’s Test still gives goosebumps to cricket lovers. Yes, T20 has made it possible for us to watch a cricket match in 4 hours. But nothing can replace the excitement of walking into MCG on a Boxing Day test, or walking into Eden Gardens and see Wasim Akram running into ball, mind you , that time Eden could hold up to 1,00,000 spectators. Hence, my idea of real contest is still a game played over 5 days where pendulum would be shifting from time to time and the team with never-say-die attitude will come up winners. While some say 5 Test series is too long, the old fashioned like me would say, that’s clear opportunity of 25 days of real hard cricket.

The Mecca of Cricket-Lords
The Mecca of Cricket-Lords

The occasion in Lord’s and I hate to say this that I traveled from India to London, just to catch the first day at Lord’s, see the captains walk to toss, see umpires throw the new ball to the bowler, the bell ringing, everything. But, God had other plans and an extremely painful personal loss has deprived me of this honor but only for this time. Nevertheless, I am in London and I hope to catch up one of the days in between.

In the meantime, as stated before the heat wave has been extremely killing. But suddenly, yesterday (7th August), the weather Gods changed their minds. It did not rain but cloud covers had covered London. It was pleasant for a change, not to mention, I love rain. But if you are cricket lover and specially an Indian fan, you would know English weather is flirting with Virat Kohli. Till now, grass has been left on the 22 yards, weather is swinging between hot and cold, Andy Flower goes on to record and say Kohli has to play more years to reach Sachin and become one of the all-time greats, Bumrah is not fit, India has lost the first test within the first 4 days, and adversary are still hitting Indian Team. I am sure in my mind that Kohli is already quite baffled about what to do with the batting order and now with the weather playing its part, he sure will be confused with his bowling combinations.

It is pretty easy for all us fans and the commentators say a few things while the game is on or after the match is done and dusted. But, Kohli is leading the team right there. He is feeling the heat and he is taking some bold decisions. I think he will still back KL Rahul since one test is not good enough to judge someone. Now, Dhawan should not be dropped since that might press the panic button in the dressing room and bring in more insecurity amongst the players, so would guess Dhawan sticks again. Rahane will stick on for past performances. There is really no need to change the batters at this point of time. We also need to bear in mind Pujara has done nothing extra-ordinary in these conditions. But if Kohli wants to get in the extra batsman, it has to be Pujara and where do you fit him.

If Pujara comes in, then automatically Umesh goes out. Now, permutations and combinations looks very interesting given this is a must win game of India. It will be a real test of character and mentality of these players. But above all, it will be an opportunity to see if these players are ready to amend their mistakes. Since, this looks like the last chance for many in the team. Kohli himself needs to think before finalizing the final 11. He has never played the same 11 in consecutive Tests and that could and might have created doubts in the mind of the players like Vijay and Rahane. If you look at Vijay’s batting, it has not been the same from the time he had been dropped from the time. He is poking and prodding outside the offstump and God knows why. Similarly,Rahane has not found his magic touch yet after being dropped in the SA series after being the vice-captain of the team. However, Pandya keeps getting the captain’s backing even after some really ordinary performance, but definitely some lighting of brilliance from time to time.

Kohli will be the big difference between the defeat and win once again and I hope to make my presence felt in one of the days in between.

Hope you liked Lord’s Prelude. Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

Special thanks to Debdeep for sharing this article. Debdeep Bhattacharya is a cricket fanatic with an analytical insight of the game, a hardcore Dada fan who believes everything cant be measured in stats!

India v/s England Test Series : Round 1 of 5

So, India travels to England after a span of 4 years and this time they come with a lot of expectation and one of the main reasons of that expectation is Virat Kohli. Kohli happens to be the man who has scored heavily across the world and across formats. If you are a kid and wanting to play cricket, you want to like Virat Kohli. He is setting the trend with fitness and his batting.

Virat Kohli & Joe Root with Pataudi Trophy, 2018
Virat Kohli & Joe Root with Pataudi Trophy, 2018

The only place where he has to stamp his authority is England. A dominating century in England is still missing from his long list of achievements and CV. Having won the T20 series and lost the ODI series, it was time to get ready to face English fast bowlers. With the heat wave being nothing less than torturous in England, it was expected to help Indians since much swing was not expected but the Duke ball had a different story to tell.

England wins the toss and elects to bat. Kohli brings in a major change and drops Pujara for KL Rahul. I have always maintained KL Rahul has a problem against the moving ball but captain trusts his former IPL team mate. Again, with only Ashwin in the team, it looked a little heavy in the pace department. While we talk about the different players, it is an absolute must to mention that just like Kohli, Ashwin as well did not have a great performance in England last time. So, another one to set that record right.

As the Test match started, England looked pretty comfortable against Indian attack and looked to set a big score. There were no demons on the pitch and I still maintain that it was 400+ pitch. However, keeping Kohli out of the game is just impossible. You can call it half a chance, but it did come in the form of Bairstow mis-judging a run and taking a chance against Kohli. I simply call it stupidity. A direct hit at the bowlers end and the priced wicket of Joe Root, probably the best batsman of England. This turned the game and England collapsed for 287. Not to forget, Ashwin showed his guile and experience by bagging 4 wickets and some superb bowling from the senior pro Shami.

I was almost certain that India would bat only once and score something around 450 since this wicket has got nothing. Vijay and Dhawan was alright at the crease. But more importantly, Broad and Anderson did not look threatening at all and I was quite confident that this series is going our way from hereon. As the old saying goes ‘ Little knowledge can be dangerous’ and thats what exactly happened with me. A 20 year old left arm fast bowler was marking his run up and I was of the idea that he would not be much of a threat given the experience our batters have.

But, suddenly we had lost 3 wickets of our Top 3 within 8 runs. I looked at the replays 10 times and I could not understand whether we threw the wickets away or our batsmen are that stupid. As Geoff Boycott would say “ Even my mum would have left those balls”. Highly disgusted and disappointed with our batters, I continued my optimism since Kohli and Rahane was at the crease. Now, the whole match had narrowed down to Anderson vs Kohli.

Kohli eager to stay put and stamp his authority, as the couple of reckless shots would indicate and similarly, Anderson, being old wily bowler that he is, kept tempting and probing Kohli and at times challenging Kohli to satisfy his ego and play that expansive drive. But for the next 4 hours what I saw is a normal guy changing himself and maturing to a man.

The innings had 3 dropped catches and 2 catches fell short of the slips, thats 5 balls and in the rest 220 balls, this man re-wrote history, wiped the past away and created his own legacy which would be part of cricketing folklore for ages to come. The innings was not filled with beautiful shots but tremendous willpower, the innings did not have the power of Kohli but the mind of Kohli and finally it got the result for which millions had tuned into cricket for that day. Scored a superlative 149, took India to 274. Conceded the lead but not by much.

England comes into bat, again Ashwin weaving his magic around the English batsmen and snatching 3 wickets. Ishant joins the party takes 5 superb wickets. At one stage 87/7, looks like game over England. But again, walks in that under-rated player named Sam Curran and smashes 63. What was disgusting to see is Dhawan kept dropping catches and kept smiling. What on earth was he thinking???? Did he think Kohli would say “Sardar khus hua???” If that stupidity was not enough , he would thigh slap every time he took a catch. What does that even indicate??? Anyways, finally England was bundled out for 180. With the famed batting line up of India, it was almost given that we would win this game. Target 194, should be done by lunch Day 4.

In comes the opening pair of the world no. 1 team, Vijay and Dhawan, oh sorry, I should be saying in comes the fashion stars of the World No. 1 team. Since what followed for the next 3 hours is called Fashion Parade by the Indian batting stalwarts. You name them and they are ready to go to Lakme Fashion show or something in Paris as well. They can give the best model in the world a run for their money. What was unfolding in front of me, is called callousness, unprofessionalism and I felt like cheated and I would like to know if Kohli and the Indian bowlers felt any different.

If there is a term which is worse than throwing away wickets, I would like to know since, looked like Vijay, Dhawan, Rahane, KL Rahul did not care what was going in the middle. They did not even have the heart to fight it out. And at the other end, there was this man who has so much pride of playing for India that he kept trying and trying. He even tried to shield them but at the same time tried not to insult the so-called batsmen. The Indian captain was stranded, dejected and all this was apparent when he walked back to the pavilion after another superb 51. As a fan and cricket lover, I felt sorry for him.

I have not seen an Indian batsman in a long time to play like this, not seen someone to carry a team like this. I am sorry to say but the rest of the batters do not deserve our love or our criticism. They are not worth it.

Its time to bring the Shaw and Gill into the team because it cant get any worse than this. It pains us , as a fan , to see Kohli going through after that kind of efforts. Its a sad state of affairs.

Hope you liked the review of the first test match. Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com

Special thanks to Debdeep for sharing this article. Debdeep Bhattacharya is a cricket fanatic with an analytical insight of the game, a hardcore Dada fan who believes everything cant be measured in stats!