Some people do not suffer fools, with some nowhere near gracefully. I know many of my friends don’t. Munib, Mizan, Mudassir, Zia and Qayyum don’t. Rasheed bhai (late Ain Rasheed Khan) didn’t and Belal bhai (poet Belal Chaudhuri) doesn’t. And Afsan Chowdhury the least. So when I heard Afsan recommend someone while he was on the phone with me that they should try Butolinacurentox-25 and Euromaxanthrax 2000 my ears pricked up. Weren’t the two the more lethal and dreadful sisters of Agent Orange — Agent Yellowbelly and Agent Violetia? Why I’m saying this? Well, I had my moments when I heard a couple of local radio commentators as they took listeners through the T20 WC 2014. Like the Terminator or the Predator I had the urge to dispatch them with extreme prejudice but it lasted just for a moment. You know the madmen or fools are just trying to earn a living and that they have to support families in addition to driving you up the walls. I know what Afsan would do though. He would take them close to an open window in his 12th floor office, laugh maniacally and say, “How do you like the view? Great, na? The driveway looks nice, na? Ok, go take a closer look via shortcut!!”
But the television commentators were good. My personal favourites are Nasser Hussain, generous and illuminating (“Mahela is telling captain Malinga where to stand!” and when they get a wicket “They are all happy, doesn’t matter who is captain!” or when Herath got his fourth: “Herath is all over New Zealand like a rash!”) and Danny Morrison—every second or third comment brings a smile to your face except his anguish when watched Brendon McCallum self-destruct first ball against SL). Harsha Bhogle is also very good behind the mike but I like him for a different reason—for his courage, integrity and his humanity. During the Mumbai carnage, a television journalist, whom detractors describe as a dyed-in-wool bigot, tried to bait him into saying something against Indian Muslims in general and Muslim Mumbaikars in particular. Harsha, almost harshly, told the journalist not to turn it into what it was not. He then repeated it for emphasis and told the person to desist from such madness. This was when many prominent Mumbai residents were falling over each other to express their moral indignation and righteous anger as they tried to be politically correct (just like here being politically correct for some is to blame India for all ills—“A cyclone is coming? Well the Indians are at it again! What can you do bhaiya?!”).
The T20 WC 2014 began in spectacular fashion. I missed the first 20 minutes or thereabouts of the inauguration, got caught in the traffic, but was in front of the television when AR Rahman and the rest of them did their thing. AR live is something to savour and not critique. I have another favourite. The girl performing “Maiya Maiya!” was simply fantastic, the singing as well her moves. Sweta Pandit? Neeti Mohan? Sorry girls (You don’t know me?!” “You mistook her for me?!”). I said sorry.
Then, over the next few days, we were treated to the also-rans show, to find out which two make up the final ten. We missed Chechnya, Burkina Faso and Outer Silesia. The first big one, on 21 March, was India-Pakistan. The mercurial Pakistanis were roughly pushed aside by a professional India. A first runout in cricket is considered bad luck kharap. Some even think Dhoni devised it. Just to scare the opposition spitless. In the end, the Pakistanis didn’t look so mercurial unless you spell it f-o-r-l-o-r-n. There was a similarity in the way the Pakistanis approached this game (batting first) and later when they played WI, and when NZ played SL and England played the Netherlands (batting second)—they looked like they were trying to replace the chain of an electric chainsaw while it was running.
The first semi had you holding your breath. The Sri Lankan artillery in the form of the in-form Thirumane at the beginning and the armour at the end, Mathews, made certain WI batsmen needed to come good. The first over, by Kulasekara, went for 17 runs, and rattled not just the bowler but his teammates and supporters as well. There are at least five captains in the Sri Lankan side and everyone seemed to have just one command: shut it off. They did just that as the next five overs fetched a staggering 13 runs for the WI. In particular, Gayle, who had hurt himself fielding and Samuels who neither curbed nor killed the Lankan batsmen with his bowling, seemed to be holding back for the good of humanity in general and WI in particular. When SL ended their misery Gayle had made 3 in 13 and Samuels 18 in 29. In their 83 ball innings, WI batsmen scored 43 dots. When the heavens opened up, they still needed 81 in 37, or around 12 per over in 6.1 overs. Could Sammy have turned it around? Does he have a license to do it each time? And who with? Everyone including Bravo had left. They said they had packing to do. In the end after D/L and Co. had declared SL winners by 27 runs, Sammy could only blame God for giving Jaya and Sanga a chance at a swansong.
Come the second semi and SA batsmen posted what many said was a par total. Well not in everyone’s language. The Indian batting was businesslike. Sure, they have a very destructive batsman in the form of Shikhar Dhawan at the top to make a mess of the opposition opening bowlers. For people like Dhawan, Sehwag, Gilchrist, Warner to name a few, or the guys who started it Jayasurya or Kaluwitharana, ‘opening batsman’ does not do credit. How would I define/describe them? Attack bats. Not ‘attacking batsman’, just ‘attack bat’. But scribes say Kohli is the key in the Dhoni scheme of things and the idea is that they all play around him while he plays with Anu…, er, animal instinct, ambition, aplomb, skill, courage, élan and panache. Whew. The other destructive player in the squad is Ravichandran Ashwin. The Amla dismissal has awed people around the world but I wonder why. He has been doing this since he arrived on the scene. Let’s take another recent Ashwin dismissal, when he scalped the Pakistani opener, the new guy, I forget his name. The commentators, specially Rameez Raja took him to town saying how he should not have played as he did and got out. Did anyone take the trouble of asking the batsman what happened? He would have told you: it was an Ashwin special. It would have got anyone from Hanif Mohammad to Rameez to Inzamam. Sure Ashwin was bested by Afridi in the Asia Cup but that was an aberration. Afridi is an aberration. An aberration with half a brain and even less discipline, thank God says the opposition. And people also forget Ashwin is a bowling all-rounder. Sure, with the batting powerhouse they are India rarely need his services with the willow but he has shown he can bat.
Anyway, Dhoni some say didn’t want SA to look bad in front of their friends, relatives and well wishers so he told his boys to take it to the 19th or 20th over so that it might look like a hard fought thing. No one was convinced.
Everyone agrees that MS Dhoni is at least a different kind of captain than his predecessors. So what is the secret? At least one unreliable source says it’s Dhoni’s intake, his diet. Dhoni laughs and denies it saying, “I’m just a dal-roti or sabzi-roti person, man.”
“Yes but he also takes great chunks, globs, dollops, of something else!”
“And what something else would that be?”
“Pressure. He eats pressure for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And devours it between meals. He also breathes in pressure and drinks it too but he will not admit it publicly lest the BCI, ICC, UN, Amnesty, World Bank, climb all over his back for foul play. The trick is he does it when no one is watching. But without pressure Dhoni wouldn’t be what he is, he’d be just another player. He can’t survive without pressure.”
Makes sense if you asked me. My favourite story of MS is that of a captain of a ship. Not just any ship, that would be too easy, but a ship that was going down. Under him very few would perish and then he would make sure we retrieved as much resources as we could, not like that Pi guy. If we were attacked by say a bunch of great white sharks, the worse for them. One who survived with his tail eaten off would have an attitude like, “Oh, I’m still alive! But stay away from that mild mannered smiling captain! What you see is not what you get!” And when a reporter at shore asks MS what it was like facing those great whites, he smiles, thinks for a moment and says, “Well, they taste different than what I thought, you know.”
Right. Well all’s well that ends well they say and reaching the foot of the summit—the final—must have been a grand adventure in itself for India and Sri Lanka just as it was for most of us. Well, all I can offer is may the best team win.
So what about tonight’s game, I ask a friend.
“If India bat first, they’ll get to a very challenging score, of that I am sure, say in the range of 180-200 but as to what would, could, Dhoni do in the event SL bat first and post their own challenging score, I have a suggestion. Do something new, something no one, specially the opposition has prepared for and would refuse to take seriously until it’s too late.”
“Reverse the batting order.”
“What? Bowlers opening the batting?”
“Yes. Once he makes up his mind, he is not going to panic an insert Dhawan and Kohli if a few wickets fall. His orders to the bowlers would be, “You have four overs and I need 70 runs or thereabouts and you can all get out doing it.” Remember, who comes after them, in reverse order. MS Dhoni bats in the middle and bowlers around the bowl still haven’t found surefire ways to contain him. Some even confide that when he’s in the middle they sometimes feel he is also their captain as he merrily helps them to make complete fools of themselves. How very strange.”
“And if it doesn’t work?”
“Well, some Indian players (they’ll draw lots) will be sent home on the train from Dhaka. They’ll be told: “Enjoy the scene specially the six hour stopover at the border. Then from Kolkata you go around the world in 80 days,” hinting that they would not be missed.”
Ishrat Firdousi is a journalist, writer and a cricket enthusiast.