Tag Archives: indians

Blue and Green

Blue, with a streak of green. It is unmistakable.

Everywhere you look, the colours of the country are on show. The longer you look, you start noticing the green dots amid the blue ocean. Green and blue is on everyone, everywhere.

The entire ground is dressed in colours. One man wears an Indian flag court jester hat, a traditional Indian vest over an Indian cricket shirt. One young Pakistani seems to be wearing two Pakistan shirts. A mother straightens the Indian shirt of a little girl in her sling. There is a group of fans who have come from Zimbabwe, they wear a shirt of their own design, part India, part Zimbabwe. An older woman wears a fashionable green skirt, which is the exact same colour of the Pakistan 99 World Cup kit.

One man claims to have not worn his India shirt in 30 years. This despite the fact that he does not even look 30, and that coloured shirts weren’t really available then.

Sports fans love a uniform. Sports fans love to belong. This isn’t about sport. This is about identity. This isn’t about sport, or citizenship or even nationality. This is about culture. The India or Pakistan on the chest is a statement of who they are. What they are. Their colour. Them.

“The spirit of this game”, according to Karl Telfer of the Kaurna Clan “unites us”.

It has united them right here in Adelaide. People have come from Singapore, Mumbai, Denver, Lahore, London, San Francisco, Melbourne, Sydney, Florida, Dallas, Michigan and Mombasa. Not for the glory of cricket, but for the glory of India and Pakistan.

The crowd is made up of dental practitioners, accountants, CEOs, CTOs and engineers. Some have paid over six-hundred dollars just to come over from Sydney. One man tells me, “Oh, thousands, I couldn’t even add it all up, and I’m only seeing this one game”.

This one game.

“I’ve come from Dallas”, says one woman. Are you going to another game? “No, just this one”. Her husband then tells her she is going to another game. There are no other games.

There are two types of fans here, and they are often sitting together. A smart dressed man in a turban and smart casual light blue shirt sits next to his mate who is dressed in a Pakistan shirt. The Pakistani fan proudly tells me that he came all the way from Singapore for this game, and that if Pakistan weren’t playing India, he wouldn’t have bothered making the trip. His friend in the smart shirt is from Mumbai, and he would have come regardless. Mr Mumbai is a cricket fan, Mr Singapore is an India-Pakistan fan.

There is a difference. Aman has flown in from Melbourne. Recently, he took his mother to see India play Australia in Tests. She was bored and showed no interest. He tells me that she is loving today. She doesn’t know about the hashtags of #realfinal, or #wewontgiveitback.

She doesn’t know about Mohit Sharma’s late call-up or why Umar Akmal is keeping . She doesn’t know any of the players. She doesn’t need to. For her – for many, in fact – this isn’t about the players. After the game, she won’t be starting Facebook memes about Suresh Raina or RTing funny photos of Pakistanis. She will just be happy or sad.

Many in the crowd are like this. They cheer a ball that Dhawan has played horribly, because it gets a run. The quality of a Pakistani wicket doesn’t change the sound made by the fans.

There are children here as well. Prams are carried up the stairs to seats high up in the stands. The children are too young to understand where they are, or what they are watching. A two-year-old clutches at his father with his hand over his face. He will hardly see a ball. He wouldn’t understand even if he did. Every Pakistani cheer startles him. Every Indian cheer terrifies him. In years to come, his dad will proudly tell him, “You were there”. The memory will be implanted if it has to be.

The new generation isn’t like the last. The younger people don’t have the same level of animosity. They want their team to win. They want it passionately. Loudly. But half of the crowd seems to have at least one friend from the rival-colour clan. A Facebook friend, or a real friend. They study with them. They work with them. They live together. They marry each other.

“Of course the initial jingoism of these games has worn off on me by now”, Alokpi says. “And given how distant I feel from all the players on the Indian team, I’m not really sure I’d be able to muster enough enthusiasm to even root for India all the way in this World Cup. But put me in a room full of Indian fans watching the game and suddenly you might find me eyes bulging and yelling ecstatically, completely caught in a total frenzy.”

When the national anthems are played, almost all the younger people stand for both anthems. Only a few of the older ones sit when it isn’t their anthem. The younger fans film both anthems on their smart phones. These are middle, mostly middle class. It is a different kind of fan. A different kind of fanaticism. They dance like crazy just like the old fans, but they also post to Facebook that they are dancing like crazy. They want to be part of it, they want people to know they are part of it.

Away from the ground, on online forums like Reddit and Quora, people are still part of it.

“You can only know how deeply a single match affected the nation by being a part of it” ashi31 says. “As a muslim nation, the Pakistan cricket and prayers go hand in hand. By the sixth and seventh wicket most of us were busy praying for a miracle rather than paying attention to the match.”

NiX_Nabilz writes, “When Yuvraj Singh was bowled first ball by Wahab at Mohali, you would not believe that not fire crackers, but bullets were fired in the air just like a territory has been conquered, just like a battle has been won.”

“Our mom came and handed over the tea to my brother as usual,” Vinesh Thota writes. “And then our god Sachin was bowled at 93 by Abdul Razzaq. He threw that tea cup out of the window and shouted I will never have tea in my life.”

“People who like sport remember their lives better than those who don’t,” Dan Harris explains in his piece about losing his wife and gaining the Ashes, in the Nightwatchman magazine.

Pakistan-India games are moments in people’s lives they remember forever. Chachachoudhary watched them on a 16-inch TV at a Saras milk parlour. Shriman_Ripley prayed not just for an Indian victory, but for the Indian victory that would inspire his uncle to buy him a samosa. Justarslan celebrated a victory with naan and haleem. Others had family picnics, walked out on job interviews, saw it in a basement, were the only Pakistani surrounded by 70 Indians, sat in a bar, went back home. There is also Kamalfan, who watched it in room 214 with his mate Viki. “I didn’t know he won’t be there for the next India Pak game.”

A game of cricket, a communal life experience. The country remembers it, the culture remembers it, and even those who don’t know how it started feel it all.

“It’s about the history, I don’t real know what actually happened, but the history is there,” a 17-year-old girl says. She tells her friend that her plan is to scream until she loses her voice. She wears her colours. She screams. She will remember this.

The Indian fans raise two fists in unison as the last catch is taken. Behind the stands, many mothers stand holding sleeping children, rocking prams, and one bench has a woman stroking her two kids asleep. She cranes her neck back to look through the entrance to the main stand as the people in blue scream.

This is her memory. One day it will be her kid’s memories as well. This is a cricket match. This is a moment in millions of blue and green lives. This game.

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A lack of Test skill for India

The fear has been with us for a very long time. Cricket does fear and worry better than parents watching a drunken aunty hold their newborn. T20 is cricket’s creeping evil. If you look hard enough, and have the right kind of tunnel vision, you can see its destructive powers in every part of cricket.

The spectre of T20 and its giant mutated child, IPL, is never far away when people talk about India. If India win a match, they do it because of the IPL. If they lose, they do it because of the IPL. Their batsmen are flashy millionaires with shots a dozen who can’t crack real cricket. Their bowlers are lazy, popgun, four-over specialists with tricks to get a bloke caught at long-on and not much more.

We are in the first T20 generation of cricketers. Players who are arriving at Test cricket with contracts across continents, who can reverse, switch-hit, ramp or scoop a maximum for a moment of success, but who enter the corridor of uncertainty like a chainsaw wielding psycho is at the other end. Coaches tried to ground their pupils at first, but now we have T20 specialist coaches who cheer rather than chide improvisation. When Glenn Maxwell played a reverse hook shot, we’d reached uber cricket-max mode.

Cricket has feared the limited-overs revolution for almost as long as it has existed. In the 1990s every time a bad shot was played, ODI cricket was blamed. It was the IPL before we had the IPL. Yet, if you spend anytime watching old cricket footage, stupid shots and pointless bowling has always existed. When Sobers made his double-hundred at the G for the Rest of the World, the modern analyst’s computer would have exploded at the amount of short and wide balls he got.

T20 makes you rich. T20 puts you on television. T20 makes you a target.

In this match we have David Warner, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, R Ashwin, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, and Rohit Sharma. All T20 players first, Test cricketers second. Perhaps not in hopes or dreams, but in reality and contract.

Warner was a franchise player before a first-class player. Smith has travelled the world playing limited-overs cricket in shirts every colour of the rainbow. Ashwin was a Chennai Super King well before he was an Indian spin king at home. Kohli was the emerging player in the first IPL and one-day superstar. They have all adapted, changed and are working out what Test cricket is.

India as a team is yet to evolve. This is a young team; Kohli with 33 Tests is the most experienced player. They have talent, they have proved that at home, but on the road is where young players are tested the most. And on this road at the SCG, they were run over.

Most of India’s current squad have played more domestic T20s than any other form of cricket. Dhoni had not played a Ranji Trophy match since 2005, or Irani Cup match since 2008. Rahane has played one first-class game outside of India colours since 2012. Dhawan has played none since his debut. Rohit has one in the last two years. Mohammed Shami last played in 2012. Raina did not play a first-class game in 2014. He has played 203 ODIs, and 86 first-class matches. And Ashwin not one since 2010. This is a generation of cricketers learning Test cricket while playing it.

Because of their schedule, and how they like to warm up – when India play warm up matches before Tests – they use most of their squad. Blokes retire once they start hitting the ball well. They bowl 12 overs in the match and then rest with the physio. They don’t treat them like matches, and they don’t reap the rewards of a bowler bowling his 20th over and working through a set batsman. Or a batsman pushing beyond 130 knowing how tired that makes you. Their innings and spells are short, their games are make believe. And because of this they struggle to play more than three good sessions in a row. They can’t catch in the slips. Their bowlers need a rigid plan. And their batsmen give away good starts.

Many times in this series India have played good cricket. The first two sessions on day five in Adelaide gave them a chance of winning. The next session might as well not have existed. At the Gabba they fought to get the Australia tail in while they were well behind. Then they spent hours bowling at them. For three seasons India batted well at the MCG, but they had one session where they gave away five wickets and the Test was over. They have not had one great innings from beginning to end. Not with the bat, not with the ball, not with their fielding, and not with their captaincy.

India have dropped a fair chunk of slip catches this series, but what was more noticeable is the amount of people who have fielded in the cordon – Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, Ashwin, Raina, KL Rahul, Rahane and M Vijay. There could be even more. Slip is a position you only learn by standing there. You can have the hands, you can have the reflexes, but your mind needs to be trained on how to be ready for the one ball a day that may come your way. The Indian slips don’t even get whole days. Or whole sessions. Ashwin aside, if you’re a batsman, you’re probably going to be travelling through there.

The first morning in Adelaide, India started around the wicket to Warner. It was a clear plan. When Mitchell Johnson came in at the Gabba, sledging and bouncing happened. It was a clear plan. All series India have been aiming at Chris Rogers’ hip. It is a clear plan. When Brad Haddin came in at Melbourne, he was bounced. Plan. India set the field in such a way that Haddin, and seagulls flying overhead, knew where the ball was going. It’s almost as if India don’t believe their bowlers can come in and bowl ball after ball, over after over, session after session. So they pile on these plans that, mostly, have just not worked.

Kohli has three hundreds and one fifty. His team have two hundreds and seven fifties. Rahane, Pujara and Vijay should have made hundreds. Dhoni, Rohit and Ashwin gave up starts before they got to 50. The Australian order has only made three more hundreds, but they have a tail. India are naked once they are seven wickets down. Too often their batsmen have done some good work, but not enough, and then the innings just disappears.

That is India. On first glance they look okay, then the harder you look, the longer you look and the more often you look, the worse they seem.

The 12th ball on Boxing Day was quick, bounced, and took the edge. Umesh Yadav is big and strong. He’s the most moose like of Indian quicks. His strike rate is amazing. His pace is impressive. Dhawan at slip goes low, the ball hits the middle of his hands, he rolls forward athletically.

But it’s kind of a mirage. It’s the best of India, and what they can do. But not often what they do.

They’re learning as they go in front of a billion angry fans, on unhelpful surfaces, without bowlers who can keep pressure, batsmen who score regularly overseas, with a captain leaving, a hot head taking over and Ravi Shastri. And T20 cricket ruining their games.

Their biggest problem might just be that they don’t play enough cricket of this kind. You can make 264 in an ODI, without really knowing how to do it in a first-class match. You can take a five-wicket haul without knowing what a fifth spell feels like. And you can catch a one-hander on the boundary and never learn how to take a nick at second slip.

Today India watched Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Warner make a hundred, before ending the day with a big partnership from Rajasthan Royals’ Smith and Watson. Earlier in the series they lost wickets to the find of the 2010-11 BBL, Nathan Lyon and the IPL-winning Ryan Harris. And they ran out the top scorer of the first IPL tournament for 99 in Melbourne.

If T20 is truly evil, it’s clear it also discriminates.

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the woeful world of Pankaj Singh

Lawrence Booth, editor of Wisden, met Pankaj Singh in a lift. They talked about Pankaj’s day, which turned into Pankaj’s luck. It was exactly the sort of conversation you would expect from any bowler in the world when talking about a wicketless day. At the end, Pankaj left Booth with the words: “That is cricket”.

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There is a ball that Pankaj Singh bowled in the IPL that hit the pitch and cleared the keeper’s head. That is a combination of pace and bounce. He also has swing. Lovely curling outswing that he can maintain even with an older ball. Then there is his offcutter. That makes him a bowler who can move the ball both ways, get bounce and bowl in the mid-80s mph.

His action is uncomplicated and rugged. His body seems to have been chipped from solid stone. His wrist position at release is good. He has got a smart bowling brain. He works with his captain on his fields. He works batsmen out. He bowls to plans. He is willing to do grunt work.

This is an international bowler. And for the last ten years he has been a domestic bowler. This Test may send him back there.

****

If you were playing Indian Quick Bowler Bingo, Pankaj would go close to completing your sheet. He played U-19 cricket for India, went to the MRF pace factory, was a quick bowler, became a slower swing bowler, played one ODI, toured Australia without bowling a ball and then went about playing some IPL.

Pankaj is not a good IPL bowler. He averages 33 with the ball; he goes at over 8 an over. When you YouTube an Indian bowler’s name, you generally just find clips of them disappearing into riotous, crowds. Pankaj has a large selection of them. It’s not his format. So there is no hype for him.

Between his tour of Australia and this tour, India have used roughly 43 million other fast bowlers. Despite the fact that year after year Pankaj is near the top of the wicket-takers list in first-class cricket. Despite the fact that he has helped Rajasthan win the Ranji Trophy. Despite the fact he is obviously just a really good cricketer.

His one ODI game was in the Zimbabwean Triangular series of 2010, which was a tournament so useless, relocated witnesses running from the mob could have sat openly in the stands and not been found. His first ball almost took the edge of Upal Tharanga. But he ended with no wickets that day as well. He disappeared off India’s radar so completely that he might as well have been in a witness relocation programme.

****

Cricket Journalists ooze cynicism from every single pore of their being. It’s the first thing you’re asked about when you apply for the job. So it’s rare that they get behind someone with match figures of 0 for 179. Usually that would invoke snide remarks, casual jokes and general chuckles. Something about Pankaj meant they didn’t do that.

Cries of “Get Pankaj on”, “Give Pankaj a bowl”, “Come on Pankaj” were heard as Pankaj thudded around the outfield. Sure, they still laughed when he fell over fielding the simplest ball. But no one thought he deserved the worst figures ever by a debutant. No one thought he hadn’t been unlucky. No one wanted the loveable lug to fail.

Even on Twitter where snark is king, people just seemed to feel sorry for him.

“@reverse_sweeper Please, someone give Pankaj a hug. Is there a backroom guy for that?”

“‪@SpiceBoxofEarth Would be a real shame if Pankaj Singh was judged on just his figures alone. This has been a very decent debut. ”

“Yogesh ‏@YOGESHBOND The Oscar for making the unluckiest debut ever in tests goes to pankaj singh.. This guy needs a jaadu ki jhappi.. #UnluckyPankaj ”

“Mark Pougatch ‏@markpougatch I’m not alone am I in really wanting Pankaj Singh to get a wicket?”

He is the MHMOTS (Most huggable man of the series).

****

A right arm bowler coming around the wicket to a left hand batsman that can take the ball away is quite a skill. Few can do it. Pankaj can. He angles the ball in, Cook pushes at it as it seams away. His pace and bounce ensure it carries to slip. But Jadeja doesn’t take it.

Later Dhoni will try one of his leg slip traps to Ballance. To help make it work, Pankaj bowls the perfect inswinger on middle stump which Ballance gets enough bat on for it just to drop short of leg slip.

At the 80 over mark, Pankaj is promoted to new ball bowler status. Reward for being the best bowler of the day. Then he placed a ball on leg stump. Every single batsman in the world knew that meant it was slipping down leg. But it didn’t slip down, it didn’t even straighten, it came back towards middle. It was the ball swing bowlers wet dream over. It could not have been more perfect.

Pankaj appealed.

He appealed like he was trying to feed his family, his village, and every single person he had ever met. It was about as emotive as a human being could be. It was the closest any human being had ever been to making themselves explode. He wanted a wicket, he deserved a wicket, every single molecule that went into this impressive chunk of cricketer pleaded for a wicket.

Not out.

****

Rohit Sharma got a wicket with a ball that missed the bat. Moeen Ali got one from a half tracker. And Ravi Jadeja, the man who cost Pankaj a wicket, and perhaps India a Test, took one with a half tracker down the legside that if you received it in the nets you would catch it and throw it back.

****

Pankaj did not bowl overs full of the sweetest peaches at all times, he also bowled poorly. He couldn’t group the ball together enough. He got tired. And when England attacked he didn’t seem to have many answers.

The worst was Buttler. Buttler ‘Bryce McGained’ Pankaj. In five balls he took 20 runs. Pankaj probably won’t remember much more than a front leg clearing and a bat flying through. But the 20 runs in that over in England’s first innings was the 20 runs that helped him fly past Sohail Khan and Bryce McGain as the worst-ever bowling figures by a debutant in Test cricket history.

If he was unlucky not to get a wicket, then we need a new word to describe that achievement.

****

There are many small things to like about Pankaj. On day one, it was his nipples. Which were probably the best seam bowling nipples seen in England’s South. He is also an unusually violent ball shiner. His throwing style is more like that of the local butcher playing a club game that a professional athlete. He doesn’t stop balls in the field as much as runs along beside them. His shirt is often untucked. He is an older player who has earned his position through deeds. His running often makes it look like his shoulders are too big for him to stay upright. And he bats like a proper 1930s tailender.

Pankaj is part of a small club of cricketers who have been stumped facing a seamer with the keeper standing back. It happened because he wanted to sledge Ajit Agarkar for bouncing him. You have to commend him for standing up for himself against a senior player like Agarkar. You have to laugh at him for getting stumped while he did it.

When Pankaj was asked what he would do with a million dollars, he said he would build schools, improve infrastructure and find jobs for his village. In almost every way he is a thoroughly lovable big lump of lad who has spent years trying to make it.

****

There is brief excitement in the eyes of Pankaj as he sees another ball take the outside of Cook’s bat. The ball flies in the air towards a well set double gully trap. Had Mohammed Shami bowled the ball, it could have probably nestled into the hands of one of them. But this is Pankaj, so the excitement quickly becomes pain, then acceptance.

For a few seconds, he stares in the direction of the ball, even though it has been returned. He waits for Dhoni to say something, but nothing comes. Then he turns, a turn so heavy you can hear it from 100 metres away, and he gingerly walks back to the umpire, Rod Tucker, who is smiling sympathetically. It is the smile of a man who spent 103 first-class matches bowling luckless spells. Tucker says something and gives his cap back.

Pankaj walks alone towards the boundary. None of his team mates go over, the time for encouragement has passed. They know he has probably bowled his last ball this match, and possibly the last of his entire Test career. He fields one more ball, and then walks off the ground to get some treatment. No one claps, no one pats him on the back, he just moves through the few spectators and support staff, three stairs at a time.

Just as he is about to disappear into the changeroom, he takes off his cap and slams it on his leg.

That is cricket.

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LOL is Ishant Sharma’s middle name: The Ishant Sharma story

“LOL is Ishant Sharma’s middle name.”

Bangalore, 2007. India have made 626. Pakistan are 96 overs into their innings and every batsman has made a double-figure score. There have already been three hundreds and a double-hundred. A teen, more like a young boy, with more hair than any human needs and an extremely prominent Adam’s apple, comes on to bowl.

A ball from a good length jumps up and makes Faisal Iqbal’s forward defence look idiotic. It flies off the gloves to a deepish short leg. It is one of five wickets in the innings for a 19-year old bowling on the many remains of deceased seamers who went before him.

India had found their missing link.

“Ishant Sharma is God’s answer to BCCI’s wrongdoings.”

‘Why does Ishant Sharma keep getting picked?’ It’s one of the most asked questions to people who have just admitted they are cricket journalists. You cannot escape that when you have played over 50 Tests and average more than 35. The current Australian team might be number one, but mainstays and recent sensations Steve Smith, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson have been at times the most abused victims of their fans.

Indian fans, when they were taking a break from abusing Rohit Sharma, would whip the Ishant boy all over social media. Tall for nothing. Over-rated. Slow. Can’t keep his foot behind the line. Can’t move the ball away from right-handers. Falls apart under pressure. Google suggests Ishant-Sharma jokes as its third search suggestion.

It’s also not a shock to see why he is still around. He’s tall. He’s fast. He gets natural movement. He can reverse swing the ball. They don’t grow on trees in India, or really, anywhere. If he uses all these things right, he’s a match-winner. He’s also a match loser. Ishant isn’t as fast as Johnson, or as tall as Morne Morkel. On a bad day, he is a fast-medium bowler with a no-ball problem and average control. Potential is a powerful aphrodisiac.

“Behind every successful batsman there is a Kamran Akmal, but in front of them is Ishant Sharma.”

A typical good Ishant delivery is angled in at the right-hander. The good ones swing further in and carry above the stumps to the keeper with a bit of heat on it. Akmal missed one such delivery like this. And Ishant decided to tell him about it. Loudly.

The scene looks bad because Ishant is screaming over Akmal, who is about a foot and three inches of hair shorter. Not to mention sledging a guy with an ODI batting average of 26 is like picking on the kid who isn’t allowed to use scissors in class. Ishant has to be removed from the situation.

Against Australia, Ishant decided to sledge David Warner at the WACA during the innings where Warner swung and connected with India’s head. Warner came back with verbal aggression and they had to be separated. But not before Warner said, “You’re kidding yourself, you are a bad bowler”.

A short poor ball from Ishant is cut by Root. India are sure it is out. Ishant is more sure. He’s surer than sure. He stands a few feet from Root and discusses it with him. And discusses it. And discusses. Eventually the two have to be removed. Replays show Ishant may not have been right. Although I doubt any replay could have changed his mind.

It’s not even just small aggressive batsmen that Ishant likes. During a piece of glacier-like fielding from Zaheer Khan, Ishant used a term that suggested an incestuous relationship after watching the ageing seamer allow an extra run.

Ishant has the anger.

“There are good bowlers, and there are poor bowlers. Then there’s 500 feet of crap, and then there’s Ishant Sharma.”

Australia need 44 from 18.

47.1 A wide half-volley. Four.
47.2 A short ball. Six.
47.3 A straight half-volley. Six.
47.4 A short ball. Two.
47.5 A short ball. Six.

“47.6 I Sharma to Faulkner, SIX, SIX MORE, what on earth? Ishant Sharma had his critics before this game, there aren’t going to be many people backing him after this, short once more, another pull, right off the middle off the bat, and that sails into the crowd once more, crowd not sure whether to be gobsmacked by this hitting from Faulkner or be thrilled by this sensational turnaround, that’s Faulkner’s 50 as well”

Australia win with three balls to spare.

“Dear single guys, if a girl gives you as many chances as Dhoni has given Ishant Sharma, marry her.”

Ishant’s last Test started with him cutting down New Zealand’s top order. He bowled quick. The ball moved. And Ishant took 6 for 51. There were sexy short balls and tricky straight balls. It was lovely and New Zealand had no answer to it. It was the sort of performance that should have justified the selectors faith in him.

The next innings in the same game, Ishant bowled 45 overs, took no wickets and went for 164 runs. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad Ishant is, Ishant remains.

“Dhoni isn’t India’s greatest finisher, Ishant Sharma is.”

The 50th over at Trent Bridge started with a no-ball. Ishant bowls a lot of no balls. Ishant is known for no balls. Then Ishant bowled a fast, reverse-swinging ball that tailed in and smashed into Sam Robson’s pads. Ishant does bowl reverse-swinging balls that tail in and smash into pads. Ishant is known for reverse-swinging balls that tail in and smash into pads. Ishant aggressively sent off Robson. Ishant often does aggressive send-offs. Ishant is known for aggressive send-offs. Ishant then bowled a short, slow long-hop that Ian Bell smacked for four. Ishant bowls a lot of short, slow long-hops that get smacked for four. Ishant is known for short, slow long-hops that get smacked for four. Ishant bowls a ball drifting down leg side. Ishant bowls a lot of balls drifting down leg side. Ishant is known for drifting the ball down the leg side.

That was one over. That was Ishant’s career.

“It was Ishant Sharma’s stunning form that made MS Dhoni take up bowling”.

A highlight package of Ishant’s best work looks as good as anything. Balls flying off a length. Quick swinging balls. Fast short balls. The hair, the necklace, the stare, the aggression. This is a fast bowler; you can smell it through the screen.

Ishant’s best delivery is a short of a length ball that angles in, tails further in and bounces quite well to the keeper. It’s a sexy ball, but it’s not that likely to get you out. An edge will probably be an inside edge that flies past the keeper. His height means the ball goes over the stumps. It’s essentially a theatre ball for people to “oh” and “ah” about. In the end, it’s a tragedy delivery. It’s the unlucky Ishant ball.

Ishant was once clocked at 152kph, but his wrist doesn’t stay behind the ball like it did that summer. Sometimes his head falls away as well. If you can get the ball to reverse in, you should also have the attributes to conventionally swing the ball out. Somehow Ishant doesn’t. He’s flawed. And he’s a rhythm bowler, which is often code for – he can be good, or really rubbish.

“RT if you can bowl better than Ishant Sharma!”

Australians have a different view of Ishant. They saw the young kid on his first tour bowl very good, and on occasion, very quick. This is despite the fact he only averages 44 against Australia, has an average of 73 in Australia and only has a best of 3 for 115 in Australia. It’s because of how many times Ishant dismissed Ricky Ponting.

In 2008, Ishant took Ponting’s wicket five times in Tests. Five times. Ishant had the pace and bounce, and when combined with a bowler who naturally moved the ball in, it was something Ponting never did well against. Here was a teenager doing it. Over, and over, and over again.

Somehow this guy had made a master look like an awkward teen. They had switched places. It wasn’t just the wickets that he took, but how silly Ponting looked in them. His bat splayed weirdly. His balance leaving him. He was always late. He was always trying to survive. At the other end he would be Ponting, at Ishant’s end he was the soon-to-be-massacred bunny.

Ponting eventually overcame it, and was only ever dismissed twice more in Tests by Ishant. By then though, the bunny stuff had stuck. And so it should. How many bowlers in Ponting’s career dominated him for a minute, let alone a year?

If you couldn’t get excited with Ishant at that stage, you were really fighting against basic human instincts.

“Newton’s third law modified: For every N Srinivasan, there is an equal and opposite Ishant Sharma.”

In the tour game in Leicestershire before Trent Bridge, Ishant conceded 64 runs in nine overs. He took two wickets, but even his mother would find it hard to justify that spell. It was made worse by the fact that his team-mates never took any of the Leicestershire players for more than five an over.

Today, in his last seven overs, Ishant took five wickets for 27 runs. He did it with five short balls. He did it with pace. He did it with energy. He did it with passion. He did it with all his flaws. He did it.

He will forever be the bowler who bowled India to victory at Lord’s.

If you allow me to walk you through the third wall for a moment, you may notice that there are some “jokes” in quotations throughout this piece. When you google Ishant Sharma, ‘Ishant Sharma jokes’ is the third result. There are many, many, many websites with lists of these jokes. There is much history to make fun of. Little of it can be realistically defended.

Ishant’s age at the moment is 25. Ishant is much maligned. Ishant is unlucky. Ishant is a bad bowler. Ishant is a 25-year old Indian quick who just took 7 for 74 at Lord’s to win a Test.

Today the joke was on England.

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Bhuvi from the badlands

England had one last chance to win at Trent Bridge. India were 220 in front, seven wickets down, with still more than 40 overs left in the day. The new ball was 13 deliveries old and had just claimed Ravindra Jadeja. The match had stumbled on it’s way to a draw and England knew this was their last chance of winning. Their bowlers put in one last effort. Their sound went from mute to 11. Every single delivery was ooheed, aahed, moaned and groaned. Joe Root found a reason to be as close to the wicket as possible, clapping and yapping, right in the ear of the young number nine.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar seemed to barely notice. He batted the same way right through and finished unbeaten on 63.

Allan Donald once said of Bhuvneshwar: “He is a very quiet guy, does what he needs to do.”

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Sachin Tendulkar’s record against debutants in Test cricket might lead you to think he underestimates young players. It is probably not true, his record is mostly like that because he has faced more debutants than other cricketers. But it is a feeling that some had. When Bhuvneshwar bowled to him, it was not his first class debut, it was his 13th game. But he did not have an IPL team. He was not an Indian age-group cricketer. He did not come from a big school, club, academy or city. There was no hype or marketing deals, he was just a swing bowler with a tidy action.

Tendulkar may not have underestimated him. But he was dismissed by him. For his first ever Ranji trophy duck.

Others have underestimated him. In fact, his parents did. It was his sister who suggested he be pushed towards cricket. Even his coach, the metronomic Venkatesh Prasad thought he would be an ideal third bowler for India. In the first Test a five-wicket haul and matching 50s was not enough for him to be Man of the Match. He is at his third IPL team. Yet somehow this overlooked, underestimated player is India’s most important this series.

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219 for 6 was the score in the 2012-13 Duleep Trophy semi final when Bhuvneshwar came in. North Zone had scored 451 in the first innings. For Central Zone to make the final, they needed to score 233 more runs in that innings, as an outright win looked unlikely. Mohammad Kaif had just departed for 63, the top score so far that innings. Mahesh Rawat put on a small partnership with Bhuvneshwar, before departing for 71. All North Zone needed were three wickets and all Central Zone needed was 201 runs. The invitations to the final were all but written.

Bhuvneshwar rewrote them. He shielded the tail. Batted resolutely. Farmed the strike. Scored at a sensible pace. On 99, with his team still behind, he refused singles that would have taken him to his maiden first-class hundred, because they were not the right thing for the team. Bhuvneshwar was eventually dismissed for 128. But only after a tenth-wicket partnership of 127. It earned a lead of 18 runs. And his Central Zone went to the final.

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Bhuvneshwar is straight. Exceptionally straight. His bat, his front arm, his strokes, his wrist, his crease position and his posture. Straight. Probably the only thing that is not straight is the the ball once it comes out of his hand. He has the magic wrist. The sort of wrist position that old bowlers drool over when leaning on bars because their knees can no longer hold them up.

It is the wrist that has got him there. Asian batsmen get their wrists festishized by cricket writers the world over, but Bhuvneshwar’s wrist is not wristy, it is swingy. If he did not have the magic wrist he would not be playing. He does not have any height. He has very little pace. He is not a reverse swing merchant. Since uncovered pitches disappeared, the medium-fast bowlers have become rarer and rarer to find, like the seam of a Kookaburra after 35 overs.

To be a regular international bowler these days at Bhuvneshwar’s pace, you need to be something special. Just to make it, you need to be. All the academies in all the lands are not looking for the next canny seam bowler, they are looking for height and pace. Movement is an afterthought, and by the way they think, can be taught to any lumbering monster with a fast arm.

But every now and then, a slower bowler crawls up through the broken bodies of the wannabe 90mph gang and shows the way. Mohammad Asif was one. Stuart Clark was another. And then there was Praveen Kumar.

We might never see Praveen Kumar again. Asif was the surgeon. Clark the slippery lawyer. Praveen was the stoner philosopher. The ball wobbled hypnotically. Batsmen were left wondering which way it would finally dart off. And then his seam position was so perfect, so exact, so romantic, that he also took a bit of seam as well. In six angry beautiful Test matches, Praveen averaged 25 with the ball.

Tragically Praveen was not meant for Test cricket, at least, right now. He is an artist, a poet, a self saboteur. And he disappeared. But he had a bowling partner that was like a little brother. Bhuvneshwar Kumar. They played together at Central Zone, UP and at Victoria Park club in Meerut.

Kumar the junior saw Kumar the senior all the time. It was like he had an inbuilt mentor and hero. A swing bowling allrounder who did not bowl quick enough to excite selectors. Kumar the junior also went one better than his hero, because he was a more stable person. He did not need to worry about rage to fire him up. He did not fly off unpredictably. He was the Kumar you could take home to mum, or plan the next few years around. The white knight to Praveen’s dark knight.

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Christmas Day , 2012: a slight swing bowler plays in a T20 match against arch enemies Pakistan. His first over has a wicket. He takes three more. In his four overs he only concedes nine runs, yet India still lose.

England are 73 for 2 chasing 285 at Kochi. Kevin Pietersen is on a-run-a-ball 42. Bhuvneshwar brings back a ball and bowls him. Two balls later, Bhuvneshwar moves one away from Eoin Morgan who is edging behind. He had already taken Alastair Cook’s wicket. He finishes with 3 for 29 and England lose massively.

Chris Gayle made the world go crazy. 175 off 66 balls. Songs were written about it before he finished it. Bowlers were used as dental floss. But in his 175, only 11 runs were scored off Bhuvneshwar. In that match, while he had to run through the remains of his bowling unit, he finished with 23 runs off his 24 balls.

In the Champions Trophy, Bhuvneshwar never bowled a full ten overs. He only got three overs in the final. But he also went at only 3.90 an over against the world’s most powerful batting line-ups.

The Port of Spain’s rain shortened one of the many ODIs between India and Sri Lanka. India made 119 for 3 in their allocated 29 overs. Bhuvneshwar took the new ball. He took the first four wickets. He took 4 for 8. Sri Lanka lost.

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Duncan Fletcher was a man who loved his 90mph bowlers as much as anyone. He also likes height. But Bhuvneshwar does tick his other two boxes. Movement both ways and being able to strengthen the tail with the bat. There are simply no bowlers in India who tick all the boxes, or many of the boxes. But what India has produced consistently throughout their history is swing bowlers.

In Perth, 2008, Australia took in pace, India took in swing. Madan Lal took three wickets in the 1983 World Cup final: Haynes, Richards and Gomes. Adelaide 2003 had a six-wicket haul for Ajit Agarkar. Sreesanth took another six at the Wanderers. And Zaheer Khan‘s nine-wicket haul at Trent Bridge in 2007 won a Test. While the world spent over a decade kissing the feat of India’s many batting Gods, it was Zaheer many heroic spells on flat pitches that took India to No. 1.

Bhuvneshwar is just in a long line of swing bowlers. But of recent times, many of them have been tampered with or discarded. RP Singh, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan will all retire having never got the most out of themselves or won nearly enough Tests for their country. Some have been told to bowl faster. Some have been told to change the way they are.

India is a country that creates swing bowlers, and often destroys swing bowlers.

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Bhuvneshwar’s first Test was against Australia. He opened up with the first four overs. Then didn’t bowl again for 60 overs. He bowled 13 overs for the entire match, all in the first innings. MS Dhoni, it seemed, had underrated him.

But when Bhuvneshwar came to the wicket in the first innings, India were only 26 ahead. He was batting at No. 10. He would make a composed 38. He would use a straight bat. He would be sensible. He would let the senior partner make the decisions. He would let the senior partner make a double century. He would let the senior partner end Australia’s hopes. He would outlast the senior partner.

And at some stage during that 140-run partnership, the senior partner, his captain, must have looked at the other end at his new ball specialist from the badlands and thought, this is a man I can rely on.

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The first ball Bhuvneshwar faced came flying back in at him. India’s best batsman this tour had just been outfoxed by James Anderson. The lead was barely 200. And England had the new ball that was 16 balls old. Bhuvneshwar played it with a straight bat. There was no discernible proof to say he was not the next Indian batting sensation, so technically perfect was his defence. His back foot drive off Anderson was just as correct. In fact, through the off side he was a batsman, forget where he was in the order.

It was not until he got to 50 that he looked like he was slogging a bit more. But, you are at Lord’s, you are in form, why not smack Ben Stokes back over his head to bring up your first fifty? He had taken the lead from just over 200 to just over 300. Jadeja had managed to sticky tape his technique together and trust himself to counterattack. But it looked like his innings could end any ball. Bhuvneshwar’s looked like it would end when his job was done.

In this series he has taken a five-for, a six-for, made an important 36 and three fifties. Almost every single time India have needed him, he has been there. He is slow and unsexy. He is not tall, or a natural leader. And he is no one’s first pick.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar just does what he needs to do.

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When 3.33 beat 8130: Cook and Shami

A young boy gets on a motorbike for the first time. The instructions are given to him. He looks on quietly. People expect him to struggle. Instead he takes to it fairly well. Muddy dirt tracks are handled with ease. He jumps off little ramps and holds on. He mostly works out the brakes and how to turn and tries, but fails, to pull off a wheelie. Eventually he stops, and the next boy gets on. A boy who has ridden a motorbike for years: yet he makes a simple mistake and rides straight into a BBQ.

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Alastair Cook’s first ball catches him by surprise. He has more Test hundreds than any other England batsman but he reacts late to the movement into him and an inside edge ends up at backward square leg. It is not a stunning show of confidence as he wanders to the other end confused.

Mohammed Shami’s first ball is a length ball, India’s No. 11 rocked forward and defends with the sort of certainty a man with a Test Average of 3.33 really shouldn’t have. He’s not overawed by his first moment in England. He’s not overawed by facing Stuart Broad. He’s not even overawed by the sudden collapse that has led to him being in. He’s just playing a forward defensive shot.

Cook handles the next few balls fine. A yorker is dug out. He pushes to the legside looking for runs. He is handling the pitch with no demons like it’s a pitch with no demons. The ball is not swinging or seaming.

Shami also handles his first few balls well. They bowl short, and he defends well and misses when trying to attack. He cracks one to point. And turns a ball into the leg side to get off the mark.

Shami’s first boundary is a heave over the legside against a confused James Anderson. Shami is full of confidence having survived for a while and is now flexing a bit of muscle. He also whips a ball off his pads so well that he beats a man in the deep. He smacks Moeen Ali long and deep with a dance down the pitch. He cracks a short ball to the point boundary and no fielders move. And then to finally get to his 50 he hits a Test bowler with 358 Test wickets over the sightscreen.

Cook gets a ball on his hip and turns it to the rope.

Shami’s innings is not all grace and beauty. He tries to upper cut one to third man. He mistimes one so badly he can’t even find a fielder. Almost loses his off stump. Almost loses his toe. And is actually caught behind, despite the fact England didn’t hear it. It was a quality innings for a No. 11, but not a quality innings.

Cook’s innings isn’t quality.

Cook faces nine of his ten balls from Shami, including the last one. Getting bowled around your legs can look unlucky. Bowlers don’t plan for it very often. And even when they do, it rarely works. This is the sort of ball that Cook could have literally flicked to the leg side with a blindfold on, handcuffed upside down in a tank of water. Now his head leads away from the ball, his body tumbles after it.

Cook has never been pretty, but now he’s ungainly and needlessly mobile. He can’t stand up properly and exposes the leg stump. The ball flicks his pads and instead of rolling away safely for a leg bye it slams into legs tump. Cook has lost his way so much he can almost see the ball hitting the stumps.

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Mohammed Shami had made a 50 before today, for Bengal U-22s four years ago. Alastair Cook has made 35 fifties at Test Level. Not forgetting 19 fifties in ODIs. There are also a few hundreds. And he once made 294. But Cook hasn’t scored more than 51 in his last five Tests.

Today the bunny with no batting pedigree scored more runs than the man with 8,130 runs.

Today two men batted: one with little expectation or hope, the other with fear and uncertainty. One made an unbeaten. The other hit the BBQ.

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