Captain Am-Eureka!

My take on Kohli, the captain of the Indian cricket team.

As an Indian fan, it is sad to see how the captaincy situation is unfurling. Kohli vs Dada- seems to be a fight between two big egos. I just hope that both sit together and reach a common middle ground which takes Indian cricket forward in the coming days.

This piece is not about the current Indian captaincy fiasco. It is more about my views of Kohli as a captain. What do you think? A legend, a maverick, too egoistic, or one who let’s the record do the talking?

Let me start with the positives first. Kohli has a fantastic overall record as captain, not just among the best Indian captains, but one of the best captains ever across countries, across eras, across countries. India has been consistently no.1 in tests under him and always in and around the pinnacle in ODI’s and T20’s for most of his tenure.

I am a bit of an old school guy and what I greatly respect about Cheeku (Kohli’s nickname) is his love for test cricket. He openly states that he considers a good grind over five days the most quintessential format. This is refreshing in this era of Pyjama cricket where matches are decided over 20 overs, or sometimes even 100 balls!

Kohli has also created a legacy with India’s overseas test performance. India was always good at home, banking on its spinners. But one of the best contributions of Kohli is clearly articulating the aspiration to consistently win overseas- to then creating and supporting a pace attack that has helped us get some memorable wins abroad. Two series wins in Australia, a series lead in England- no matter of joke in times when every country wins at home, hardly anyone wins away. Bumrah, Shami and Ishant/ Siraj can match up to an Aussie or an English attack in away tests and sometimes be even better than them. Oh, I am looking forward to the South Africa away test series already!

Another thing to really like about Kohli the captain is his aggression- he would rather lose a test match going for a win rather than play out a dull draw. This is a big difference from how past Indian captains played it- they would first secure the draw and in the process miss a few wins especially overseas because of this defensive mindset. Kohli turned this around very early in his captaincy stint with his ‘I am ready to lose some to win big’ attitude. Going for an impossible win in Adelaide (where we lost chasing more than 350 on the final day) paved way for our famous wins in Gabba (even though Rahane was the captain in that test) or Lords’ this year!

The other big positive is the King’s focus on fitness. India were an average fielding side before Kohli, but over the last few years, his own high standards have rubbed off on the team, and they set the gold standard now, when it comes to fitness and fielding.

All in all, lots of positives- Kohli as a captain has really taken Indian cricket forward.

Now, for the negatives- and to be honest, there are a few in this list too.

Firstly, our record in recent global tournaments, especially knockouts, is pretty poor. We seem to win all bilateral series in white ball cricket but get stuck when it matters most! New Zealand gives us nightmares across formats and dare I say, we have officially replaced South Africa as the biggest chokers in World Cups!

As a strategist, I feel Cheeku is an average captain- we have seen him captain RCB for long enough without a single IPL trophy. Sometimes they had the best of players who are individually brilliant but together they were not a good team- the roles were not defined well enough. There was a miss between the cup and the lip, literally.

Kohli is someone who also prides in constant chopping and changing. He truly believes in a ‘horses for courses’ approach. It works at times, but also destabilizes the team and creates insecurity. So, a Karun Nair hardly got any matches even after a triple ton, a Kuldeep Yadav quickly fizzled out with no backing from the captain, and we saw inexplicable drops for Rahane, Pujara, Bhuvi and Ashwin from critical overseas test matches in last three years, where we missed them dearly!

Aggression is good but too much of anything is bad. Kohli wears his emotion up his sleeves but it is not great when he overdoes it- and he does that often! Sledging is fun when done in moderation but fist pumping and bad mouthing an opposition no.11 batsman is not good role modelling to young kids who idolize him. He also lets his ego come in the way, when pushed to a corner- we have seen that too often, lately.

Kohli has easily been the best batsmen across formats in the last decade. His record is phenomenal over the long run. 50+ average in all formats of the game- he is an absolute legend when it comes to chasing in white ball cricket. But the record in the last two years has taken a sharp dip. His last international century was more than 28 months back! Maybe he is thinking about captaincy too much which is affecting his batting?

All in all, Kohli has taken Indian cricket from strength to strength during his tenure as captaincy. His partnership with Shastri also worked well in taking us to the pinnacle, especially with some great overseas Test wins in tough places like Australia, England and South Africa. However, his batting form has sharply dipped. I feel India needs Kohli the batsman much more now than Kohli the captain.

Yes, I am suggesting that Kohli gives up test captaincy too. Let Dravid and Rohit manage the team & strategy while Kohli focuses on his bat doing the talking again! He has been stuck on 70 not out for too long, time to get his batting form back and get to 100 hundreds now.

Sayonara- Kohli, the Captain!

Welcome back- King, the Batting Legend, Reloaded!

Citius, Altius, Fortius

A reflection on India’s performance in the Olympic Games and how we can be faster, higher and stronger in the future.

The seven hues of the Indian rainbow in these Olympic games!

It was a very different Olympics this time- a year late due to the pandemic, no crowd, and really no one knew what to expect. There was an air of expectation from the Indian fans though- with this being the biggest contingent, India has ever sent, for an Olympics.

It started on a good note for India. Mirabai Chanu got a silver on Day 1 in weightlifting. She tried hard for the gold but her Chinese opponent was just too good. Mirabai was spontaneous and promptly declared that she wanted to have a Pizza to celebrate her success!

The next few days were quite a big disappointment- much was expected but the shooters especially flattered to deceive. But the likes of Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker are young and their time will surely come. The archers fought well with a few good wins (especially the husband & wife duo of Deepika and Atanu) but couldn’t hit the Bull’s Eye when it mattered the most. The badminton contingent was in the mix too but there was heartbreak for the Men’s doubles pair (Satwik- Chirag) who got knocked out in the group stages in spite of good wins.

The spotlight was now on the boxing arena. Mary Kom lost a close one where she fought till the end. The unexpected good news came from Lovlina who defied all odds to give us a bronze, a first medal from the state of Assam. It was refreshing to see her being aggressive in the semis too against her much stronger Turkish opponent Surmeneli, who would go on to win gold. Lovlina is young and will surely improve more- exciting for Paris in three years’ time.

Then it was up to badminton and Sindhu. She kept her composure to best Yamaguchi in the quarters but fell short to Tai in the semis. She however, remained calm and gave us the win vs He Bingjiao of China in the bronze medal playoff, thus becoming just the second Indian to get individual medals in back to back Olympics (after Sushil Kumar in Wrestling).

The biggest improvement was in the field of Hockey. The Men’s team has been doing well for a while and they rebounded from a 1-7 loss to Australia in the Group stages to finish second in the group. A comfortable knockout win vs GBR got them a semi-final vs Belgium. In spite of a valiant effort, they fell short to lose 2-5 (a very flattering score indeed for Belgium as it was 2-2 till the 49th minute). In the bronze playoff, they were behind 1-3 to Germany and seemed down and out but made an incredible comeback to take a 5-3 lead. Germany hit one back and got a penalty corner with just six seconds left. The nation heaved a sigh of relief as Sreejesh made the most important save of his life to give India a first hockey medal in 41 years!

The girls were no less. Beaten back and blue in their first three matches, the eves beat Ireland and South Africa in their last two matches to squeak through to the knockouts. No one gave them a glimmer of hope but against all odds, they upset the mighty Australians in the quarters. They fought on in the semis (losing 1-2 to Argentina) and the bronze playoff (losing 3-4 to GBR). The most heart-breaking moment for us Indian fans was seeing the distraught girls after giving it their all vs GBR. They may have lost, but they won our hearts. The men’s and women’s teams ensured that the national sports was again in the limelight after ages.

Wrestling was another sports which has historically been a strong point for Indians. There was a good haul this time too. Ravi Dahiya fought hard and got a silver. His turnaround win in the semis from 2-9 down was just amazing. He was mature and calm and seemed more disappointed that he missed the gold, than he was happy to win the silver.

Bajrang was another strong contender and much was expected from him. He lost in the semis but came back like a true champion to win the bronze medal pay-off. The big heartbreak was Deepak Punia who had a lead till the very end in the bronze playoff but surrendered it to lose to his San Marino rival.

There were a few good performances in other sports- we did well in Equestrian and Fouaad Mirza reached the final- a first as an Indian in any Olympics. Bhavani Devi won a match for India in fencing for the first time ever. Avinash Sable ran a great steeplechase and just missed making it to the finals. The Men’s Relay team (4*400 m) broke the Asian record and Kamalpreet Kaur got a credible sixth position in the Women’s Discus Throw event.

Aditi Ashok was another underdog who was rewriting the record book in Golf. The world no.200 was in the top two for almost the entire four days and gave a tough fight to the eventual winner, world no.1 Nelly Korda. With her mom as her caddie, Aditi putted with composure and kept herself in the medal position. It was disappointing to see her finish fourth, after giving such a tough fight, as she ended one shot off the medal position.

The last medal hope was Neeraj Chopra, on the penultimate day in the men’s javelin competition. Neeraj was up against the heavy favourite, Vetter, from Germany. The 23 year-old made a dream start with his first throw and bettered it in his second- where he started celebrating just after throwing even before seeing where the javelin had landed. Such was his confidence! As Vetter fizzled out, Neeraj was getting closer to making history. As India held its breath and the rounds progressed, it was becoming clear that Neeraj had done enough with his second throw to get the gold. It was a historic moment- a first medal for independent India in athletics, a first individual gold since Beijing 2008 (Abhinav Bindra). It felt so good to see the tri-colour go up and to sing the national anthem during the medal ceremony.

So, seven medals in all including one gold medal- this was India’s best-ever haul in the Olympics (top 50 globally). Was this a success, or a failure? I would say we did well, but given the true potential, the best is surely yet to come. There are miles to go before we sleep. A few reflections on what can move us from good to great-

  1. We need to invest more as a nation in sports. More resources and infrastructure will make us future ready. Look at China, where they were 30 years back and look at them now. They will probably top the table this time, ahead of even USA.
  2. The other sports beyond cricket also need to be backed and given limelight. It was refreshing to see the country celebrate Neeraj Chopra’s win and forget the test match vs England for a while.
  3. The Indian sports bodies have already started investing more in certain fields like Shooting. But how can we give more exposure to our athletes and make them mentally strong? In Shooting and Archery, ties are decided by one point and our sportsperson buckle under the pressure.
  4. There is potential- they need to be groomed in the right manner. The smaller centres like North East are giving us medals. How can we harness the potential?
  5. The first three medals this time were all by girls. The only two medals in 2016 were by girls. How do we create an equal society where we give same opportunities to the female gender? Many parts of the country still follow a patriarchal set-up.
  6. How can we change the overall mindset? Where parents encourage kids to take up sports as a career option instead of blindly joining the corporate rat race after school?

So, it is time to celebrate the wins but equally let us not rest on our laurels. Let us plan for the next twenty years now so that we can dream about a top 10 position by then. So that we can see the tri-colour go up again and again… and get to sing the national anthem together many times…

Jai Hind!

A Few Good Men

A tribute to the brave-hearts who gave India its best away test series win ever in history.

I still get goose bumps. Did it actually happen? I pinch and double pinch myself to check. Yes- it is indeed for real. We did it. Battling, battered and bruised. But tall and proud, last men standing!

So, here’s a tribute to the ‘Few Good Men’- the unlikely set of heroes who gave us our biggest ever test series win vs Australia, against all odds.

Shubman Gill– walked in for his test debut after the 36 all out debacle. Looked calm and composed, as if he has been doing this for ages. The sweet sound off the bat every time Gill pulled and cut was like symphony. That twenty run over from Starc in the second session on the last day of the Gabba test really started giving us Indian fans hope that we can do it. Finished with a 50+ batting average in his first test series.

Rishabh Pant– you love him or hate him, but you sure cannot ignore him. ‘The chatterbox’ and the ‘official babysitter’ of the team- 4th innings giant already at 23. What do you do when a ball hits the crack, spins at right angles and the keeper misses a stumping chance? Well, you dance down the pitch and hit the next ball for a six over long on, against the turn. Well that is Pant for you- unorthodox and fearless. That winning shot to the long off boundary will forever be part of the show-reel!

Cheteshwar Pujara– the new Wall! An unlikely hero in the IPL era. Old school, slow yet assured. And what a fighter! Took eleven blows to the body on the last day. It seems there was one big crack in the pitch and Cummins especially was hitting that with unerring accuracy time and again. So, Pujara decided to let the ball hit him rather than playing for uncertain and uneven bounce. He preferred to become ‘Rocky’ rather than risk his wicket. He scored 500+ runs last time we won the series Down Under and repeated the heroics with a lesser tally but marathon stays in the crease.

Mohammed Siraj– lost his father when he was quarantining in Australia early in the series but decided to stay on for the team’s sake. Was racially abused by fans but decided the ball to do the talking. Became the unlikely leader of the bowling pack in the Gabba test with the spate of injuries. Took a 5-fer in the second innings to break the Aussie batting. Was India’s highest wicket taker in the series. After landing back in India, he went straight to the graveyard to pay last rights to his departed father. What a man!

T Natarajan– truly a Bollywood rags to riches story. Coming from an extremely needy background, he was discovered by the talent scouts and flowered in the IPL. A white ball specialist, Nattu was retained to give the batsmen some net practice as a left arm fast bowler like Mitchell Starc. Became a father midway in the series but decided that India was a priority, so stayed back Down Under. Got an unlikely opportunity to debut in the Gabba test and did very well. ‘Net to Nattu’ was an amazing journey. He is the first Indian to debut across all three formats in a series.

Washington Sundar– again a so called ‘net bowler’ who got his big chance in the last test. Was retained to simulate Lyon and ensure Ashwin gets rest between matches. Bowled exceedingly well in the last test and the ‘no look’ six was one of the moments of the match. Full swag!

Shardul Thakur– got injured in his debut test in Windies two years back and had to drop out after a couple of overs. So, in a way, Gabba was a semi- debut for him too. His partnership with Washi in the first innings actually kept India in the hunt. Took seven wickets too for a truly memorable all-round performance.

And a few who set it up but did not play the last test-

Hanuma Vihari– failed a few times. Was criticized by one and all and was about to be axed. Came to bat in Sydney with the match on the line. Had a Grade 2 hamstring tear and was in unbearable pain. But batted for almost four hours and made the most steely 23 not out (in 161 balls!) to keep India level in the series going into the final test.

Ravichandran Ashwin– a giant at home, but often criticized for his away performances especially in SEAN (South Africa, England, Australia, Newzealand). Gave us the upper hand by taming Steve Smith in the first two tests and stuck it out with Hanuma to draw the SCG test when he could hardly stand due to a back injury. Gave it right back to Paine and won the verbal duel as well as the on-field one.

Ravindra Jadeja– His sword celebration after reaching a milestone gives hope to us always. Whether with the bat, bowl or the field, Jaddu always contributes. His biggest contribution though was padding up on the 5th day in SCG with a broken thumb- showing resilience and courage. As Hanuma and Ashwin battled for the draw, seeing an injured Jadeja in the dressing room ready to come in next, gave them assurance and confidence to hold on in the middle.

Jasprit Bumrah– the best all format fast bowler of this generation. Leading a young pack through the first three tests as one after another senior dropped out (Ishant Sharma before the series, Mohammed Shami in the first and Umesh Yadav in the second test), Bumrah kept going. Now has the best test bowling average of 21 for all visiting teams in Australia in this century!

Lastly, Ajinkya Rahane– he took over the reins after the ‘36 debacle’ with the best batsman and captain back at home. He led with composure and class. When the Aussies talked, he stared back. Led the comeback with the century at MCG. When he looked good for much more, he was run out due to an error in judgement by his partner. He calmly walked up to him, egged him to go on and left without a show of frustration. Great example of leadership in crisis!

Also Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli– often criticized for their ‘in your face’ and haughty attitudes, but you need to admire the aggression. In a way, the seeds of the Gabba win now were sown in Adelaide 2014. We went for a 300+ last day target then also, and lost. But the seeds of positivity were sown. Life turned a full cycle at Gabba. Shaz’s speech to the team after the Gabba win was a good reflection of how we won in adversity.

And behind the scenes, Rahul Dravid– the silent mentor. Churning out the next generation for India. Working tirelessly with youngsters, shaping their technique and more importantly their attitude. You saw the bench strength of India and you couldn’t but doff your hat to the ‘Wall’.

There are many bigger reasons for this super success.

IPL has given a big opportunity to young players and make them truly believe that they can do it, no matter what!

Calm and composed leadership which converted crisis into an opportunity.

The strength of the bench- India B played like India A+. Anyone wearing the India shirt is capable to perform and win.

The need to take a step back to step forward (Pujara) and also the need to be prepared to lose some to win some (Adelaide 2014 to Gabba 2021).

Honestly, the only time India looked like winning the series was in the last hour of the last test. It was that sort of a series! All in all, I still cannot believe it. So, maybe playing the last day highlight show-reel in loop will do the trick. Savour this and enjoy- for moments like this happen once in a generation.

O Captain! My Captain!

A tribute to MS Dhoni- a captain who made winning a habit… and going missing from winning team pictures, a signature.

It has been a good two years since my last blog. Becoming a parent and moving countries, made me break the habit. But above everything, it has been pure laziness. Wanted to set things right and it was triggered by Dhoni’s retirement yesterday. It seems like the end of an era for him and end of a phase of our lives. Myriad memories did a flashback as I thought about MSD and his chequered career. Life events from the last decade and a half, popped up, as if it were yesterday. Here are the top moments from the MSD show-reel…

The year was 2004… I had just joined an MNC and working as a management trainee in Mumbai. Huffing and puffing to impress the bosses during the ‘Purple Star’ days to get a good first sales assignment location. We did manage to sneak out early one evening to catch the Challenger Trophy cricket action at Wankhede. As India Seniors comfortably beat India B, there was this long haired, fit and fast, impulsive wicket keeper who came to bat as an opener and scored an unbeaten ton at more than a run a ball to help set up an easy chase of 275. Particularly remember a hooked six off a bouncer which was still rising as it crossed the boundary and out of the stadium. Welcome to the world MSD!

My first sales stint was in the north of India. We would do trade visits in the first half of the day and then go to the branch office to review the progress for the month and meet the team to plan ahead. As we did our meetings one day, we kept following the India vs Sri Lanka match on TV in the common area. This young stud was promoted to no.3 in a tough chase of almost 300. He would keep stepping out to the spinners and tonk them over long on. Dhoni got 183 not out that day to set up an easy win with four overs to spare. The machine and his brilliance in a chase- the lore was already taking shape.

I was settling down at work now. Doing my sales stint in an upcountry location- lot of travel, but work I enjoyed. We had a get together with pals for a friend’s marriage. As we complained on how we used none of the theory we learnt during MBA at work, we started following India’s ODI series match in Pakistan. Another 280+ chase, but MSD and Yuvi made it a walk in the park. While Dhoni helped us stay ahead of the asking rate, we finished a bottle- we also ensured that we stayed ahead of the required run-rate 😊

2007- I was based out of Kolkata that year and got married. There was despair for cricket fans after the early World Cup exit- losing to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Amidst the doom, a new look India side travelled to the T20 World Cup without the ‘Holy Trinity’ (Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly). No one gave us a hope in hell, but a captain believed! Inspiring the young Turks, he helped us win a bowl-out vs Pakistan (where he nominated an unusual bowler like Uthappa!). We won close matches vs Australia and Pakistan in the Knockouts where he made a rookie like Joginder Sharma bowl the last over. On the day of the final, as Misbah got the scoop shot wrong and Sreesanth took the catch, the sky opened up and there was torrential rain to celebrate a new phase in India’s cricketing future.

As I started growing professionally, so did Dhoni and his India team now. As I was about to board a flight in between a busy work week, I read on Cricinfo how we finally broke through Amla and his stoic resistance to win at Eden- that made us the no.1 Test team in the world in 2010.

2011- the World Cup in our own country. We had done well but not won the cup for 28 years. As MS struggled through the cup as a batsman, India also moved through the group phase with a few stutters. The Knockout phase had some deadly matchups- Australia in the quarters, Pakistan in the semis, and Lanka in the finals. In the decider, we seemed down and out-31/2 with Sehwag and Sachin back in the hut chasing 275. Gauti and the young Kohli steadied the boat but at 114/3, it was anybody’s game. Everyone expected Yuvi who was having a stellar series, but surprise! Dhoni walked out at no.5. He took on the challenge head on. Murali was bowling and he figured that he had a better chance to take on the off-spinner than the southpaw Yuvi. MS milked the bowling, took the singles and hit the occasional boundaries. We kept biting our finger nails but the asking rate stayed manageable for most parts. The signature finish- that six over long on off Kulasekara is possibly the most remembered shot in the minds of people in our generation. We won the cup, Dhoni was missing in the final team picture as team mates celebrated with Sachin on their shoulders in his farewell World Cup.

Life was good. As a couple, we travelled the world and MS also took India to new heights in different shores. His signature was to take it deep in a chase and then win it in the last over- so the 13 he got vs Mckay in Australia (including this 112 metre six!) or the 15 vs Eranga in the WI triseries (with the last man on the other side), became more the expected than a surprise.

Life moved on- both the professional and personal. Every year, a leaf would turn. What was constant during this time was IPL and how consistent MS and his CSK team were. Dhoni would ask for the same set of players at the auction table while the other franchises chopped and changed. He would show faith in his wards, give them specific roles and then back them to the hilt. Economics surely was MS’s favourite subject as he knew how best to maximize a set of constrained assets. The helicopter shots would be out and last over chases aced with a smile and a nod. It was foolish of IPL- they would play for 45 days every year just to decide which three teams would join CSK in the semis!

2011-2012- life is not a bed of roses- there are ups and downs. Post the World cup high, MS took us to overseas tours in England and Australia where we the India team fell flat. A lot of hype was created before the series but we were just not up to the mark. The Midas touch which gave us so many great results in limited overs cricket (including a Champions Trophy too), seemed to have deserted us in away test series.

The struggles were becoming real now- the spring in the steps in the 20’s and early 30’s, were a thing of the past. Last over effortless finishes gave way to laboured and slow crawls. Dhoni would take the matches deep but would be unable to finish them. There was a lot of debate on whether he should be in the team at all for the 2019 World Cup. But Kohli wanted him, his inputs during fielding was invaluable. He was also crucial in the ‘green’ middle order which was very unsettled. I still think they made a big mistake keeping him at no.7 in the semis. He could have shepherded the others better at no.4 that day and Pant/ Kartik/ Pandya could have hit better around him during the slog. Alas, Guptill’s direct hit from the deep ensured that India (in the World Cup) and MS’s journey were both over.

He gave it up in tests when we least expected him to. In limited overs cricket, it was very expected though deep down as fans we were hoping that this day does not come soon. Still, we will enjoy him wearing the Yellow now (for CSK in the IPL) instead of the Blue.

Calm, yet competitive. Humble and always smiling. The mind of an Einstein. The best when it came to acing the chase. A true leader who built on Ganguly’s legacy and took Indian cricket to a stratospheric level. Three ICC event wins, no.1 Test rank, multiple IPL triumphs- so many happy memories for us cricket fans. A charismatic leader, but above all a really nice and down-to-earth human being. We will miss you- but now you can go missing without us looking for you. Thank you for the happy times MS. Au Revoir!

The most famous shot MSD has ever hit- the six that won India the World Cup ODI final in 2011- a page from my Scrap Book…


Super Selector

Join the debate… in selecting India’s squad for the World Cup…

In a country like India, everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to cricket, the national passion. The arduous eight-phase election has started, but the proverbial biggie- the ODI cricket world cup is what will capture the imaginations of this sports crazy country in the coming days. The country will ‘Bleed Blue’ again. The action is almost a month and a half away, but the heated debates in the sitting rooms have surely started.

Who should be the Chosen Ones? Who should be in the Indian squad of fifteen for the World Cup? World cup teams have always been a hot topic for discussion. Remember the 2007 T20 squad when we had MSD as a rookie captain and without the ‘Holy Trinity’ (Sachin, Saurav, Dravid)? Or Dinesh Mongia as a no.3 in the 2003 team? Sometimes, non-selection makes as much news. VVS Laxman, anyone?

Firstly the World Cup format this time is the best as far as I am concerned. The ten best teams, playing each other head to head in a round robin format to decide the top four and then knock-outs to follow. Consistency will be the name of the game. Luck can win you a match, or two maybe, but won’t be the savior in the long run in this format. The cup starts in May end and then conditions may help the swing bowlers to begin with but over the course of the series, it will get drier and the spinners will come into play. You would need the hitters for the placid wickets but the accumulators will be gold dust if the par score is 250. So, basically you need great balance in the squad of fifteen- to adapt to different situations.

So, let’s start…

There are around eleven names who select themselves, so let’s get them out of the way first..

1) Rohit- white ball demi-God..

2) Dhawan- outstanding record in England and long format series

3) Kohli- God!

4 or 5) MSD- may not be the captain but still cool..

6) Kedar- the finisher and the man with the proverbial golden arm

7) Hardik- just let the game do the talking man. Ok?

8) Kuldeep- Chinaman bowlers are rare. Batsmen still can’t pick him

9) Chahal- completes the Kul-Cha pair

10) Bumrah- the best white ball fast bowler today

11) Shami- the most improved Indian player in the last four months, across formats

12) Bhuvi- swing maetro who’s lost a bit of momentum of late, but still a shoo in

So who are the other four?

Let’s go by positions… We need a middle order batsman, a back-up opener, one (or two) all-rounder backup, with one more possible pacer/spinner back up. To go with these we also need a keeper back up.

For the opener back up, I will go with KL Rahul. He is a sublime player when in touch. He can slot at no.4 also if needed. He is accelerating quite nicely in the IPL if that’s a yardstick.

For the middle order spot, I will choose two players- Pant to be the enforcer and back up keeper. He will be in my eleven if it’s a 300+ par score pitch. I will also pick Vijay Shankar to be the more solid no.4/5 and a possible back up for Hardik if he pulls up injured.

My other spinner back-up doubling as an all-rounder will be Jadeja. With his electric fielding and quick runs at the death, he will be a great asset to have in the team.

I just don’t see any good pacer back up option and with two pacers playing with Hardik, we can start with Bhuvi as the extra anyways. Rayudu is the current no.4 but doesn’t inspire too much confidence. He misses out, as does Dinesh Kartik. DK is a T20 legend, but feel we can’t trust him to take us over the line over a long twenty over plus duration in a chase.

So here’s my fifteen…

Rohit, Dhawan, Kohli, MSD, Pant, Kedar, Hardik, Kuldeep, Shami, Chahal, Bumrah.

Back ups: KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, Jadeja, Bhuvi.

I think it’s a solid line up which can cover most bases. Pant can start but Vijay Shankar can step into the middle order if needed. KL can play if one of the openers get injured. Two of the three fast bowlers can rotate as it is a long tournament. We can play the combination of Hardik/ Chahal but if needed Bhuvi/ Jadeja will do just as well.

To me, England starts as the favourites with their long list of match winners. You can never rule out Australia with their recent resurgence. And God knows which side of the bed the Pakistanis will wake up in. But with the above squad, I think we have a decent shot at it.

So here’s my ‘Men in Blue’. What’s yours?







The Final Frontier

The Indian cricket team’s quest for that elusive test series win in Australia…

It’s the crack of dawn. I get up before the cell alarm goes off- there is so much of anticipation. The coffee is put to brew as Kohli and Paine get ready for the toss. It’s the start of the test series Down Under, it’s the start of the quest to conquer the ‘Final Frontier’.

The year had started with so much of expectation for the die-hard India cricket fan, with away test series in the so called ‘Big Three’- South Africa, England and Australia. We competed hard in both South Africa and England. Our fast bowlers matched the opponents and out-paced them at times. But the batsmen disappointed. Kohli was the lone warrior as one batting collapse followed another. Jo’burg and Trent Bridge were mere aberrations as we lost 2-1 to the Proteas and 4-1 to the Pommies. It was a case of ‘so close, yet to far’.

As I look back, tough overseas tours have been a bane for our cricket team for ages now. There have been many an opportunity missed.

The Adelaide test in 2014 comes to mind immediately. India went into the final day needing 364 runs to win the match. While most other teams would try to stonewall and get a draw, we went for it! Going into tea, we were 160 odd away with eight wickets in hand and in with a real chance. But Lyon had other ideas. Vijay got out for 99 and that set the cat among the pigeons. Kohli played a lone hand but even his majestic 141 was not enough as we fell 48 runs short.

Remember the controversial New Year’s test in Sydney in the 2007 series? Umpiring blunders led to captain Kumble saying after the match that ‘only one team played the game in the true spirit’. There was racial abuse allegations on Bhajji leading to the notorious ‘Monkeygate’ scandal. India took a size-able first innings lead thanks to a Sachin special but had to bat out 70 odd overs on day five for a draw. At seven wickets down, the hopes were low but MSD and Kumble batted for a good amount of time and with the dimming light, there were just two overs to go to get a well-earned draw. Ponting gave the ball to Michael Clarke as a last throw of the dice and he took three wickets in five balls to break the Indian hearts and give Aussies an infamous win.

Barbados in 1997 was a similar story. The Windies were still a feared side with a four pronged pace attack. So when the Indians had to chase down 120 in the fourth innings, one thought that history was about to be re-written. What followed was mayhem- India were bowled out for a paltry 81. Only three bowlers were enough as Ambrose and co. broke Indian hearts.

Not all overseas test series had a sad ending though. Wadekar’s team in 1971 recorded super away series wins in England and the Windies. Kapil gave us a memorable win in the Melbourne test in 1981 with a fifer when he was carrying an injury, helping us comfortably defend a paltry 140 odd in the fourth innings.

There was the Headingley test in 2002 when Dada decided to bat first on a green top. Bangar and Dravid blunted the new ball and played on till tea, setting the game up for Sachin and party to amass 600+ and get an innings victory. That series would be tied 1-1 but India would go back under Dravid in 2007 and win the series 1-0, with a win in Trent Bridge thanks to a Zaheer Khan special.

New Zealand is also a difficult country to tour and one of our famous wins was in 2009 when we triumphed in Hamilton. That series is also remembered for the GG special at Napier. Gambhir batted for more than 10 hours to help us draw after following on.

The Adelaide test in 2003 is also right up there. The usual suspects Dravid and Laxman resurrected India and then Agarkar bowled a dream spell in the 3rd innings to set it up for Dravid again to give a finishing touch. Oh, how we celebrated that win in the hostel common room!

Right after the heartbreaking loss at SCG in 2007, was the win in Perth which is mostly remembered for Irfan Pathan’s all-round performance and probably the best ever spell Ishant has ever bowled when he troubled Ponting for a while before ultimately getting him out.

There was also the Jo’Burg test win in 2006 which was the ‘Sreesanth special’. The wicket was a pacer’s delight but the Indians gave the Proteas a taste of their own medicine. Sree was the MoM with a 8 wicket match haul but you remember more his spontaneous dance after hitting a straight six off Andre Nel. What a joker!

And to top it all, the win in Pakistan in 2004. The series was set up by a Viru special at Multan where he hit a triple hundred. Dravid’s declaration with Sachin stranded at 194 signaled India’s intent to win the match more than setting personal milestones. Pakistan came back strongly in the 2nd test in Lahore but India bagged the series with a win in the decider at Rawalpindi with a Dravid master-class.

So, many a heart break for the Indian faithful with a few exceptions to provide some silver lining. The bottom line is that the Indian team has till date not won any test series in Australia or South Africa. We are the No.1 test side for a while now and the coach claims we are the best traveling Indian team in this century. Let’s hope Kohli and the boys prove Shaz right and they do the talking where it matters- the field. All the best guys! Chak de! Jai Hind!

The Melbourne Cricket Ground- venue for the iconic ‘Boxing Day’ test..






Million Dollar Baby

What makes the fantasy sports format such madness!

Recent reports indicate that a growing number of sports fans are hooked on to their laptops or mobiles just before 8 pm IST. Surveys indicate that it will stay this way for the next month and a half. Source: Anonymous.

Well, it’s the season of fantasy sports and none is bigger than IPL, India’s great cricketing extravaganza. For the uninitiated, fantasy sport is a game where you are a virtual manager with a budget (say a million dollars) with your baby that is a team of players who get points for actual performance in the game. It is a format that is currently in India $ 20 Mm in size with a 10X growth in last two years, as per reports. Dream XI and Fandromeda are some of the most popular ones though the official websites (IPL, EPL, etc.) have their own versions and are just as popular.

The early days of Fantasy sports in India were in the early 2000’s when ESPN Super Selector was big. I remember the craze during my MBA days. In the 2003 cricket World Cup, there was as much cheer when Vaas took a first over hat-trick vs Bangladesh (for someone who had Vaas as his fantasy team captain!) as when Sachin hit a six off Shoaib Akhtar at Centurion. It was pure joy when the Mirror newspaper would carry your name when they published the daily leaderboard for the 2006 Football World Cup. A Nokia phone as a gift for winning a fantasy tournament was a prized possession. Thierry Henry would be my permanent captain in my fantasy EPL team during the glory Gunners era and he would always deliver!

So what makes the fantasy sports format so special?

To begin with, the Indian sports fan always has a unique point of view. ‘Why promote Vijay Shankar when you have DK?’. ‘Who gives the last over to Vinay Kumar?!’, and so on and so forth. Well, fantasy sports gives a great chance to the passionate fan to be the couch Harsha Bhogle and create a team of players who they think will do well.

In psychology during my MBA days, I had read about the n-ach motivation- there is this latent need for achievement and managing success with a finite budgets versus a competitive peer set gives you a pure high.

Fantasy sport also provides a great platform to a hardcore sports fan for an evolved engagement level. So it’s not just the KKR matches for the Kolkata fan, but you have to follow the other games too- as there is a need to see where the next fantasy points are going to come from.

In a way, this format is also an extension of your personality. There are people who ‘play safe’ and go for middling picks whereas the entrepreneurial types would go for more ‘lateral picks’ and risk it all.

Lastly, whether it’s an office or an alumni group, it’s a super way to stay connected through a passion point which is sports. So who gets the bragging rights as the winner? Whose leg can you pull as he is the bottomer? Such banter is all that matters, sometimes much more than the prize money. Some fun to spice up your day.

And now to the million dollar question, how to succeed in fantasy sports?

Well, there are no set rules, but there is always some method in the madness. So, sharing some tips.

The fantasy sports format is like a stock market. You need to plan well when you want to buy and sell a player. You do not want to follow the market all the time. So being proactive and buying before a big performance is the key. Like Guptill gave average returns in the World Cup 2015 format till he hit 237 in the Quarters vs Windies. Someone had Guptill throughout the cup and dropped him for just that match while someone else bought him for the first time in the Quarters. Guess who had the last laugh?

It pays to think like an economist as the resources are scarce. Everyone would want to pick all the big players but with a finite budget, one has to pick and choose. The trick is to maximize the return/ price ratio. So a Kohli purple patch will be important, but a good performance from a rookie who is cheap (like Unadkat in last IPL) is almost gold dust!

It always pays when you do your research. So a Nadal always does well on clay court, Rohit Sharma performs well in Eden Gardens and Kohli is mind-blowing in chases. Past trends can be a good indication of what may happen in the future. An eye on the fixtures and how scheduling patterns are also help you to move ahead in the fantasy table.

You can do all your preparations, but there can be no substitute to gut feeling. So kudos to those who picked Pennetta in the 2015 US Open (when she entered the tournament as the 26th seed), or the one backing Fakhar Zaman as power player in the Champions Trophy final. Good hunches are critical to fantasy success.

Lastly, it’s just a game- so important to enjoy the bragging rights and leg pulls along the journey because that’s why we play the game in the first place.

So, the alarm clocks and calendar invites have been set. Here’s to the next 8 pm deadline!

To end, as one great man once said, ‘Fantasy game is 90% luck and 10% skill. But don’t try it without that 10%’!


Veni Vidi Vici

‘I came, I saw, I enjoyed!’ My most memorable live match experiences as a sporting fan..

It’s the 25th minute. A free-kick a fair way of. The wall is set- a swarm of yellows guarding the citadel and Oblak shouting instructions from the goal to thwart the danger. A couple of people in the wall jump up to make it even tougher, but then, it’s that man! A measured kick sails over the wall and dips viciously, tantalizingly touching Oblak’s stretched hands just that wee bit, before nestling into the top left corner. Messi! Messi!

Nou Camp goes berserk as Barcelona takes the lead in the top of the table clash vs Atletico Madrid. We are in the stands, making up the full house of a hundred thousand. It’s drizzling continuously but who cares about that when the atmosphere is so riveting. Everyone is ‘colour coordinated’ (why, even our water proof jackets are red and blue!), face painted and waving their flags wildly. The Spanish crowd is so very passionate- worshipping Messi, egging the rest of the team and not afraid to voice their disapproval to the referee when a decision goes against their team. Barcelona dominates the match and come close to scoring a few more, but they end up winning just 1-0 to extend their lead at the top of the La Liga table. It’s a memorable experience for me as a passionate sports fan- to be in the Mecca of Spanish football and seeing the ‘Messi’ah score! It’s truly a bucket list tick.

I can imagine how Caesar would have felt when he conquered Turkey- Veni, Vidi, Vici! As I reminisce, there are a fair share of memorable sporting spectacles I have seen live. Watching the action on TV is one thing, but nothing can match the experience of ‘been there, done that’. So, which are your most memorable live match experiences?

There are a few cricketing masterpieces. Top of the pile, for obvious reasons, was the 2001 Eden Gardens test vs Australia. When Dada’s army stalled the 16 match bandwagon of Steve and his all-conquering Aussie team. I still remember we had made plans for an early lunch at Park Street on Day 4 but then Laxman and Dravid had other ideas. They batted on and on, and it was a stuff of dreams. When Dada declared an hour into the fifth day, we were safe. But over the next five hours, Bhajji and Sachin the leg spinner did the unthinkable and made this possibly the best comeback ever in the history of test cricket. Something I can surely brag about to my grandchildren!

A lot of my best sporting experiences have been in Eden Gardens and one of the memorable ones was during the Hero Cup in 1993. India was a middling side then led by Eden’s crown prince Azhar, with a young Sachin and an aging Kapil. Hero Cup was a long format event where all the major teams participated. A pulsating semi-final pitted India against South Africa. We were defending 195 and going into the last over, SA needed six runs for a win. It was nail biting stuff. Surprising everyone, Azzu Bhai threw the ball to Sachin, who had not bowled till then. The rest, as they say, is history. Sachin with his five step medium pace would out fox McMillan and co. and will give us a ‘till then scarcely believable’ two run win. Pin drop silent Eden will be delirious with joy as India won. It was a day-night match and torches would be lit for the first time with spare newspapers. India went on to beat a very strong Windies side and lift the Hero Cup. Remember an out of the world caught and bowled by Kapil, ‘God’ again sending Lara’s stumps for a cartwheel, and a ‘6 wickets for 12 runs’ spell by the ‘professor’ Kumble.

Eden also gave a few other memorable matches. Who can forget South Africa’s re-entry into One Day cricket? Clive Rice and Azhar walked out to toss amidst much fanfare. It was a low scoring affair as the world got a first glance of ‘The White Lightening’ Allan Donald who broke Indian’s back with a fifer but the very young ‘Master Blaster’ stood out alone with a breath taking 62 as India would complete a 3 wicket win. Donald and Sachin would share the MoM prize as the world welcomed back SA to the cricketing fold. The other Eden spectacle I remember, not so fondly, this time is the Salim Malik heist in ’87. That was one of my first live match experiences and after ‘Cheeka’ Srikanth’s century, India seemed to be coasting towards an easy win as Pakistan needed 80 runs in 8 overs- a very steep ask in pre IPL days. Salim Malik would go mad, scoring 72 in 36 balls as he would single handedly (literally) get a win for Pakistan with half an over to spare!

I have seen a fair share of IPL matches including some close KKR clashes in Mumbai over the years. But who can forget the Dada vs KKR clash at the DY Patil Stadium in IPL 5? I am a big Dada fan and also sing the ‘Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo’ anthem. So when Dada donned the Pune jersey, I was in a tight spot. Whom to support? The ‘Maharaja’, or, my favourite team? I wasn’t the only one- the entire stadium seemed to be sharing this dilemma as Bongs landed in hordes. Dada would entertain with his batting including one trade-mark six over long on  but KKR would go on to get an easy win- so it was a ‘win win’ situation for everyone.

There have been a few memorable experiences beyond cricket too. The Davis Cup in the early 90’s vs Switzerland at South Club saw Ramesh Krishnan and Leander battle it out vs Rosset and Co. Rosset was the reigning Olympics Singles champion then and had the biggest serve in the game then. Not a good information if you are the ball boy- as you had to be attentive and ready to take evasive action as you faced Rosset’s thunderbolts! There was some rain and the uneven bounce which helped India. At 2-2, Ramesh Krishnan would become a magician and stun Hlasek to give India a wonderful tie win.

A couple of other recent experiences were also great. Being part of the U-19 Football World Cup spectacle in India and watching a semifinal- it would have been better if Brazil was one of the teams, but Spain or Mali did not disappoint and it was a great fun watching with a vociferous crowd that appreciated sports which was not cricket in India! The other exciting one was watching an Australian ‘Footy’ match at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. Enjoying a completely new game in a foreign country was nice as it gave a peak into the country’s culture. AFL has an extremely passionate fan base in Australia and the fast pace game was extremely entertaining.

So, quite a few good ones in the trip down memory lane, but still a few unticked ones in the bucket list… a Lord’s test match, a boxing day test match at MCG, a World Cup Cricket final, watching the Gunners at Emirates, cheering the Brazil football team live, and enjoying the strawberries and creams at London SW 19 Wimbeldon. No harm in keeping the dreams big, what say?!



The Old ‘Test’ament

Ten reasons why I like good old test cricket.

Memorabilia from the Centenary Test Match, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Victoria

It is the holiday season. The world is making merry. Late night parties, food coma time! My alarm clock wakes me up at 4:45 am though. It’s pitch dark outside. The coffee is brewing as I am all set- to watch the first ball of the Boxing Day Melbourne test. This has become a habit now. There is something about waking up early to see a gripping test match. If the venue is Australia, then it is even better. The world has moved on to ODI’s and T20 cricket. But I still like my cricket the old school way. So this post is dedicated to all test cricket lovers. Here are ten reasons why I still like good old test cricket.

  • There is something ethereal about test cricket. The traditional whites- there can be many tennis events but there can just be one Wimbledon right?! The red cherry, the white sight screen all add to the aura. There is a nervous excitement as the umpires (in whites again) call ‘Play’. The swinging ball with a full slip cordon, mark the beginning of an eventful five days.
  • Test cricket is a platform for specialists. ‘Bits and pieces’ players have no role to play here. You better be good in plying your trade because this format will surely ‘test’ you. Ask for a traditional opener and you have Boycott, the no.4 can be Sachin as an accumulator, Steve Waugh can be your no.6 to play the role of crisis man or shepherd the tail. The all-rounder ideally at no.7 can balance the side like Kapil or Botham. You need genuine swing bowlers like McGrath to take the new ball or Akram to give it reverse swing with the old ball. Only a great spinner like Warne will do here- to take advantage of a wearing pitch on a fifth day. Why? You even have specialist fielding positions here- like our very own Eknath Solkar at forward short leg.
  • Test cricket truly calls for skills in the ‘art of leaving’. In the T20 era where dot balls are like maiden overs, test cricket still rewards those who try and wait. The first hour of the match especially calls for oodles of patience- it’s like you move ahead by taking two steps back. The openers perform the thankless job of waiting and waiting, ensuring that that the shine wears off the new ball so that the middle order can make merry when the sun is out. Remember Sanjay Bangar playing this role to perfection at Headingley with a painstaking 68 as India made 600 plus in the 2002 test win.
  • Test cricket also truly tests the adaptability of a player. Sunny Gavaskar is considered one of the best test batsmen of all times as he had 13 centuries against the fearsome Windies fast bowling line-up while being equally comfortable tackling spinners on a dustbowl of a fifth day wicket- his Bangalore 96 in the fourth innings vs Pakistan is considered to be one of the classics. Sachin with 51 tons has mastered all conditions. Among modern day greats, Steve Smith has done well in the sub-continent as much as home fast conditions. Kohli needs to tick the box in English conditions. He has pretty much ruled everywhere else.
  • There is that adventure of doing well in an away series in tests. Normally all countries do well at home but great teams win overseas. That was Ganguly’s legacy when he captained India- the team traveled well and drew in Australia and won in Pakistan. The Aussies under Steve Waugh considered India to be the ‘Final Frontier’ in their ‘Alexander-esque’ ambition of conquering all in early 2000’s. How can one forget the India batting collapse at Barbados 1997 chasing 120 to win? Away performance is also a reason I hold the South African team in great regard- they were unbeaten away from home for close to a decade from 2006 onwards. Fingers crossed, Kohli & co. will be able to do a South Africa to South Africa in the current series!
  • Test matches give you a great opportunity to make a comeback. Very recently, England scored 400 in the Perth test and still lost by an innings. Because the match goes on for five days, there is always a chance of a team turning the tide, however hopeless the case may be. Remember the Eden test in 2001 where Dravid and Laxman scripted the unthinkable by batting through the fourth day? Or Botham’s amazing performance to turnaround the Ashes Headingley 1981 test match.
  • Then there is the drama around declarations. This is purely the captain’s call. Do you want to be aggressive and give your bowlers more time? But you may declare early and give the opponents enough time to win the test! It’s fascinating. Sometimes it opens a can of worms and lot of talking points- like Dravid’s declaration at Multan which left Sachin stranded at 194.
  • There is also the concept of night-watchman that comes into play in test cricket. When the end of the day is drawing close, a bowler is sent in to protect specialist batsmen and in a way buy time so that they can prosper the next day. It’s a riveting sequence of play normally. Some of the night-watchmen have gone on to make useful contributions and created nuisance for the opposition- like Gillespie with a double ton in his last test vs Bangladesh.
  • The day 5 action is usually the highlight of a test match. The pitch deteriorates so the match moves fast, especially in the sub-continent. All four results are possible. There can be a tie like the Chennai 1986 test vs Australia. Or a draw with scores level- as it happened vs West Indies in Mumbai in 2011. Even an attempt to block to draw can be truly memorable- like Amla and ABD’s ‘blockathon’ in vain in Delhi in 2015 when South Africa scored 143 runs in 143 overs trying to get to a draw, but where they ultimately failed.
  • Test cricket also breeds great rivalries. The Ashes is the epitome of test cricket more than a century old. The Border Gavaskar trophy has also given us memorable encounters. At a personal level, Sachin vs Warne or Sunny vs the Windies Fearsome Foursome- mouth-watering stuff!

The world has moved on- so an IPL or Big Bash garner the TRP’s and fill the stadiums. But to me, test cricket is still the pinnacle.

Like Lord Tennyson’s famous lines from the poem ‘Brook’

For men may come, and men may go,

But I go on forever.

Ocean’s Eleven

My Dream Test World XI from this generation.

The test season has finally started. Among the overload of ODI and T20 cricket we see these days, test cricket still has its own old-world charm. It’s like the smell of the morning newspaper that a swipe of the IPad can never give you.  An intense battle with the red ball on the first morning of a test on a lively pitch; A battle for survival on a fifth day turner, test cricket challenges different dimensions of a cricketer. As I reminisce, I remember great tests and great players. I start dreaming…. So if I can assemble my best test eleven, who would I pick? The options are many and the choices hard to make, but here’s my take. I have restricted this list only to players I have seen with my own eyes. So sorry to Bradman and Sobers!

My first pick as an opener is someone who is as safe as a lock. Someone who can play out the first hour to pave the way for my star studded middle order to then make merry. Sunil Gavaskar– the best player for challenging conditions. Who can forget that 96 in Bangalore vs Pakistan on a proverbial dustbowl? ‘Sunny’ was the highest centurion during his time and the breaker of many a milestone. He would also bring in that typical swagger (in his walk) and that ‘khadoos’ Mumbai attitude. He can double up as my first slip fielder.

I will pair up ‘Sunny Bhai’ with Virender Sehwag– what a great ‘Fire & Ice’ combination that will be! ‘Viru’ was the biggest entertainer and match-winner during his time. He would set up matches for India through those explosive starts, thus giving the bowlers enough time to take 20 wickets. Who can forget that unimaginable 284 runs in little over two sessions vs Lanka at Brabourne? The thrill of watching ‘Viru’ hit a six to get to a hundred (or a double or triple hundred) was pure bliss!

My no.3 is the charismatic Brian Charles Lara. Lara is the record holder with a 400 in tests and a 500 in first class cricket. The magician with the exaggerated back-lift- my favourite Lara innings is that 153* for that famous one wicket win vs the Aussies at Bridgetown. He will also bring a great balance in a top order otherwise full of right handed batsmen.

Next will be Lara’s biggest rival, Sachin Tendulkar. A half century of test hundreds and a total basket of hundred international tons, Sachin simply is the best batsman of our generation. He gave hope to us in India when there was none and for many he was no less than ‘God’. For long, taking his wicket would mean winning a match vs India- like the Chennai Test vs Pakistan where he single handedly brought us close but the team crumbled when he fell so near the finishing line. Sachin had amazing longevity and he ruled for 25 years against a wide array of opposition.

At no.5 I pick ‘Mr.Dependable’ all-rounder Jacques Kallis, perhaps the most under-rated cricketer of our times. Kallis has 13k+ plus runs at an average of 55. Add to that his 290 odd wickets and amazing slip fielding, and you get a modern day Colossus. He is the cricketer with the maximum number of ‘Man of the Match’ awards in test cricket with 23. The next best is at 19! A solid batsman and a great first change bowling option, Kallis will add great balance to my team.

Next will be my captain- Steve Waugh. Steve has the highest number of test runs for a no.6 batsman- someone who could resurrect the innings and also accelerate with the tail with equal ease. He had immense mental toughness and will be my safety net for a team full of super stars. You need a strong personality to lead a team of greats- who better than Waugh- he led one of the best ever Aussie teams.

The keeper and no.7 is Adam Gilchrist– one of my favourite cricketers and someone with a great sportsman spirit. ‘Gilly’, apart from being a great wicket keeper, came at no.7 and changed the course of a match with his attacking batting. He would take on the bowling- be it pace or spin, and a run a ball century would be par for course.

The first bowler on my list will be the maverick Shane Warne. He had the best variety and watching him bowl was a treat. Who can forget the ‘ball of the century’ to dismiss Gatting? Shane could spin the ball a mile even on cement. He would also double up as my vice-captain- who can forget his amazing leadership for Rajasthan Royals in IPL1- he was the best captain Australia never had.

At No.9, I pick Wasim Akram– the magician who could make the ball talk. That easy run up and that snap of the shoulder. If you survived Wasim with the new ball, he would come back with the old ball and the reverse swing to set the cat among the pigeons. He was especially deadly with the yorkers versus the tail-enders. Akram was also a handy bat, with a highest score of 257* in test cricket!

Partnering Wasim with the new ball will be Curtley Ambrose. That long run up, the ball coming from an awkward height and then the thoughtful stare- Ambrose terrorized batsmen in the 90’s. His spell of 1 for 7 vs Australia is one of the best spells of fast bowling I can remember. Ambrose and Wasim sharing the new ball will make it a mouth-watering prospect.

Complementing Warne as the second spinner will be the wizard- Muttiah Muralitharan– the man at the top of the summit with 800 wickets. Murali could literally hit a coin on top of the off stump with his nagging accuracy. Imagine watching him bamboozle the opposition in the second innings along with Warne- a dream spinning duo for my team.

My twelfth man is the evergreen Imran Khan. A great leader and one of the best all-rounders ever, Imran can replace Murali if the pitch is spicy and warrants a pace heavy attack. He can also beef up the lower middle order with the extra runs he brings to the table.

So that’s my pick-a team of stalwarts. I have tried to pick the best man at every position. For eg: Viv Richards was a serious contender but he will make it too many Nos.3/4 in the team- so went for a No.6 specialist in Steve Waugh. By the way, Viv will be the first name on the sheet if it was an ODI team, but that’s for another day!

The team has great balance with the ‘chalk and cheese’ combination as openers, two lefties in the top seven, a good mix of attacking batsmen and those who can defend well. In bowling you have a leftie/ rightie opening pace combination complemented by the best ever leg spinner and a wizard off-spinner, with Kallis as the ideal all-rounder. Three batsmen can also back up as part time bowlers. Give us any surface, any venue, and I think this team will rule. I call them my Ocean’s Eleven*.

So what do you think?

*Names which were considered but narrowly missed out are Hayden, Richards, Botham and McGrath.

The Statue of Shane Warne, outside the MCG, Melbourne. ‘Warnie’ was one of the first picks in my ‘Ocean’s Eleven’.