Ravindra Jadeja – the hero India needed but didn’t deserve

Everyone thought hope well and truly died with MS Dhoni’s wicket. But it was Ravindra Jadeja who actually held more aces up his sleeve.

In the movie Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino motivates his team to dig deep into their reserves if they are to turn their team’s fortunes around.

He says the difference between victory and defeat is measured in inches.

When India were 5/3, a place in the finals looked a thousand miles away.

Dhoni and Jadeja bought that deficit down to inches.

MS Dhoni tried to pull of one final heist and fell short by inches when he tried to go for a suicidal second run in  a bid to get back on strike.

Indian fans got just what they wanted – a match up against New Zealand, a side that hasn’t been very convincing in the last few matches they played against India, a marauding Goliath that had won most of their matches in a convincing manner.

They hoped that it would rain all of Tuesday so it wouldn’t result in a curtailed match, making it tougher for India. Again, their wish was answered.

That’s as far as answered prayers went.

India came into the tournament with their top order in good nick and until the semi-finals, they did all the heavy lifting. The bowling effort was spectacular with Jasprit Bumrah standing tall and Mohammad Shami and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar playing pivotal roles.

But this World Cup was always about just one man – MS Dhoni.

Dhoni the captain cool who led India into the T20 era.

Dhoni the iceman who finished off matches with his cold blooded big hitting.

Dhoni who carried the weight of finishing matches on his shoulders all these years and was now waiting for a fitting end to a once-in-a-lifetime career.

8 years back, in the World Cup final, Dhoni promoted himself up the order after enduring a lukewarm tournament up to that point and played the innings of a lifetime to help India lift the trophy after 28 years. He is now 8 years older and as much as we wanted to believe that he could still pull it off, the reality was that the odds were always against him. His batting has been criticized in this World Cup, especially in the match against England. In his pomp, Sachin Tendulkar tore bowlers to shreds. In the latter half of his career, he watched from the other end as Virender Sehwag took over the baton of annihilating bowling attacks from him. Dhoni was in the side as a specialist keeper and his role in the middle order was to lend support to the big hitters like Pandya, Pant and to some extent, Jadeja. Expecting him to orchestrate a T20 like chase on his own was asking for the moon.

The mere fact that Hardik Pandya and Rishab Pant were promoted before Dhoni lent cadence to the argument that the team management had more trust in them to get the scoreboard ticking after the initial massacre.

In life, no one plans for disaster. No team has a handbook for what to do if you’re 5/3 in a World Cup semi-final. In all this talk about Dhoni’s run out being the turning point, if one watched the match, most of us would agree that it was Ravindra Jadeja who held more aces up his sleeve.

For all the years that he has played, we haven’t been able to decipher Ravindra Jadeja. He has been an afterthought in Indian cricket’s scheme of things. Back in 2009, he was lambasted for his inability to score during an important match against England in the T20 World Cup. In 2014, he played a pivotal knock in a test against England at Lord’s, helping the team secure a historic victory. It was a knock that lost its luster after the team careened and crashed to a miserable 1-3 series loss by losing the remaining three matches.

Commentator Sanjay Manjrekar, who has succeeded in making the mute button popular again and will shy away from any sort of ‘most popular commentator’ poll, called him a ‘bits and pieces player’. Come the semi-finals and Ravindra Jadeja had a point to prove. Not a part of the squad in the initial matches, he finally got the opportunity of a lifetime – just that it came after a calamitous start and the team’s hopes were hinging on a miracle.

The ‘bits and pieces’ player began putting the pieces back together, bit by bit, inch by inch.

Putting behind all the criticism that has been hurled towards him in his career, he almost did a Dhoni– orchestrate a miracle and taking the team over the finish line. His celebration after he reached his half-century seemed to suggest that he was searching for Sanjay Manjrekar, who had gone into hiding.

The truth is, between Jadeja and Dhoni, it was Jadeja who looked like he could take the team over the finish line. He took a great catch, inflicted a run out, bowled economically and played an innings that would have made history had he taken India over the finish line.

The bits and pieces player had become a complete one.

Since 2014, India have fallen short in pivotal matches.

The T20 finals in 2014.

The World Cup semi-finals in 2015.

The T20 semi-finals in 2016.

The Champions Trophy finals in 2017.

And now, the semi-finals in the 2019 World Cup.

Going forward, holding their nerves in a big match is an area they need to take a very hard look at.

As for New Zealand, they get another chance to create history. In 1992, their dream run came crashing down after they lost to eventual winners Pakistan in the semi-finals. In 2015, they fell apart during the finals. Cricket could do with a new winner and no sensible fan would begrudge New Zealand, always the under dogs, the victory of a lifetime.

Thank you Dhoni for everything that you have done for Indian cricket.

Thank you Ravindra Jadeja for looking fear in the eye and playing a special knock. You truly are the hero we needed but one we didn’t deserve.

Thank you Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar for giving us a chance to see a three pronged pace attack in action.

Thank you Rohit Sharma for all the entertainment.

Thank you Virat Kohli for being a statesman of the game by asking fans to back off from Steve Smith. It was a heartening sight and a far cry from the raging cricketer that you once were.

When India loses a critical match, everything feel surreal. The government in Karnataka is on the verge of collapse but it didn’t matter. At another corner of the world, sprinter Dutee Chand became the first Indian woman athlete to win a gold at the World Universiade. After going through a harrowing time on the personal front, she emerged victorious.

There are always bits and pieces of joy strewn around. You just have to look for them.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road, but that didn’t bring a smile on anyone’s face. And there will be tons of crackers in homes across the country that were waiting to be burst.

Now they too have to wait.

Unfortunately, on a day on which they should have exploded, India’s top order imploded.

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Why do batsmen get more Man of the Match awards?

Bowlers bowl their heart out and secure many victories for their side and take wickets at crucial intervals. But many times, they are nowhere to be seen when the Man of the Match award is given out.

In India’s match against Bangladesh, their batting eventually fell short of about 20 runs. Virat Kohli who has been in good form this World Cup even though he hasn’t managed to convert his half-centuries into centuries, uncharacteristically got out in the 20s. Hardik Pandya, who has been in good nick and is counted upon to add testosterone to the scoring rate, fell for a duck. Rishab Pant played a crucial knock and MS Dhoni perished trying to add another six to his coterie before the sun went down. If not for Mustafizur Rahman’s 5 wicket haul, the score looked like it would race to 350.

In a previous  match, Bangladesh chased down 321 against the West Indies at a canter with almost 9 overs to spare.  No longer the minnows they once were and having already crushed India’s dreams in a World Cup in 2007, it was obvious that Bangladesh wouldn’t go down quietly. Although their chase was never allowed to take off, with wickets falling at crucial intervals, most Indian fans were at the edge of their seats when Mohammad Saifuddin began playing some delightful strokes and a match that was all but lost suddenly came alive. Hardik Pandya, who returned to the dressing room with a duck to his name didn’t finish the match empty handed. His 3 wicket haul included the crucial wickets of Soumya Sarkar, Liton Das and the most crucial of them all – Shakib Al Hasan.

But with Saifuddin still playing fearlessly, striking audacious shots, the match was by no means over. On air, Sourav Ganguly was saying all the Bangladeshi tail enders needed to do was give the strike to Saifuddin if they were to have any hope of wrenching out a victory from imminent defeat.

It was Jasprit Bumrah and his toe crushers, one of which also sent Vijay Shankar crashing out of the World Cup, that sealed the deal for India. The maestro of death bowling came to the fore and took out Rubel Hossain and Mustafizur Rahman in two consecutive deliveries as a Saifuddin watched helplessly at the other end.

To quickly summarize – Mustafizur Rahman’s 5 wicket haul helped restrict the Indian team score to 315, at least 20 runs short of what it could have been.

Hardik Pandya’s crucial strikes and Jasprit Bumrah’s final blows sealed the deal for India. If Bangladesh had managed to cobble a couple of partnerships, the match would have surely gone down to the wire.

Finally, who gets Man of the Match– centurion Rohit Sharma.

With all due credit to Rohit Sharma, he has been walking on water all through this World Cup. He has scored 4 centuries and doesn’t look like he is done yet. But without Bumrah and Pandya, his century might have gone in vain. In India’s match against West Indies, which they won a lot more convincingly, Mohammad Shami took a crucial 4 wicket haul, ending West Indies World Cup campaign.

Again, who was awarded the Man of the Match– Virat Kohli for his 72.

In the previous match against Afghanistan, where they got dangerously close to upsetting India, Shami became only the second Indian too take a hat-trick in a World Cup. This time, he lost the Man of the Match award to Bumrah but yet, it was felt he was more deserving of it.

What exactly qualifies for the Man of the Match award?

A performance that overshadows everything else?

A pivotal knock, or crucial wickets?

A stunning catch or run-out that changed the fortunes of a match?

Rain?

Two things that we are seeing less of in cricket with regards to Man of the Match awards are:

  1. The award being shared by two players
  2. The award going to a player from the losing side, who played exceptionally well

When seen through that lens, in the West Indies and New Zealand match, Carlos Braitwaite who played a scintillating knock to almost take West Indies over the line in one of the most thrilling matches of this World Cup, should have shared the Man of the Match award with Kane Williamson, who scored 148 and got the award. Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah could have shared the award for their crucial contributions in the match against Bangladesh.

Over the years, especially with the advent of T20, the game has skewed heavily towards the batsmen. People are okay with a switch hit but raise a hue and cry when R Ashwin Mankaded Jos Buttler. Grounds are getting smaller, pitches flatter, all in a bid to get more runs on the score board and keep the fans happy. Even when it comes to awarding the Man of the Match, a batsman’s role takes precedence of that of a bowler’s.

I think the term Man of the Match is restricting in its own right. Some matches have one stand out performer and many have more than one player making a valuable contribution. When it is restricted to one player, it suddenly becomes subjective and the pressure to name one player results in debatable decisions.

Maybe every match should have the leeway for the award to be awarded to more than one player if each of them played a pivotal role in the match. And it can be renamed ‘Valuable Contributions’ instead of merely ‘Man of the Match’. Or, have an online poll and allow fans to decide. There is no one stop solution, but one thing is for sure – bowlers need a lot more recognition for the role they play in their teams.

Yuvraj Singh and the story of the slayed dragons

As the sun rises on India’s World Cup campaign, another World Cup hero is walking away into the sunset

The thing with fairytale endings is that they are mostly a myth.

And so are these mythical creatures called dragons.

Yuvraj Singh would have loved to walk into the sunset in front of his home crowd, hoisted on the shoulders of his team-mates, to the chorus of his name being shouted.

By the time he announced his retirement, that day had long since passed.

No longer will he have to try to recapture his youthful self and manufacture another moment of glory. No longer will he face the ignominy of being benched and watching matches from the dugout. No longer will he be hidden in the field, forced to confront his ageing self.

In the 2019 IPL, for the briefest of moments, Yuvraj Singh of 2019 metamorphed into the Yuvraj Singh of 2007. The Mumbai Indians were playing against the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Yuvraj Singh was facing Yuzvendra Chahal, one of the most formidable leg spinners in world cricket today. It what could only be described as a surreal passage of play, he smashed Chahal for three consecutive sixes. Everyone were on the edge of their seats. Would this be a repeat of 2007 when made us finally believe in T20 cricket by hammering Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over? Just as we thought he had struck some elusive elixir that had made him young again, he holed out in the 4th delivery.

The Mumbai Indians reposed a lot of faith in his abilities when they bought him for 1 crore. But unlike MS Dhoni, who is enjoying a career renaissance of sorts in the twilight of his career, Yuvraj Singh didn’t enjoy the same final flourish. Gone was the towering presence at point when he magically converted boundaries into dot balls. After the first few matches in the IPL, he was benched, forced to watch from the dug out.

Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif scripted a memorable victory in the Natwest Trophy finals in 2002 causing Sourav Ganguly to take off his shirt in celebration. Mohammad Kaif wouldn’t go on to achieve the success of Yuvraj in the ensuing years.

The 2002 Natwest trophy was when Yuvraj Singh showed us a glimpse of what he was capable of. Chasing an improbable 326 to win, India were 146/5. Most television sets had been switched off after Sachin Tendulkar exposed his stumps to Ashley Giles and was clean bowled.

Slowly and steadily, Yuvi and Kaif reduced the deficit, until an improbable reality slowly became all too real. That innings was a stepping stone for Yuvraj, who only went on to accomplish greater things in the ensuing years. On the other hand, it would prove to be one of Kaif’s most defining moments in his career which slowly faded into oblivion.

In 2007, Yuvraj Singh drank from the cup of immortality when he smashed six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad in reply to Andrew Flintoff’s taunt. In the matches against England and Australia, he was like Moses walking on water, a man who connected bat with ball with ridiculous effortlessness and could do no wrong. The inaugural T20 World Cup changed the dynamics of world cricket and that one over where Yuvraj smashed six sixes has a lot do to with it.

Yuvraj Singh watches from the non-striker’s end as MS Dhoni hits the six that gave India a historic World Cup win after 28 years

In 2011, battling indifferent form (a known devil) and cancer (an unknown devil at that point), he won 4 man-of-the-match awards, took 15 wickets and came good in crucial encounters. The entire team was united in their efforts to win the cup for Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj’s efforts garnered him the man-of-the-match award in a historic World Cup campaign.

One day he was the toast of the nation.

The next day he was fighting for his life.

What was supposed to be a bright summer suddenly turned into a harsh cold winter. Diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer, he battled it out and lived to tell the tale.

Most players have two phases to their careers. The first is them being carefree, finding their feet and making their name. The second is when they are a little more mature, having seen dips in form, highs and lows, their reflexes slowing and their place being threatened by the next generation.

For Yuvraj Singh, the two phases were before cancer and after cancer.

After his return, he was never the same. There were glimpses of his old self but he just wasn’t the same.

Then came the night he would like to ban forever from the recesses of his memory forever. His 11 runs in 21 balls in the 2014 T20 World Cup final undeniably altered the equation in Sri Lanka’s favour and handed them their maiden T20 world cup triumph. Hoodlums in the garb of fans hurled stones at his home.

He was a World Cup winner who heroically fought cancer and came back, only to play villain.

If there is one arena that Yuvraj Singh couldn’t put his stamp on, it was test cricket. But he also played in an era where many batman’s test hopes were dashed with VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar gridlocking the middle order. Much like how Pete Sampras could never conquer Roland Garros during his playing career, Yuvraj, for the limited chances he got, never quite found his footing in the test side. Test match prowess is always considered to be the litmus test for all-time greatness. In the same vein, even Dhoni can’t be considered a test match great. But that doesn’t make him less great. The same applies to Yuvraj Singh.

History will remember Yuvraj Singh for many things – his classy batting, sublime fielding, occasional heroics with the ball and one who never shied away from a fight.

The Indian team is on a quest to make it an English summer to remember. 8 summers back, Yuvraj Singh made it an Indian summer to remember. 

Dragons are mythical creatures. In his press conference, Yuvraj Singh referred to the tumultuous relationship he has had with his father Yograj Singh, terming him a dragon who imposed himself on his son’s choices and hurled childish allegations against his team mates to the media. He has finally made peace with his father after 20 years he said. Another legend in another sport, Andre Agassi too shared a tumultuous relationship with an overbearing father who would yell at him if he hit the ball into the net. Coincidentally, in his fantastic autobiography ‘Open’, we got to know that Agassi called the ball machine that his father used against him ‘the dragon’.

There will be no more dragons to slay for Yuvraj Singh, at least for the time being. The dragon of age, fading form, life-threatening illness, fading prowess, all have been laid to rest.

We will never know what a dragon looks like.

But Yuvraj Singh showed us what a dragon slayer looks like.

Chennai Super Kings, and the twilight of a dynasty

The Chennai Super Kings built their franchise around one player. But has the MS Dhoni dynasty run its course?


In Any given Sunday, one of the most iconic sports dramas of all time, Al Pacino tells his beleaguered team ‘You find out that life is just a game of inches’.

Chennai found that out that life indeed is a game of inches on one of the biggest stages of all – the IPL finals.

The Chennai Super Kings lost the finals by inches. By one run when Lasith Malinga got a wicket off the last ball and by an inch when Dhoni ran himself out by going for a second run on an overthrow.

Of all the teams in the history of the IPL, the Chennai Super Kings have been the most consistent, accumulated the most rabid fan base and been captained by MS Dhoni, one of the most popular cricketers in the country after the god-like Sachin Tendulkar. In some way, the franchise is an extension of the drama that the state of Tamil Nadu sees in its politics and cinema.

To understand why Chennai has been so successful as a franchise, one must realize that it is one of the few teams that is run by owners who have been instrumental in setting up a cricket culture in Tamil Nadu. While owners like Vijay Mallya, Priety Zinta and Shah Rukh Khan bought teams to probably inflate their already inflated egos and few owners ran their teams like their personal property, N Srininivasan, the MD of India Cements, the conglomerate that owns Chennai Super Kings and once the most powerful man in world cricket, gave the reins of the team to the talismanic MS Dhoni and didn’t interfere much.

Once the most powerful man in world cricket, N Srinivasan is seemingly plotting his comeback to cricket administration behind the scenes.

N Srinivasan or Srini mama as he is fondly called might go down in history as one of the few sports administrators who genuinely kept the players’ interests in mind. It was under his stewardship that the BCCI gave past cricketers’ a generous one-time payment and also instituted a pension scheme that included widows of cricketers’.

But Srinivasan is no saint.

At the peak of his powers, he ran the BCCI with an iron fist. He amended the rules that allowed a board member to also own a franchise, being one of the original culprits of the conflict of interest problem that has come to haunt cricket ever since. He was accused of tweaking the auction to buy Andrew Flintoff in the third season of the IPL and when the selectors wanted Dhoni to step down as test captain in 2012 after consecutive whitewashes against England and Australia, N Srinivasan allegedly stonewalled any such efforts. His lowest moment came when his son-in-law was accused of betting and the franchise was banned for two years from the league along with the Rajasthan Royals. Srinivasan’s reign as cricket’s overlord also ended in controversial circumstances when he was removed as ICC Chairman in 2015.

This Jekyll and Hyde personality, taking care of cricketers’ on one hand and abusing his power on the other, may have been one reason why many voices, usually upright and outspoken, did not speak out against him when controversies got the better of him. Past greats like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, and Anil Kumble have openly come out in their support of Srinivasan and the contribution he has made to the game, ignoring his numerous other ill-fated moves. Now, in any CSK match, whenever the camera pans toward the stands, there is no sign of team owners. Just the players’ wives and rabid fans. The ownership has made a cosmetic change with the team now being owned by Chennai Super Kings ltd., a subsidiary of India Cements.

N Srinivasan, much to the dismay of his detractors, has not left the building.

The Chennai Super Kings have enjoyed unrivaled fan support over the years

Franchise loyalty is a fickle mistress. Very few players have journeyed through their IPL careers without changing their franchises over the course of time. Virat Kohli might have played all seasons for the Royal Challengers Bangalore but he hasn’t tasted the success nor built a fan base like Dhoni.

For a format that puts youth on a pedestal, CSK’s stars are on their last legs.

MS Dhoni is 38.

Harbhajan Singh is 38.

Shane Watson is 37.

Imran Tahir is 40.

Dwayne Bravo is 36.

Suresh Raina, the second highest scorer in IPL history, is no longer a regular on the international side and his fitness levels leave a lot to be desired. Once one of the best fielders in the side, he dropped catches and looked sluggish. While Dhoni was in the form of his life, it also meant he carried the team on his shoulder’s and his performance ironed out numerous flaws and gaps that the team had.

In hindsight, CSK actually pulled off quite a feat by reaching the finals. By Dhoni’s own admission, it wasn’t their best season and the fact that changes need to be made are apparent.

If there is one wish for IPL 2020, it is that it should see a new winner. Only 3 teams have never won the IPL thus far.

The Kings XI Punjab seem to lose steam midway through the tournament and need to learn to sustain the momentum.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore need to overhaul their mindset and culture if they are to shed their underperformer’s tag.

The Delhi Capitals look the most promising. From being at the bottom of the table last year, new ownership, a new name, and Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly at the helm, seem to have revived the team’s fortunes. They have a young squad, a young captain and if they can build on this year’s inspiring run, they have a good chance at breaking on through to the other side next season. The IPL could do with some new title holders.

Dhoni’s future as a player with the franchise looks uncertain. It’s hard to imagine him play or mentor any other franchise, his less than memorable stint with the Rising Pune Super Giants being seen as a mere filler before he returned to his beloved CSK. No one sees him playing beyond the World Cup, especially with a rampaging Rishab Pant waiting in the wings. Whether he will pull on for a season or two to set the transition rolling for CSK is yet to be seen. Either way, we need to start thinking of the Chennai Super Kings without MS Dhoni.

When Sanjay Manjrekar asked him if he would return next year, he said ‘hopefully’.

The Chennai Super Kings saga reads like a Tollywood script.

IPL Champions who are banned for two years and then return to lift the trophy and almost pull off consecutive title wins.

Even if this is curtains down for the Dhoni era of Chennai Super Kings, let’s just say thank you for all the whistles.

The comeback story of a lifetime

Tiger Woods hits on the 12th hole during the final round for the Masters golf tournament, Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

I have never watched a game of golf my entire life. I don’t know the rules or the finer nuances of the sport. But Tiger Woods’s comeback isn’t just a golf story. It’s a comeback story for the ages.

At the heart of any inspiring story, any comeback, is redemption.

The wronged person sets things right.

The loser becomes the winner.

David becomes Goliath.

The ordinary man becomes the superhero.

The sinner becomes the saint.

The lost soul becomes the savior.

While all super-hero movies follow this tried and tested formula, every once in a while, real-life allows us to witness it for real.

After a 12 year long wait, Tiger Woods won a major championship and made one of the greatest ever comebacks in the history of sport, not just golf.

12  years is a lifetime. In most sports, it’s a career itself. But in golf, particularly in Tiger Woods’s career, it’s a lost decade from which one can return.

It’s one thing to watch a sportsperson at the peak of their powers, the world at their feet and everything they touch seemingly turning to gold. It’s another to watch a sportsperson whose powers are waning, struggling against the dying light to conjure up one last feat for posterity.

In between these two is the comeback against all odds – the sportsperson who had obituaries written about their careers, who fell out of the spotlight, who suffered career threatening injuries, whose personal problems were overwhelming – and who then came back to claim what was rightfully theirs.

The journey of a fan and their favourite sportsperson occurs in three parts – worship, disillusionment and redemption. Think of your favourite sportsperson. At first you are over-awed by them. At some point, their failings and frailties cause them to fall from the pedestal that you have built for them. Just when all hope seems lost, they resurrect themselves, guilting you about not having placed enough faith in their super-human abilities.

Turn the clock back to 2009, when Tiger Woods was still at the top of the world, seemingly on course to over-take Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 titles. He then crashed his car into a fire hydrant and just like the water than came gushing out, his personal life gushed out into the open for the whole world to witness.

His dalliances with porn stars, his risqué escapades with more women than he could count, all of which caused him to lose his carefully constructed image, his marriage, numerous endorsement deals and in the years that followed, his greatness itself. One of the world’s most bullet-proof stars was the most reviled. In this lovely 2016 piece by sportswriter Wright Thompson, he speaks to one of Tiger’s closest friends basketball great Michael Jordan. In that piece, Jordan says something that seemed like a foregone conclusion . He said  “I love him (Tiger Woods) so much that I can’t tell him, ‘You’re not gonna be great again.'”

In the ensuing years, it seemed that all his efforts to reclaim lost glory were hitting a dead end. It could be argued that a lot of his challenges were self-inflicted and that he had no one to blame for his terrifying fall from grace. He endured numerous surgeries in a bid to keep his body together and if there were any doubts about the pain he was enduring, even that happened under the harsh glare of the public eye. In 2017, he was found hunched over the steering wheel of his car. Blood tests revealed a slew of painkillers in his system and his mug shot showed him with bleary eyes, a swollen face, disheveled hair and a stubble. He looked broken, beaten and scarred.

One of the greatest golfer’s of all time who made millions putting a golf ball into a hole, found himself in hole he couldn’t get out of.

Redemption is a rare entity. That’s the same reason why Tiger’s epochal victory in the Master’s will be remembered for a long time. The world’s greatest golfer turned the world’s most reviled golfer turned the world’s most loved golfer.

Does a better redemption story exist?

April 14, 2019 will go down as a red letter day in sporting history. Tiger Woods’s victory isn’t just a golf story, it’s a redemption story, the story of a sportsman who defied seemingly insurmountable odds and found greatness again. Woods has said that wanted his children to see him win a cup. The last time he won, they were too young to understand how great their father was.

We live precariously through our sporting heroes. In some way, they’re like our second mothers – they aren’t allowed to have an off day, they’re always there to lift us up and the thought of them being fallible is hard to digest.

Through all of his travails, Tiger Woods showed the world how infallible he is, just like the rest of us.

But then after his victory at the Master’s, he showed us just how great he was, unlike the rest of us.

Bangalore can wait. India can’t.

The 2019 cricket World Cup is just over 45 days away and it requires Virat Kohli to be at his best mentally and physically.

Virat Kohli should consider resigning from the captaincy of the Royal Challengers Bangalore. He should also consider taking a break from cricket for a while and return to the World Cup in a better state of mind. This isn’t to take moral responsibility for the team’s abysmal showing in this year’s IPL so far but it’s because team India needs him more than his franchise. The IPL comes along every year. The World Cup comes along once in 4 years.

Of course, there is a lot at stake in the IPL and Kohli, even though the franchise he captains is in doldrums, can’t just step down without some sort of an outcry.

It might seem like a life time away but a younger Kohli has seen worse in the same franchise.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore has had a chequered run at the IPL. Their beginning was anything but auspicious and their first season an abject disaster. In the first ever match of the IPL in 2008, Brendon McCullum, donning the Kolkata Knight Riders uniform, tore the Bangalore attack to shreds and the  Kolkata Knight Riders amassed 222 runs. Bangalore crumbled for 82, losing the match by a massive 140 runs. The team, which was fondly dubbed as a ‘test team’ as it featured a surfeit of test players like Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble  got a sense of what it was like to be owned by a business conglomerate who wanted to win at any cost. The flamboyant Vijay Mallya, who is today a fugitive from justice and fighting extradition in UK, sacked Charu Sharma who was the team CEO halfway through the tournament, threatened to sack Venkatesh Prasad who was the bowling coach and fumed about how Rahul Dravid didn’t allow him to pick the squad of his choice. All of this played out in the public eye.

According to rumors, executives from Vijay Mallya’s company sat in on team meetings and gave their two cents worth of advice. By the end of the season, the great Rahul Dravid was removed as captain and Kevin Pietersen was roped in. That move didn’t help and the team’s performances didn’t see an improvement. It was after Anil Kumble took over the captaincy halfway through the 2009 edition that the team went on winning run, reaching the finals, only to lose to the Deccan Chargers (today known as Sunrisers Hyderabad).

Mallya’s ill-fated moves weren’t just limited to his disastrous airline. In 2014, RCB bought Yuvraj Singh for a whopping 14 crores and employees of his airline staged protests as they hadn’t received a salary in months.

They again reached the finals in 2016 and lost to the Sunrisers in the final.

It’s the 12th year of the IPL and by the looks of it, Bangalore has to wait for the next season to raise its hopes again. After last year’s lackadaisical show, the team made a change to its support staff by removing head coach Daniel Vettori and bringing in Gary Kirsten. Ashish Nehra seems to have retained his job because of the Delhi connection, the same way Rahul Dravid stepped in to stop then bowling coach of the franchise Venkatesh Prasad from being sacked by an irate and loony Vijay Mallya. Kohli, who has been accused of being stubborn and having his way, as it was in the case of the Anil Kumble fiasco, will have a lot to answer for. He must thank his stars that he is not going through what Rahul Dravid did in the first season when dirty laundry was aired in public and legends were treated with impunity. He is probably one of the most powerful men in Indian cricket but franchise cricket plays by a different set of rules. For someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, whose face is a barometer of his emotions, a losing streak isn’t the ideal scenario.

MS Dhoni, on the other hand, is the face of calm. Even when the team was getting routed and whitewashed in England and Australia and his name cropped up in the IPL spot fixing scandal, he didn’t give excuses or leak stuff to the media. He was accused of being indifferent. On the other hand, Kohli is accused of never being able to contain his emotions.

Virat Kohli isn’t one to step back from a fight. Some of his most audacious and breat- taking innings have come when the team’s back is against the wall. In the same vein, he probably regards giving up captaincy as a cop out, like admitting failure. Again, he doesn’t have to go too far back in time to see that captaincy is a double-edged sword.

Sachin Tendulkar’s stints at captaincy were not very memorable.

Rahul Dravid was beaten and bruised by the shocking first round exit in the 2007 World Cup and after leading India to a victory in a test series in England after 21 years, returned and abruptly resigned from captaincy.

No one said they were quitters. Captaincy is just not everyone’s cup of tea.

The IPL has always had an uneasy relationship with international cricket. Players have been accused of putting club over country, been picked on IPL form only to flounder in international cricket and stretched themselves too thin because their franchises demanded that they play even when they were not fully fit.

Great players don’t necessarily become great captains and great captains aren’t always the best players in the team.

Virat Kohli, even though he fell a few notches down in my books after he displaced my childhood hero Anil Kumble from his position, is no doubt one the greatest players to have ever played the game.

Bangalore can wait another season. It has already gone 12 years without an IPL title. Cleveland went 53 years without winning a single sports title and it took Le Bron James to lift the curse. Bangalore isn’t that unlucky. Bangalore FC is among the best football teams in the country and won the most recent ISL.

Having the IPL just before the World Cup lends itself to the high probability of players injuring themselves. But no one thinks about what a poor showing in the tournament does to a player’s state of mind before he enters the World Cup.

Whether Virat Kohli can sustain his intensity as player and captain without burning out is left to be seen. Whatever he does, he must be rest assured that he is one of the greatest players to play the game and given his extraordinary fitness, he has a few more good years to further fortify his legend.

No doubt questions will again be asked at the end of this IPL season about the franchise. It’s inevitable. Why haven’t RCB failed to win the IPL even once and what is the reason for their poor showing is a Chinese puzzle that can’t be solved easily. This time, Kohli himself may find it hard to escape scrutiny.

But for now, Kohli should consider giving up captaincy, taking a few matches off and getting ready for the World Cup.

India needs him. Bangalore can wait.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s long road is more honorable than Hardik Pandya’s highway to hell

When Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul are in the news for their outrageous comments on a third rate TV chat show, it shows us why cricket needs more people like Cheteswar Pujara who take the long road to success, one that is less glamorous but definitely more rewarding.

Picture courtesy – Bored Cricket Crazy Indians

‘Put on your red shoes and dance the blues’ – David Bowie

It was a pity that the celebrations after a historic series win in Australia took place after a day on which there was no play. It was gloomy and it drizzled endlessly. Historic victories need to end on a fitting note, one befitting the magnitude of the win. A perfect end would have been a Jasprit Bumrah yorker sending the stumps cartwheeling. Or Cheteshwar Pujara holding on to a skier securely. Then, all 11 players gravitate towards the middle of the pitch like bees towards a hive and a minor scuffle ensues on who gets to keep a stump for posterity. These are the scenes historic victories are made of. Not drizzle and gloomy skies.

It isn’t as if we know much about Cheteshwar Pujara but if there was one thing we learned, it is that he can’t dance. Facing 1258 deliveries, the most by an Indian batsman in an Australian series, surpassing the person whose shoes he had been ordained to fill – the great Rahul Dravid, seems to be easier than doing an impromptu jig for the cameras.

There are a few things as beautiful as waking up in the morning and
listening to MS Subbulakshmi’s Suprabatham. The closest competition to that is a test match and the sound of the ball hitting the willow. And at the end of the India-Australia test series, a very unlikely hero emerged.

Cheteshwar Pujara has a moniker to himself – Che Pujara. It’s a very unlikely prefix for someone you wouldn’t think of a firebrand rebel.

Che Guvera, whose face adorns many t-shirts sold in black markets and whose exploits those who wear those t-shirts surely don’t know of, can’t be further from Che Pujara. Pujara is an understated batsman who can bat without a pause button and goes about his duties without much fuss. His ramrod focus enables him to bat endlessly, like some Trollopian length Stephen King novels.

In an age of instant gratification where teams are willing to take a punt on uncapped players and turn them into overnight millionaires after an IPL auction, Pujara isn’t deemed fit for the IPL. He isn’t even in the scheme of things when the ODI series of a tour comes around. When Rahul Dravid retired, writer Mukesh Kesavan said he feared that test cricket was dead. Who could possibly fill ‘The Wall’s’ shoes when it came to test cricket?

Thankfully, Cheteshwar Pujara was waiting in the wings.

When great players retire, there is a rush to identify their successors. It is nothing short of a miracle that in Virat Kohli, India were actually able to find someone who could step in gargantuan shoes of Sachin Tendulkar. Why, on current form, he may even surpass the master one day. Pujara was always ear marked to be Dravid’s successor. Rahul Dravid, after being dropped from the ODI side early in his career was able to through sheer will and tenacity modify his game to the shorter format and be an integral part of the limited overs side for a decade. On that front, Pujara hasn’t been that fortunate. While those in the Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly and Tendulkar era grew up aspiring for greatness in test cricket, Pujara is playing in an era where an IPL contract is one’s ticket to glory.

In the age of Swiggy, Cheteshwar Pujara is like your grandmother’s cooking.

Dhoni was never himself when he played test cricket. What retiring from the format gave him was a lot of time. It’s the same with Pujara. When a test series is over, he falls out of the radar. Instead of turning up on crass TV shows, doing television commercials and trying very hard to stay in the public eye, he turns up for his state side Saurashtra and plays county cricket. How does Pujara spend his free time? By playing more cricket.

He is currently in the A grade in the BCCI’s contract list and after his exploits in the Australia series, they are talks of upgrading him to the A+ Grade, the highest possible, one where he will be bracketed with Virat Kohli and earn 7 crores.

In 2019, any test specialist will be accused of being born in the wrong era. But a lot of what Pujara does doesn’t answer to any rule book. He’s not a rebel, but rather, he’s wired differently. Instead of wearing flashy clothes and dressing up like someone in a 50 cent video, he has a cricket school that coaches children free of cost. Dropped time and again by the Shastri-Kohli combine, ostensibly for not being in the aggressive mold that they seem to champion, a cursory glance at Pujara reveals that he doesn’t fit into most molds.

Pujara, who has had to face the ignominy of being dropped from the side for scoring too slowly.

Pujara, who sits and watches as obscure players make millions in a single season of the IPL.

Pujara, whose face doesn’t adorn countless billboards endorsing everything from chips to alcohol.

Pujara, who faces 1258 balls in a single series but isn’t deemed fit for the IPL.

At the other end of the spectrum is Hardik Pandya. While much has been said about his insensitive comments on a deplorable TV chat show, he should realize that he is treading dangerous waters. If he wants to crystal gaze into what his future may look like if he continues on his path, he needn’t look too far for there is a striking cautionary tale from Mumbai itself. Vinod Kambli, once a rising star of Indian cricket, crashed and burned when he couldn’t handle the blindly excesses of fame. The money and fame that Hardik Pandya commands is way more than Kambli did during his time. Both have a penchant for the fast life and appearing on crappy TV shows.

After the 2013 spot-fixing fiasco, the BCCI made a half-hearted attempt at cleansing the game by banning after-parties. But the mentoring and sensitization of young players has been overdue. For every Cheteshwar Pujara who wears fame lightly on his shoulders, there is a Hardik Pandya whose flashy clothing, lifestyle and insensitive comments are a reflection of how much they have been blinded by the arc lights and fame.

In 2003-2004, India came close to winning a series in Australia. It was Rahul Dravid who almost single-handedly won the match for India in Adelaide and if Sourav Ganguly had enforced a follow-on earlier in the last match at Sydney, who knows, we needn’t have waited another 14 years. He would have been pleased that the person picked out to be his successor completed what he couldn’t in 2003-04.

As of writing this, Rahul Dravid is celebrating his 46th birthday. It was he who fast-tracked Pandya’s entry to the side based on his U-19 performances. And it was Pujara who was always touted to succeed him. 

Today, he will be proud of only one of them. 

It’s now time for the ODI’s. Then the IPL. And then the World Cup. We’ll be seeing a lot  more of Pandya and Pujara will be relegated to a distant memory, only to resurface when the next test series comes along.

Somewhere around 2012, Virat Kohli turned his fitness and career around. Not know to shy away from partying, many thought he too would be lost to the maze that is instant fame. It can be debated whether his on-field aggression and behavior is role model worthy but one thing is for sure – for Virat Kohli, the game comes first. He is one of the fittest, hungriest and most consistent in international cricket. 

Retired NBA superstar Charles Barkley is one hell of a colourful character. He has had numerous run-ins with the law for gambling, getting into altercations and drunk driving. He featured in a popular Nike ad in the 90s where he claimed he wasn’t a role model and didn’t intend to be one. 

He’s right. No sportsperson is paid to be a role model. They are paid to play. 

No doubt Hardik Pandya is a great talent, someone who has drawn comparisons with the great Kapil Dev for his all-round abilities. If he seeks to have a reasonably successful career without self-destructing, he can take a page out of Pujara’s book.

Cheteshwar Pujara may never earn the money, the fame or the adulation that a Hardik Pandya will receive and he sure as hell won’t appear on Koffee with Karan. But his achievements will be tempered with grace and dignity. The reason why we recall Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble so fondly isn’t just for the awards and the achievements, but for the way they conducted themselves and played the game.

In their own way, they left the game better than they found it. They didn’t do it because anyone prodded them or paid them to do it.

Cheteshwar Puajara understands this.

Hardik Pandya, for all of his fast-scoring and fast-living ways, has a lot of catching up to do in this area.

You see a tree, I see a wicket

Not everyone who plays street cricket goes on to play for the country and become wildly rich and famous. But anyone who is a somebody has once upon a time played street cricket.

Trees give us shade and oxygen and are a balm to concrete jungle weary eyes. There is nothing like the threat of trees being chopped and making way for a flyover that gets citizens riled up and on to the streets to protest, raising slogans.

There was a tree from my childhood. If I remember right, it wasn’t all that big. The trunk was small, just enough to double-up as cricket stumps. It was situated a few yards away from where the road turned. Located on a busy road, it cast a forlorn look on the road below.

In India, the world isn’t your oyster, it’s a cricket pitch. All you need is space, a bat, a ball and oodles of imagination.

Someone took a stone and carved a line on to the bark. The line functioned as the bails. It was crooked and sloped downwards. This minor error formed the basis of most of the ensuing arguments that were about whether the ball hit the bails or hit above.

There was another tree located diagonally. That served as the other wicket and doubled up as the bowler’s crease.

The boundaries were drawn out of thin air and if one hit a delivery into any of the houses nearby, they were declared out.

The tree came to life when holidays came into play and we were freed from the chains that school bound us in. It was a sign of freedom. Without the tree, we would have to search for something that doubled up as a wicket.

The enemies of street cricket are vehicles and houses, in that order. If you were in the middle of a delivery and a vehicle was passing by, play stopped until the vehicle moved out of sight. In street cricket, you always have to be prepared to run, make that flee. Flee from angry people who, if given a chance, will put up a wanted notice with your face on it.

There are two very distinct sounds of glass breaking from my childhood that I recall very vividly. One is of a stone being thrown on our window during riots and the other is of glass breaking when a cricket ball hits it. Both are dreadful in their own way.

One rubber ball cost 20 rupees, a princely sum for us. Endless hours were spent under the hot sun, trying our best not to break a window or hit a ball inside a home. Both meant that an indefinite halt of play and censure until we could afford another ball or until tempers cooled down. Neither came with any time-frame, which meant doing our best to preserve what we had.

Not everyone who plays street cricket goes on to play for the country and become wildly rich and famous. But anyone who is a somebody has once upon a time played street cricket.

When you see a tree, you may see shade, greenery, a source of oxygen.

I see a wicket.

Give me a bat and ball. Let’s play.

I

Mohammad Azharuddin hasn’t left the building

azhar

A few people were outraged when tainted former captain Mohammad Azharuddin was invited to ring the bell at Eden Gardens during the India-West Indies match. Just as Azharuddin has always remained an enigma, his legacy too will be a complicated one.

If you grew up in the 90s, there aren’t probably too many happy cricket memories that you can recall. Most of the ones you have will probably feature Sachin Tendulkar trying to pull off a heist while you sat, hands clasped in prayer.

What else do you remember?

Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad bowling tirelessly on flat pitches at home. Sourav Ganguly coming in as the third seamer. Anil Kumble and co. who ruled the roost on tailor made pitches at home. The 1996 World-Cup semi-finals meltdown that made you sob uncontrollably. Desert storm.

Who else do you recall?

Wait, how can you forget Mohammad Azharuddin? Captain of few words but with an upturned collar to boot. Silken wrist play and fielding abilities that were light years ahead of most. The bitter team mate who supposedly thwarted Sachin Tendulkar’s attempts at a half-decent captaincy by constantly undermining him. The near legend who sold his soul, his achievements and immortality for greed and lust and crash-landed from grace, leaving a gaping black hole in Indian cricket.

If one were to sum up Mohammad Azharuddin’s in a sentence, it will simply be this – a fairy tale beginning with a tragic ending. He made his debut when most of us were probably taking our first steps and began his career with by striking three centuries in the first three test matches that he played, a record that has stood the test of time. Made captain in the early 90s, Azharuddin heralded a period of dominance at home where tracks were laid out for spinners. Remember the merry trio of Rajesh Chauhan, Venkatapathy Raju and Anil Kumble?

Understanding where Indian cricket was in the 90s is hard for most of us. Buoyed by the improbable 1983 victory in the World Cup finals, the Indian team lacked confidence and were still finding their feet. To see how far Indian cricket has come in terms of clout from those days of obeisance to now, here’s a small comparison – when India toured South Africa in 1992 after they were re-integrated into the cricketing fold after the apartheid years, Kepler Wessels apparently whacked Kapil Dev with his bat while taking a run. Reluctant to make a big deal out of it, Kapil kept quiet and the matter was given a quiet burial. Contrast that to the BCCI’s stance in 2007-08 during the monkeygate scandal, when it threw all its weight behind a temperamental Harbhajan Singh who was accused of using a racial slur against Andrew Symonds. If reports are to be believed, a plane was waiting at Adeleide to fly the team back at a moment’s notice if the Australian board didn’t drop their charges against Harbhajan. The bullied had become the bullies.

In the 90s, the team relied on sheer talent and the genius of a few players to eke out victories. There were no international coaches, no multiple coaches and the players weren’t offered contracts by the board. And there was no IPL. The practice methods were outdated and winning away from home wasn’t even a pipe dream.

I sometimes wonder how Azharuddin’s life and career would have played out had social media been around. This is a gist of what he did – at the height of his fame, he left his demure wife and two children for a B-Grade starlet. In that era, when someone like a Vinod Kambli fell out of favour with the cricket board because of his flamboyant lifestyle, Azhar’s escapades were sacrilege 101. According to Rakesh Maria, the then police chief of Mumbai, Azharuddin had a ‘criminal bent of mind.’ The most damning evidence against him are his own words, when he confessed to the CBI that he had helped fixed matches.

For a shamed sportsman, redemption seems always at large. Hansie Cronje, the other big name whose involvement in the scandal set off an earthquake in cricketing circles, was in some ways fortunate. He crashed and burned in a plane crash in 2002, taking his secrets to the grave and didn’t have to struggle to carve out his post match-fixing accused life. People forget that after the scandal, Azhar fell off the radar, his presence not welcome in any cricketing circles. In 2009, he rose like a phoenix, stood for elections on a Congress ticket and won, becoming a member of parliament. Only politics can rehabilitate the tainted.

A few years back, a crying Vinod Kambli made startling claims about the infamous world cup semi-finals of 1996 being fixed. If only Vinod Kambli had an ounce of credibility, people may have sat up and listened. Even then, no high profile member of that line-up – Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble or Javagal Srinath came to his defence or supported him in any form. No one wanted to be seen taking sides with a cheat. When he rang the bell before the start of the India-West Indies match, Gautam Gambhir immediately sent out a tweet expressing his disappointment. Sanjay Manjrekar, Azhar’s one time team mate turned commentator, sent out a tweet with a link to the CBI enquiry of the fixing scandal which states almost unequivocally that Mohammad Azharuddin had confessed to his sins to the CBI.

While Azharuddin served as a Member of Parliament, his rehabilitation and entry back into Indian cricket has been a mixed bag. For a long time, he was seen as a tragic figure who had scripted a sad ending to what could have been a legendary career. It was as if cricket was trying to erase him from its books and close a chapter that it didn’t want re-opened and every time he showed up somewhere, it was like opening a pandora’s box all over again. In 2012, his life ban was finally lifted but even that was bittersweet. He was 49, his glory days a distant memory, his cricketing legacy turned to dust. During the 2017 Champions Trophy finals that featured India and Pakistan, Azharuddin wasn’t given a ticket to watch the finals as the ICC  deemed him as tainted. A former captain who had captained in 3 World Cups was still considered a fugitive at large in some circles.

A couple of years back, he attempted to repair his tarnished image with a biopic Azhar. In India, one of the best ways to resurrect and reinvent oneself is the biopic. Here, all mistakes are deemed to be misunderstandings and who we thought was the villain is actually the hero in disguise.

To me, Mohammad Azharuddin is and will always be a mountain of contradictions, a puzzle that can never be solved. He started his career with 3 centuries, scored a century in his last test match and was left stranded at 99 tests. Immortality, so near, yet so far. His successor, Sourav Ganguly, is heralded as someone who helped Indian cricket forget about the match-fixing era with his inspiring leadership. It was the same Sourav Ganguly headed CAB that invited Mohammad Azharuddin back to ring the ceremonial bell. His redemption, much like his life, is a jigsaw puzzle for which people are constantly trying to find the pieces.

Whenever I think of Mohammad Azharuddin, there is only one question that comes to mind. Why? He had all the money in the world but still lusted for more. He had all the fame and adulation that anyone could ask for, yet he went around seeking attention from dubious people. He could have an aspirational story but instead became a cautionary one.

My most abiding memory of him is his fielding and sublime use of his wrists. If he had simply focused on those, he would have had the whole world at his feet.

 

 

Dhoni, and the surreal class of 2007

msd

Mahendra Singh Dhoni heralded the T20 revolution in India by leading the team to its maiden T20 World Cup win. Now, we may  no longer see him in the format he made his own. 
 
As a sportsperson grows older, they all fight to stay relevant. When form dips, it is tougher to find one’s feet again and you’re always looking back to see who is catching up with you. When a series goes awry, you wonder if you will don the team jersey again.
 
Time, which was once your ally, is now a thief.
 
Dhoni can’t be old. It’s impossible. Yesterday we saw him pulverize attacks and finish matches with a flourish. Well, it feels like yesterday. No one wants to see their heroes to grow old. When their time comes, they should go out in a blaze of glory, before they begin to fumble against lesser mortals.
 
It’s been a little over 11 years since MS Dhoni led India to its maiden T20 world cup victory.  That tournament was a revelation, an education and a celebration, all in one. No one knew the format. No one thought it would explode and turn cricket over its head. No one knew that one day there would be T20 leagues and players would choose club over country. No one knew that so much money was lying dormant and when it came out, it was like some oil well had been discovered.
 
Dhoni led a team of young tyros that didn’t feature any big names.`Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and
Anil Kumble, all politely excused themselves from the tournament. Even they couldn’t see the future of the game and the leap it would make.
 
How many moments in your life can you describe as surreal? Getting drunk doesn’t count as one. We struggle to find surreal in life, that’s why we attempt to manufacture it.
 
But that’s the only word I can use to describe that inaugural T20 World Cup – surreal.
 
The first match against India and Pakistan ends in a bowl out, a practice that has since been stopped and replaced with the super over. The format didn’t know how else to complete a match that was tied.
 
Against South Africa, an excellent bowling effort led by RP Singh, Sreesanth and Pathan meant that the home side was knocked out of the tournament. A younger Dinesh Karthik flies in the air to pull off a stunning catch to dismiss Graeme Smith. Shaun Pollock is bowled by a stunner by RP Singh. South Africa are reduced to rubble and to add salt to their wounds, they miscalculate the runs they need to get to the next round.
 
Against England, there will always be one abiding memory – that of Yuvraj Singh taking Stuart Broad to the cleaners with his six sixes that immortalised him. In T20 cricket, we learned that everything was speeded up – even becoming legendary.  After Andrew Flintoff made the effort to walk up to him before the start of the over and give him an earful, Yuvraj looked like he wanted to get into a fist fight. Umpire Billy Doctrove made an attempt to dissuade him. All the while, captain Dhoni watched, possibly with a smile on his face.
 
But the match wasn’t one sided. England lost by 18 runs but gave India a run for their money.
 
The format ran on adrenaline. How it is possible to give adrenaline an adrenaline boost? Well, that’s exactly what Yuvraj Singh did with that one over. Cheerleaders. Commentators jumping up from their seats because they too were journeying with the rest of us.
 
Everything seemed, well, so surreal.
 
Against Australia, India again post a commanding total, riding on Yuvraj’s Jesus walking on water form and valuable contributions by Robin Uthappa and Dhoni. Australia don’t cower down. In fact, Andrew Symmonds and Matthew Hayden look they are going to run away with the match until Sreesanth strikes to get Hayden out. Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh get into the act, removing Michael Clarke and Andrew Symmonds.
 
India book a place with Pakistan in the final.
 
Can things get even more surreal?
 
The final dawns upon us. Gambhir plays a valuable knock, Yuvraj runs out of his superhuman prowess and no one knows whether 157 will be enough. Pakistan go on a blitzkreig and it looks like a lopsided finish. But this is Pakistan, not the most clinical nor blessed with too much common sense. This is India Pakistan, nothing goes according to script (unless you consider the shady matches played in the late 90s at Sharjah)
 
Pakistan are 77/6. It should be over. People realise that someone called Misbah ul Haq exists. Misbah, who at the age of 33, is coming out of retirement. Misbah, who smashes a wayward Harbhajan for a couple of sixes and is actually turning the tide. 
 
It all boils down to the last over. 13 runs. Joginder Sharma has the ball in his hand. 
 
Wide. Then a six. Effectively 7 runs of one delivery. Which meant they only needed 6 runs off 4 deliveries. Misbah can’t risk rotating strike. He then plays a shot that will forever haunt him and one which Indian fans will be forever in his debt. He scoops the ball and out of nowhere, Sreesanth runs towards it and latches on to the catch. 
 
Geoff Lawson, the then Pakistan coach can’t believe what has happened. 
 
The BCCI, which saw the tournament as some short-lived experiment hadn’t even bothered to hire a full time coach. Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh toured with the team as bowling as fielding coaches.
 
This is what surreal looks like – a side goes into a tournament without its most recognised players. The side is led by a newly appointed captain. There is no full time coach. And they’re playing a format they aren’t even acquainted with. 
 
Then they win the tournament.
 
Dhoni has led the side in 5 more T20 World Cups since. In 2014, the side lost to a determined Sri Lanka in the final. In 2016, they were expected to win it at home and were swept off by the West Indies who were an unstoppable juggernaut
 
Now, by the looks of it, Dhoni won’t feature in any more T20 matches for India. The next T20 World Cup is in 2020 and his successors are being readied. When he retired from tests at the end of 2014, he did so without much of a fuss. It seemed like he wanted to rid himself of that unwanted weight, in a format that seemed to restrict him. But when it came to limited overs cricket, he seems to feel he has something more to offer. 
 
Nostalgia is a lovely emotion but not a very useful one. It doesn’t alter a balance sheet or statistics or numbers. Players are always trying to regain form but as they grow older, they are always trying to do more than that – regain their youth. And Dhoni, like million other athletes before him is coming to that realization. In this year’s IPL, where he was reunited with his beloved Chennai Super Kings after a two year hiatus, we saw glimpses of the Dhoni of old. While his IPL career is by no means over, his career as an international T20 player might as well be. 
 
Dhoni, who shepherded a team through a new format, turned a game on its head and won countless hearts is now being asked to walk away from what he helped build.
 
One of my most abiding memories from the T20 World Cup final in 2007 comes after the victory. 
 
As Dhoni is walking towards the dressing room, a kid stops him. He calmly removes his shirt, gives it to kid, helps him wear it and walks away. 
 
It all seemed, well, so surreal.