I haven’t updated this blog for a while since I am in the process of transferring all the posts to my website

I have also been hosting podcasts (and occasionally writing) for, a website I co-founded two years ago. You can subscribe to the 81allout podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google podcasts and a number of other outlets.

Stay well.

Remember this guy from the Karachi Test in 1989?

The Karachi Test of 1989 featured four debutants. We know what became of Sachin Tendulkar and Waqar Younis. We are familiar with Salil Ankola’s start-stop career and his foray into acting. We can glean more details online and scan his social media handles for updates. But we know close to nothing about Shahid Saeed, a batting allrounder who played this one Test and ten ODIs for Pakistan between 1989 to 1993. His page on ESPNcricinfo has no profile. His page on cricketarchive has a picture of Ian Bishop. His Wikipedia entry consists of two sentences.

This is hardly surprising given Saeed’s unremarkable international career. He scored 12 in his only Test and managed one half-century in ten ODIs. For a top-order batsman, his ODI average was a pitiful 14.10, his strike-rate a hopeless 44.62. His domestic returns are lukewarm: an average of 37.86 in 111 matches. And not a single hundred in 96 List A games.

All of which only puzzled me. For Saeed was picked for Pakistan when they were the best ODI team in the world. He took part in the Champions Trophy in Sharjah in 1989, and the Nehru Cup in India – both of which Pakistan won. He was in the initial squad picked for the 1992 World Cup – though he eventually missed out. Surely there was more to learn about this cricketer?

A recent search for ‘Shahid Saeed Pakistan cricketer’ led me to the Twitter handle @ShahidS28975434. The bio read: ‘Former test cricketer for Pakistan’. The display picture showed a young man sporting a Pakistan ODI outfit, clutching a bat and lime green pads. There were three tweets from the account, which had just two followers. The only handle it followed was @ImranKhanPTI. I pressed ‘follow’ and tweeted him a message. “Trust me,” he replied via direct message. “Me, Waqar, Sachin and Salil. Same Test match in Karachi. 1989.”

A few messages later he agreed to be interviewed on the phone. He lives in London and works for a company that makes rail parts. He would later tell me: “I have never been interviewed by a journalist before. Apart from my family, no one knows my story.”

Shahid Saeed had given up playing for Pakistan in 1989. Fed up attending training camps and not being picked in the national squad, he decided to move to Kenya to play as a professional. On landing in Nairobi, though, he received a call about his selection for the Champions Trophy. “I said I am not coming,” he says with a laugh, “but my parents forced me to fly back.”

It has been over 30 years since his debut season but Saeed’s memories are undimmed. He remembers trying to reverse-sweep Ravi Shastri and getting hit, comically, on the neck. He “dreams” about his career best 50 against India and recalls one particular on-drive when the bat made the “sweetest sound” on meeting the ball. He can “never forget” a cover-drive from Courtney Walsh that struck him on the hand and ricochet for four. Five days later he was hit on the hand again in a Nehru Cup game in Cuttack. And later found out that he had two fractures.

Saeed recovered in time to play a warm-up match against the touring Indians in 1989. “The pitch was flat and batting was easy,” he says. “Around the 70-over mark the ball started swinging and I took four wickets in four overs. That was the only reason they picked me for the Karachi Test.”

When told he was part of the XI on the first morning he couldn’t bring himself to eat breakfast. He remembers Wasim Akram’s surprise over India picking a 16-year-old Tendulkar. “If he survives this,” Saeed recalls Akram saying, “he will go on to be the best player in the world.” Saeed recounts how composed Tendulkar was at the crease and contrasts that with his own state of mind. “When I walked out to bat, I couldn’t feel my feet touch the ground. I shook my body, my arms, my head, but I still couldn’t feel my feet. I told myself, ‘Oh my good lord, I won’t survive.’ First ball from Kapil Dev, I don’t know how I hit it to midwicket. I was so tense.”

Saeed was on 12 when he went after a wide one from Kapil. “I would have left that ball but Imran said we needed to get quick runs to declare. If the captain says jump, you jump. And I edged to the keeper.” Saeed was 12th man for the next Test. And was out of the side thereafter.

His next chance came in 1992-93 on the tour to Australia and New Zealand. Saeed doesn’t even know why he was picked. Over the 59-day tour he batted in the nets just once. The rest of the time he was told to assist senior players with throwdowns and run their errands. He was run-out in the two ODIs he was part of – “same fielder both times, Dipak Patel” – and a report in the New Zealand Herald backs up Saeed’s claim that the second decision was a mistake. “Even the umpire admitted that he should have given me the benefit of the doubt.”

In the Australia leg of the tour, in what turned out to be his last two ODIs, Saeed played two shots that continue to haunt him. In his last game in Melbourne he walked down the crease to Tony Dodemaide, moved across and tried to hoick a ball, only to lose his leg stump. “It was such a bad shot that I had a smile on my face when walking back. I knew that my career was over.”

One game earlier, on a bouncy pitch at the Gabba, in a match when Pakistan were rolled over for 71, he was out caught in the slips, fending at a lifter from Ian Bishop. It is a moment that refuses to leave him, however hard he tries.

“There was a big gap at extra-cover. So rather than playing the pull I said, ‘Let me push the ball.’ What happened? The ball moved away from me and I edged to Lara at slip.

“I could have easily pulled that ball. I don’t know what happened to me. Even today, at work or at a meeting, or when watching TV, I think of that one ball and I start moving my body like I’m playing a pull shot. I have dreamt about that ball so many times. But it’s too late.”

One fleeting moment on a cricket pitch. A lifetime of recollections and regret off it.

This piece was first published in Mid-Day

Steve Bucknor unplugged

(Steve Bucknor with young cricketers from the Queens United Cricket Academy at the Idlewild Cricket Ground in New York. Pic by: Lalit Bhatia)

Steve Bucknor may have umpired in 309 international matches, including five successive World Cup finals, but he is often reminded of the decisions he got wrong.

“Last year, I was in New York umpiring a local match and there was one fellow who came and said: ‘On my phone, I have a video with 10 mistakes you made. Do you want to see it?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t need to see it. I know my mistakes. I am sure I made more than 10. But if you think I made 10, then it works out to one mistake every two years of my international career. Isn’t that a good record?'”

Bucknor, who relocated from his native Jamaica to New York three years ago, says he is not one to defend his errors. Yet, he observes that umpires are often judged on the wrong decisions.

2008 Sydney Test

“I made two mistakes in the Sydney Test in 2008. Mistake one, which happened when India were doing well, allowed an Australian batsman to get a hundred. Mistake two, on Day Five, might have cost India the game. But still, they are two mistakes over five days. Was I the first umpire to make two mistakes in a Test? Still, those two mistakes seem to have haunted me.”

The batsman he refers to is Andrew Symonds. India appealed for a caught behind when Symonds was on 30, Bucknor ruled not out. Symonds went on to score an unbeaten 162.

“You need to know why mistakes are made. You don’t want to make similar mistakes again. I am not giving excuses but there are times when the wind is blowing down the pitch and the sound travels with the wind. The commentators hear the nick from the stump mic but the umpires may not be sure. These are things spectators won’t know.”

Before the pandemic confined him indoors, Bucknor had plenty to occupy himself. “My bag was always filled with work,” he says, chuckling into the phone. “For about 11 months of the year, I officiated indoor soccer—with games in the late evenings and nights. Plus, I refereed in the high school outdoor soccer competition. Then for about seven months, I umpired high school cricket and adults cricket. On most days, I would return home around midnight.”

Bucknor, who turned 74 in May, has always been drawn to the pleasures of sport. “As a youngster I was on the field six days a week. Those days in Jamaica, January to April was the track and field season. I used to take part in triple jump and high jump. May to July was cricket season. September to December was football season. I took part in everything.”

His attention to fitness played a pivotal role in an illustrious international career that spanned two decades.

Bucknor rates the World Cup in 1992 as a high point since he had begun the tournament as the least experienced umpire. “I stood in only four Tests and three ODIs before that. And I was the only umpire from the Caribbean at that World Cup. So I didn’t know if I was good enough to be there. During the tournament, I was told I was doing very well. The captains had good things to say. My aim was to be among the six umpires for the semi-finals. I would have been happy to even be a reserve umpire. I stood in the New Zealand versus Pakistan semi-final in Auckland. And after the match I was told, ‘Bucknor, you’re doing the final.'”

That was the first of his five World Cup finals he stood in: a “bitter-sweet” accomplishment, he says, since his presence on the grandest stage was thanks to the West Indies team’s absence.

“I remember in 1996, West Indies versus Australia in the semi-final. I was in Delhi and I left my hotel room when Australia were 15 for four. I went down to the lobby and told them to book my tickets to Jamaica. I then packed my bags and got ready to leave the next morning. That night, West Indies lost. I was sad because I wanted West Indies in the final. But personally, I was happy. Once the game was over, I was told, ‘Bucknor, first flight out to Pakistan for the final.'”

Bucknor’s Suspenseful Pause

Bucknor’s signature move, a suspenseful pause that followed an appeal, earned him the nickname Mr Slow Death. “I created replays in my mind,” he says of his decision-making process. “Did the ball pitch outside leg? Was it high? Is it missing off? These are the questions I asked myself. I was criticised in my own country when I started out. One commentator said that if there is an appeal in the last over of the day, Bucknor’s finger will go up the next morning.”

Bucknor Opens Up

Viv’s LBW: Antigua, I gave Viv Richards out lbw for a duck. Richards is from Antigua and the whole stadium erupted. The Antiguans were saying nobody should be giving Viv lbw in Antigua. I never made a decision based on who was batting. I saw the ball and decided if it was out or not out. Next year, when I was in Australia, I bought the highlights tape of that series only because I wanted to see the replay of that one dismissal. And once I saw the Richards lbw, I was satisfied.

Warne’s straight ball: He used to say to himself, ‘Get it straight, Shane. Get it straight.’ Now the only straight ball he bowled was the flipper. So if the umpire hears him, he may think, ‘It must be a straight ball.’ He was not talking to the umpire but he was speaking in the presence of the umpire. The important bit to remember though: not every time when he says, ‘Get is straight’ is the ball actually straight. It may pitch outside leg stump. You can’t react to what Shane says. Once, he was literally on his knees asking for an lbw. And I said not out. And when he passed me he said, ‘Good decision, that was going down leg’. He was like that. But then, he was always a fair-minded person.

Slater Walks Away: In the 1998 Ashes Test in Adelaide, Michael Slater gave himself out lbw. He walked before he saw my finger go up. He didn’t look back. That was the only time I saw a batsman walk for an lbw.

This piece was originally published in Mid-Day

Backyard tales: when England trounced India in 1993

In a piece for issue 30 of The Nightwatchman, I wrote about England’s infamous tour to India in 1993. The series – in which India won all three Tests – is now seen as the lowest point for the England team in what was a bleak decade.

Running parallel to the series was my own series – in the backyard – with my friend Arvind. Those matches too were India against England but the end result was vastly different to the internationals.

You can read the entire piece by subscribing here.


In the first Test in Calcutta, India thumped England by eight wickets. Azharuddin salvaged his captaincy with a pristine 182 and India’s spin trio – Anil Kumble, Venkatapathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan – exposed the English batsmen. Stewart got a duck. Hick made 1. And Lewis ended the Test wicketless. 

England had a terrific time on our driveway though. Under Arvind’s supervision Hick soared, Stewart belted me around, and Lewis turned in one great allround performance after another. India stood no chance here. Azharuddin struggled against Chris Lewis. Tendulkar had no answer to bouncers from Jarvis. And whatever the Indian spinners tried, Arvind deposited the ball into Mr Dhar’s garden. Kumble even suffered a painful thorn-prick when I searched for the tennis ball near the rose plants.   

Arvind ignored me when I ribbed him about the English performances. He took out all his anger – at me and, I presume, at them – with some sensational performances on our driveway. Hick was unstoppable. Ian Salisbury turned into a ferocious legspinner when bowling to me. Arvind may have had little success when aping Abdul Qadir but as Salisbury, he pitched the ball back of a length and ripped them across my body. He bowled Tendulkar around his legs and confounded him with googlies. Even the spiner-killer Navjot Sidhu was made to look like a novice against England’s trio of Salisbury, Emburey and Tufnell.   

You may think Hick and Lewis underachieved in their careers. Or that Salisbury and Jarvis weren’t world-class material. There is enough evidence to suggest you are right. But in one tiny corner of India, for those two months in 1993, these four players were near-invincible. They broke several records. They helped England trounce India in their own backyard. And they dealt mighty blows to a 12-year-old’s ego.

Kapil’s crazy day out in Kent


In a piece for the summer 2019 edition of The Nightwatchman, I revisited Kapil’s iconic 175* against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells.

It was published in the Wisden blog here.  Image credit to Jan Traylen (who is interviewed in the piece).


One of the greatest innings of modern times began 18 minutes past 11 o’clock with no television camera to record its brilliance. A bareheaded Kapil Dev, in a full-sleeve sweater and droopy moustache, “squinted up at the sun”, wrote R Mohan in Sportstar, as he walked in to bat. In his hands a Slazenger V12. On his mind thoughts of survival. A few minutes on, Yashpal Sharma’s dismissal left India at 17 for 5. Walking in at No.7, Roger Binny remembers Kapil saying: “We’ve got 53 overs to go.”


Kapil smote his final 75 runs off 38 balls. The first one-day hundred by an Indian had rapidly turned into the highest individual score in one-dayers. Once he crossed 171, umpire Barry Meyer walked up to Kapil and informed him of the record. There was “polite applause” from the crowd when the feat was announced on the tannoy. Kapil and Syed Kirmani added 126 for the ninth wicket – a record that would stand for over a quarter of a century. No Indian would cross 175 in an ODI for 16 years. Kapil walked off the field to a stirring ovation and waiting for him at the boundary edge was Gavaskar – the other superstar in the Indian team – ready to hand him a glass of water. Thirty-six years on, Gavaskar maintained that he has yet to see a greater one-day innings.


If Wasim Akram were to bowl today…


Wasim Akram is sitting by a window on the 11th floor of a hotel room in Toronto, but he is imagining himself at the top of his bowling mark on a hot afternoon, with a belter of a pitch laid out for a T20 match. In this hypothetical game, Wasim has the new white ball in his hands and is up against two of the most dangerous batsmen in world cricket: Chris Gayle and David Warner.

Up in the hotel room, Wasim is sporting all black: a Nike T-shirt, a pair of shorts, and a 2XU cap. On his left wrist is an Apple watch – also black – and one wonders if the manufacturer is aware of the magical wrist around which their gadget is wrapped. That wrist. Containing more inventiveness and sorcery than any tech company has yet invented. Or maybe not, but that’s probably how cricket fans of a certain vintage would like to think of it.

The first thing Wasim says when informed of who he would be bowling to: “Umm. They are both left-handers, so that’s a plus for me. I felt really comfortable bowling to left-handers because of the outswing I used to bowl.” The “umm” at the start of his response wasn’t an uncertain “umm”, by the way. It was an “umm” to activate the gears in his brain, to prime himself for the imaginary contest. An ultra-competitive “umm”, one that was hatching a plot.

Of course, this is not reality. This is 53-year-old Wasim talking about a made-up scenario. And it’s only natural that the competitiveness gives way to a mature assessment. “Both are giants of modern cricket. Chris Gayle is the biggest hitter. He hits long, he hits big, he is a big dude. And David Warner, one of my favourite players… the way he pulls, hooks, and hits on the up…”

This switch occurs all through the interview. Wasim seamlessly slips in and out of his role of a fast bowler taking on some of the best batsmen. One moment he is a shrewd craftsman in the thick of the contest; the next he is more measured, bringing forth some perspective.

“Starting out, I would have warmed up properly, because against these guys you can’t just rock up and bowl your first delivery. In T20 you don’t have time.

“First six overs – I would have bowled it on middle and going away. No variations. Just outswing from middle stump, going away.”

The man who could bowl six different deliveries in an over is reminding us that he was also a master at bowling one delivery six times. Using the crease to change the angle. Altering the extent of swing. Yet, a ball that looked just like the last one. There was nothing straightforward about Wasim “pitching on middle and going away”. It was a lethal tactic in itself.

But wouldn’t he, just for a ball or two, have tried to hurry Gayle up by targeting his ribcage?

“Again, that’s taking a risk, because you are only allowed two fielders outside the circle, and I would have had fine leg up and square leg maybe just in front of the leg umpire. And it would have been the same field for Warner.

“The idea would have been just to bowl outswing from middle and leg and let them play towards third man. I would have kept it back of a length. Not length.

“Warner would have probably charged at me. As a bowler you need to keep an eye on what the batsman is trying to do till the last moment. Nowadays bowlers tend to forget that when they run in. Are the batsmen using the crease? Are they charging? Are they giving themselves room? That’s how you change your length and bring in the variations.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a defensive strategy. Wasim is quick to point out that he is always looking for wickets.

“It doesn’t matter which era you play in. Wickets are the only way you can contain. Restricting the batsmen to six runs in the first over may look okay but in the next over they will hammer the other bowler. Giving ten runs and taking a wicket – I’ll take that any day.”


At times during the interview, when Wasim is explaining his method, he holds up an imaginary ball – index and middle finger dart-straight and pointing up – and mimes how he would manipulate it. For those magical moments, the left wrist is the hood of a snake – curving in and curving out, just as the ball would when following his command.

The imaginary game is now in its tenth over, with the opposition at 82 for 2. Virat Kohli and Jos Buttler are out in the middle and Wasim has been brought back for one over, to get a wicket.

“Ah ha ha ha ha,” he goes when told the scenario, before the seriousness kicks in.

“Okay. It depends on the pitch, on the conditions. If it is reverse-swinging, I would have been comfortable. I probably would have gone around the wicket to Virat and just bowled these awayswingers from middle. And Jos Buttler – probably, I’d have gone over the wicket, had third man up and bowled the slower ball just outside off stump.

“Easier said than done, though. Two dangerous players, two match-winners. And all these batsmen – Warner, Gayle, Virat, Buttler – they would have been great 20 years ago as well.”

Any chinks he would have tried to exploit against these two batsmen?

“It depends on what sort of form they are in. Have they just walked out to bat? Are they well set? You have to assess everything and have your best fielders where their favourite shots go. All these little details matter.

“Nowadays bowlers tend to forget this. When I coach bowlers, I tell them, ‘Before every delivery just have a quick glance around the ground and check where your fielders are. Is that where you want them to be? It’s not the captain’s job. It’s the bowler’s job. Because you’re the one who is going to deliver the ball and you know where you are going to bowl. So that’s how you decide where to have your fielders.”

It feels cruel to limit Wasim to one-over spells – like asking Picasso to paint on a Post-It note – but that is a limitation of the format after all. So we must again take him out of the attack and leave his final overs for the death. An apt name for the end overs, as far as Wasim went. For that was when toes, boots, batsmen’s balance, their dignity even – all faced a mortal threat.

Wasim returns for overs 18 and 20. Facing him: Andre Russell, and MS Dhoni in his prime.

“Both are match-winners. Big hitters. Finishers. I would have asked my square-leg fielder or point fielder for a sign – to tell me if the batsmen are standing inside the crease or outside. That matters a lot.

“If they are inside, you have to bowl slightly fuller. Maybe a low full toss. If they are outside the crease, then you bowl a different length.

“If it’s swinging, then it would have been slightly easier for me. I’m not saying I would have been okay with it, but at least I would have had more confidence. If it was swinging, it would have been trouble for the batsman, but again, these two, in the last two overs, they would have been winners most of the time.”

Would he have fired in yorker after yorker?

“To Russell, I would have had fine leg back and slightly wider, square leg in front of the umpire, and a deep midwicket. I would have bowled inswing into his pads. Not starting from outside off but starting from middle stump into his pads. Sometimes the best thing a bowler can do is to give the single and get the other batsman to face you.”

And what of the other batsman?

“For Dhoni – I would have bowled outswing yorkers, not inswing. Because if anyone bowled inswing to him, he would have gone there (points to midwicket) with his famous helicopter shot. With the awayswinger, I have a chance. Probably he would have top-edged… ”


The imaginary game has lasted a mere ten minutes but Wasim has held the room in thrall. The two cameramen, a photographer, and the two interviewers – all rapt in attention. It has given us a glimpse into his thought process as a bowler, but also a hint of what a good captain he must have been: ever alert, adjusting his field depending on the batsman on strike and the game situation, signalling to his team-mates and inspiring them with his magnetic personality.

There is one aspect of the game we haven’t touched on, though. Surely he would have fancied himself as a batsman in T20s? Making room, charging the bowlers, lofting and slapping the ball?

Wasim chuckles and swats the questions aside. “I would have been handy in the last couple of overs,” he laughs. “Just go in there and whack it… whack it towards midwicket.” He laughs some more.

And with that the game is done.

Wasim Akram is brand ambassador for the GT20 Canada.

This piece was first published in ESPNcricinfo

The power and glory of Jasprit Bumrah


In what was to be his last act in this World Cup, Jasprit Bumrah walked into the middle of Old Trafford when large sections of the crowd were making their way out. India needed 23 off the last over in the first semi-final. A sense of gloom hung over the stands. Bumrah stood at the non-striker’s end, a hand on his hip. He watched a four, a play-and-a-miss, and an edge, waited for the review, shook hands with the umpires and the joyous New Zealanders, and walked out.

Nine matches. Eighty-four overs. Eighteen wickets. The best economy rate for anyone who had turned in more than 35 overs. Sizzling with the new ball. Sizzling with the old. Maybe, in some parallel universe, a searing Bumrah yorker has sealed India a spot in the final. That is not our reality. Here, Bumrah walks off the field, one final time in this World Cup, a losing semi-finalist.

A poignant image, yet a transient one. For Bumrah leaves behind memories so incandescent – with spell after spell kindling the imagination – that one can only think of him as a winner. Dazzling with his variations, inspiring with his control. A force of nature. Far from defeated.


The first ball Bumrah bowled in a World Cup may well have produced in a wicket. South Africa were 2 without loss and Quinton de Kock was on strike. Bumrah began his run-up with his customary ten-step walk-jog-scurry. He held the ball lovingly in his palms, like it was a fledgling dove, and extended his folded arms, about to release the bird into the world. The trot became a hustle. Ten quicker steps, then a leap and the inimitable release. The ball, whirring in at 137kph, was angled across the left-hander and it caught the inside edge and deflected onto de Kock’s body. A straighter ball or a more angled bat and who knows, the ball may have met the stumps.

The rest of the over went thus: angled across, beaten outside off, drifting on the pads (for two), squared up, beaten again. By now de Kock was smiling. Bumrah – his team-mate at Mumbai Indians – was smiling too. As were some of the fielders. Virat Kohli has spoken of how difficult it is to face Bumrah in the nets. Now he was relishing an opponent facing the same in a match.

Having watched six of Bumrah’s seven balls leaving the left-hander, Hashim Amla took strike. Perhaps, in the corner of his mind, was the memory of Bumrah trapping him lbw three times, in the home series early last year. Perhaps he was ready for a nasty in-ducker. The ball that arrived pitched outside off, the seam pointing to first slip, and landed in that precarious zone where a batsman is unsure whether to go forward or back. Amla offered the gentlest of pokes. The ball held its line, drew the edge, and flew to first slip.

South Africa were 11 for 1.

And Bumrah was on his way.


Early last month, the website had a stat: since the last World Cup in 2015, no one had beaten the bat as regularly as Bumrah in ODIs. Not Starc, not Mustafizur, not Rabada. Bumrah, on an average, beats the bat once every over. One out of every six balls, Bumrah befuddles a batsman. Openers at this World Cup were aware of the danger, and many were happy to play him out. When there was assistance from the pitch, Bumrah invariably used it. When not, he didn’t seem to miss it. Edges went screaming so fast to the slips that Kohli admitted that his hands were buzzing a good 15 minutes after holding on to a catch. How good must that feel? To grasp the potency of your strike bowler from the ache in your palms.

Batsmen needed luck to stay in. So too did Bumrah to get them out. The first ball that he delivered in India’s second game ought to have brought a wicket. Australia were chasing 353. With a bulk of their hopes resting on David Warner. Along came Bumrah and let loose a shortish ball that was angled across the batsman’s body. Warner got into a tangle. The ball kissed the inside edge of the bat, dropped onto his boot and thudded into the base of leg stump. The zing bails, though, wouldn’t drop. Bumrah had beaten Warner but had been denied by physics.

There is no settling with Bumrah. Looseners outside off, half-volleys onto the pads: these expectations you can forget. You can be set up over six balls. Or undone in a matter of one.

As Amla and Warner found out, so too did Kusal Perera at Headingley. In the middle for 36 minutes, he had faced 13 balls for his 18 – but was yet to face Bumrah. First ball of the eighth over: Bumrah angled one across the left-hander and, as he had been doing all morning, got it to hold its line. Perera pushed to mid-on. The ball kissed the inside edge. Dhoni pouched the catch.

At that point Bumrah’s figures stood at 3-2-5-2.

As a matter of comparison, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s four overs at the other end had cost 35.


Just before Bumrah starts his approach there is a pause. He is at the top of his mark but takes an extra second before he trots in. Sometimes he stands still. Other times he tosses the ball up – one, two, three times – and catches it one-handed. It is tempting to assume that this is when he decides on what to bowl. But that goes against what he himself has told us. That he has more than one option up his sleeve. That he watches the batsman till the last moment – to pick up on minor shuffles and premeditation. That sometimes he himself is surprised by his delivery.

For the viewer, though, the pause is a reminder of the cerebral nature of Bumrah’s bowling. Not for him the classic stereotype of the fast bowler who, as Jeff Thomson said of himself, rolls up and “goes whang”. No captain is likely to go up to him and, as Imran Khan urged Wasim Akram during the 1992 World Cup, tell him to forget about extras and focus solely on bowling quick.

Bumrah breaches 150kph but that pace is allied with studious control. Short balls are not to be wasted. Neither too, yorkers. He is required to pick wickets but often he must also keep runs down. As against Afghanistan, when he was brought back with 127 needed from 24 overs. Eight wickets remained. And the asking rate of 5.29 was well within reach.

As a batsman, you can try to see off new-ball Bumrah. But rare is that luxury in the middle overs. This is when Kohli baits the opposition: take your risks or watch the pressure build. In his first over back – the 27th – Bumrah finds the edge but the ball doesn’t carry to Dhoni. The first ball of the next over he cuts one in and raps Rahmat Shah on the pads. The appeal is monstrous. Kohli is on his haunches, pleading, demanding, then pleading again. Bumrah is incredulous when the umpire says not out. India have used up their review – which makes the appeal that much louder.

In his first spell, Bumrah had tested Rahmat with the bouncer. He had got him to duck and slammed him on the helmet. Had Rahmat expected a short ball now and been done in by the full one? There was a fine leg out – so the bouncer was imminent – but was this a double bluff?

Two balls later the bouncer did arrive, hurtling towards Rahmat’s head. Out came the hook – whether out of self-preservation or aggression one doesn’t know – only for the top-edge to balloon to fine leg. Breakthrough.

Two balls later, a short-of-a-length ball that was so quick and so precise Hashmatullah Shahidi could only fend awkwardly. Bumrah grabbed the catch on his follow-through. The crowd at Southampton went berserk. Just now they were fretting about two set batsmen, one on 36 and the other on 21. Now, in a blink of an eye, both were gone.


Done with the Pledge and the Turn, Bumrah arrives for the final overs to enact his Prestige. This is when he goes from being a dangerous bowler to a mythical one. Often up against the most dangerous hitters, out comes his full range. Pace can range between 90 and 150kph. Rip-snorting bouncers precede slow, teasing yorkers; tennis-ball bouncers follow dipping toe-crushers.

According to cricviz: between overs 41 and 50, Bumrah has an economy rate of 5.71. The two others with better numbers – Andrew Hall and Andrew Flintoff – are long retired. Starc, who is second on the list among active cricketers, comes in at 6.10.

Against England at Edgbaston, Bumrah’s last five overs went for 26. The five overs at the other end cost 66. He was either short or full, with only a handful of deliveries on a length. Ben Stokes was in the groove. Joe Root was set. Jos Buttler was ready to tee off. Not against Bumrah. No chance. Stokes failed to read a slower one that swung in at 110kph. All he could do was pat the ball down the pitch and let out a wry smile. A smile full of respect. For a bowler of rare class.

Two days later, Bangladesh’s lower order tried gamely to chase a tall total. Thirty-six runs were needed off the last three overs. Which soon became 29 off 14 balls. The batsmen had no choice but to swing, and both Rubel Hossain and Mohammad Saifudin were backing away. This was no time to play Bumrah out. They had to find a way to smash him, however tall the odds. Out came a dipping yorker, the arm hyper-extended, the ball whiplashed, homing in on middle stump. Rubel tried to keep it out but the angle was too steep, the pace too hot, the aim too good. In came Mustafizur. And out went Mustafizur, the ball going past him before his bat could come down. He was lucky his toe wasn’t mangled. The missile went on to detonate the base of off stump.

This was Bumrah at his most atmospheric: pumping fists, leaping with joy. Two wickets in two balls. The pitch rendered superfluous. The tailenders mere props. The match done and dusted.

The yorker to Rubel brought on a visceral thrill. The one to Mustafizur doubled the delight – especially because it ended the game. But those few seconds between the two balls: now that is the zone of intoxication. When you know the batsman stands little chance against Bumrah. When nothing much is happening on the screen but so much is happening in your head. The cheers that accompany him when he runs in. The electricity swooping across the stands. The expectation that he is about to bowl a ball that will be burnt into your head for years to come. Not a hope, mind you, but a definite expectation that he is going to do something special.

Everything before and after you see in replays.

But in that tiny window of time is when you feel the power and the glory of Jasprit Bumrah.

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The uncategorisable Virat Kohli


Virat Kohli asks the crowd at The Oval to applaud Steve Smith, not boo him or call him a cheat.

Virat Kohli gives R Ashwin a flaming send-off at the end of an IPL match in Bangalore.

Virat Kohli doffs his cap and bows to a section of the Melbourne crowd, during the Boxing Day Test late last year, responding to the chants that go: “Virat is a wanker”

Virat Kohli walks out for a toss – during a warm-up game in Australia – in shorts.

Virat Kohli stops Nathan Lyon midway through his delivery stride – on the third day of the Adelaide Test – to give Aaron Finch, at short leg, a few extra seconds to gather his breath. Finch had been struck on his throat, via a full-blooded swat from Kohli, in the previous delivery.

Virat Kohli tells an Indian fan to “go live somewhere else” if he prefers English or Australian batsmen. Virat Kohli later admits he was joking.


Virat Kohli messes with bowlers around the world. He messes up opposing teams’ game-plans. He makes a mess of batting records. And he messes with our definitions of sustained excellence.

Virat Kohli does something else on a daily basis: he messes with the adjectives that those watching define him by. Brash. Arrogant. Impulsive. Uncouth. Graceless. Kohli attracts any (or all of these) on some days but none when he is a classy, gracious leader who sets an example for the rest. He will spew beep cheeps. He will mimic mic-drops. He will throw out pelvic thrusts. He will tempt you into making a cardboard cutout of him, then swiftly rip the cutout into a hundred bits.

The Kohli v Smith narrative was set. Two great batsmen. Captains who had fought over DRS. Smith’s “brain-fade”. Kohli’s “If something is going on for three days, that’s not a brain fade.” Who will win this individual battle? Erm. Kohli turned the story on its head. If fans boo Smith, he will pull them up. He empathized with what Smith had endured. He would not let him be humiliated. Past was past. Now it was time to apologize on the crowd’s behalf.

There will come a time when a TV executive decides to dedicate a whole channel to the Kohli cam. Here we will only see the man and his expressions. The score, we will have to work out from his reactions. This, I am willing to bet, will often be more exciting than the game itself. For Kohli doesn’t simply stand around, waiting for the ball to be bowled. He jives. He fumes. He crinkles his brows and widens his eyes in shock – even at times when there is nothing to be shocked about. Every declined appeal gnaws at his soul. He runs full pelt, retrieves the ball and fires it back – even though a single is guaranteed and no one is thinking of a second. He scowls. He banters with the crowd. He celebrates a wicket like he has never seen a wicket fall before.

Each action of his brings forth a reaction from those watching. He’s a freak. He’s a nutcase. He’s the king of over-reaction. Pathetic. Extraordinary. So unlike Dhoni. Typical Kohli.

And yet… time after time, Kohli makes it plain that there is no typical Kohli. Only a man full of complexity and rich with multiple shades of personality. He is impossible to pin down into a type, and no meta-narrative can explain why he does what he does. Yes, he arrived on the scene when Indian cricket was turning into the game’s economic engine but that is a mere coincidence. He is as emblematic of a young and fearless India as Cheteshwar Pujara or Kuldeep Yadav are (which is to say, none of them are emblematic of anything). He is as much a part of the IPL Gen as Ajinkya Rahane or Prithvi Shaw (or any number of cricketers whose careers began post 2005). In fact, he is so besotted with Test cricket that he can’t be in the IPL Gen (if such a thing exists).

For too long, we have stuffed Indian cricketers into pigeonholes – and felt uncomfortable when they stepped out of character. Tendulkar was supposedly the saint. Dravid the beaver. Laxman the stylist. Ganguly the iconoclast. Sehwag the anarchist. Each did plenty to negate the stereotypes but the clichés don’t go away. Tendulkar’s batting apparently spoke for a newly liberalised India. Ganguly was said to lead a modern team that kowtowed to no one. Sehwag apparently saw ball, then hit ball. All too simplistic, too contrived, too one-dimensional.

In reality, each of these players contained multitudes. Tendulkar swore. Dravid swore too. Both were pulled up by match referees. Laxman could be as dogged as anyone. Sehwag was one of the most astute cricketing minds. And Ganguly was often courteous to opponents. Yet, these were treated as exceptions to their dominant traits, rather than seen as integral to who they were. These wouldn’t fit so easily into the larger-than-life imagery. So best to consign them to the footnotes.

Kohli will not let you have it so easy. You can erect a pedestal if you want but he will choose when and for how long he stands there. He will make you re-evaluate your judgments of him at every turn. He will get you to laugh but will also get you to raise an eyebrow. He will constantly remind you that Kohli the remarkable cricketer is also Kohli the living, breathing human being – near-perfect at times, flawed at others, endlessly complex and thus endlessly fascinating.

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Ind v Aus: a storied World Cup rivalry


One of the first things Yuvraj Singh said after India won the tense World Cup quarter-final in 2011: “This is the moment I have lived for as a cricketer. Over the last year, I have been dreaming of staying till the end and taking the team to victory against Australia in the World Cup.”

Yuvraj later revealed what was racing through his head when India were 187 for 5 – with MS Dhoni just dismissed.

“I was thinking that maybe this is the toughest and most challenging situation I have faced on a cricket field,” he wrote in The Test of My Life. “This chance may never come again. If I get out, we won’t be able to win this game. The dream I was visualizing of beating Australia in the World Cup will stay unfulfilled.”

Until that day, no one in that Indian team had won against Australia in a World Cup game. Sachin Tendulkar had been around international cricket from 1989 but had experienced nothing but loss after agonizing loss against the best team of his era on the biggest stage – in ’92, ’96, ’99 and twice in ’03. Yuvraj recalls the night of the World Cup final in Johannesburg, after Ricky Ponting’s rampaging hundred had consigned India to a massive defeat.

He dreamt that someday he would smash a winning six to beat Australia in a World Cup final. Yuvraj didn’t get the chance to pull off that stunt in 2011 but “a four to eliminate Australia and take us to the semi-finals,” as he wrote, was not too removed from that fantasy.

Yuvraj had played in famous wins against Australia before: announcing himself with a blistering 84 in the Champions Trophy quarter-final in Nairobi; smoking a 30-ball 70 to mess them up in the World T20 semi-final in 2007; playing a hand in India’s CB Series win in 2008… but those victories weren’t enough. None had come in a World Cup. None had been able to erase the heartbreaks from the years past.

India and Australia will play their 12th World Cup game on Sunday. No two other teams have featured in as many such contests. Not Pakistan and West Indies, who had their 11th World Cup meeting earlier in this tournament. Not New Zealand and Sri Lanka, who have also played in 11 such encounters. And not England and Sri Lanka, who will have played each other in 11 such games by this month end.

It may be generous to term this a “rivalry” – for that suggests that both teams have enjoyed their share of superiority – but India v Australia has a claim to be the most storied match-up in World Cup history. The teams have gone at it in a World Cup final, a semi-final and a quarter-final. There was the virtual quarter-final in 1999, another virtual quarter-final in 1983, two nerve-jangling one-run games, in 1992 and 1987, McGrath and Warne v Tendulkar in 1996, Azharuddin’s finest hour as an all-rounder (in 1987) and one of Steve Smith’s great one-day hundreds (in 2015).

Each of these games has left behind indelible memories. The sight of Dean Jones, in 1987, lofting a ball to the midwicket boundary and Ravi Shastri, fielding at the boundary, signaling a four – only for the umpires to change the four to a six at the lunch break and for Australia to sneak a one-run win. David Boon donning the wicketkeeper gloves in 1992 – and running out Venkatapathy Raju to give Australia another dramatic one-run win.

The three manic run-outs at the end of the Australian innings in 1996. Ponting’s one-handed swat-six off Nehra – effectively ending the game as a contest – in 2003. Mitchell Johnson’s explosive 27 to finish the first innings in 2015. Each of these triggers a flood of memories, likely tempting you to turn to YouTube and be sucked into a time warp. Each match comes with a personal connection. Perhaps you were in school when Mark Waugh reeled off that gorgeous hundred in Mumbai; maybe you bunked a college lecture to watch Mark Waugh kill India softly – again! – at The Oval in 1999; and you may well have been distracted at work when R Ashwin opened the bowling in Ahmedabad 2011.

If one were to list India’s most cherished wins, the victory at Ahmedabad would rank high on the list. This was not just an on-field triumph; it was also a breaching of a frontier. Australia had finally been beaten in a World Cup knockout game – for the first time since 1996. The most dominant force in World Cup history had been stopped in their tracks. This was possible, after all! Now the World Cup was well within sights.

Tendulkar, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Raina, Zaheer, Ashwin: all have spoken about this win. Each one has highlighted the importance of that performance.

Now the teams are back to The Oval, twenty years since their meeting in 1999. The stakes are not as high as they were in then but there is two points up for grabs and a psychological advantage to take to the knockouts – where they could meet again. The teams are far better matched in ODIs these days – both have won nine games apiece since the World Cup semi-final four years ago.

India have had the better of the five-day game in this period – winning a dramatic series at home and pulling off a historic one in Australia. They have built an attack for all conditions, across formats, and have fast bowlers who have shown the kind of fitness and control that used to be the preserve of Australian teams of the past.

“This win will give us a different identity,” said Virat Kohli in Sydney after becoming the first Asian captain to win a Test series in Australia. He may well say the same if India are the last team standing on July 14. Beating Australia, though, will be the first big step in that direction.

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The forgotten parts of unforgettable World Cup games

I have no idea where I was and what I was doing when Mohinder Amarnath dismissed Michael Holding on June 25, 1983. That is hardly surprising given that I had only recently turned two.

My parents have no idea what they were doing that evening. Where were you when India stunned the great West Indies, I once naively asked my father. “Must have been at home,” he said, smashing my curiosity into a thousand pieces. This is also understandable. My father thinks cricket is only slightly less useless than WWE – and back in 2000, he pointed out that cricket is actually worse than the World Wrestling Federation because it fools people (like me) into thinking it is real.

My father’s father – bless his soul – also had no idea what he was doing that June evening. This is a shocker because my grandfather was the biggest cricket fan in our family and perhaps the most loyal West Indies fan of all. He vaguely remembered radio commentary from the Indian innings but couldn’t recall much else. Surely he would be able to re-live the shock that ran through him when he opened the newspaper the next day? Nope. He had no clue when he learnt of that result.

To follow cricket is to experience a number of JFK moments: you know exactly where you were and what you were doing when a remarkable event occurred. But occasionally, the moment simply passes you by. You don’t catch it live, nor can you fit it into your life’s personal narrative. It is the obverse of “I was there”. Not only were you not there, you don’t remember your whereabouts.

Take another World Cup stunner, 13 years on: Kenya beating the West Indies on February 29, 1996. I don’t know where I was when that victory arrived. School, maybe? It was a Thursday, so that is possible. On the bus back home? Again, possible. But I can’t say. How did I learn about the result? I don’t know. How did I react? I don’t know. I can’t even dredge up a single memory from the South Africa-Pakistan game on the same day. Scanning the scorecard now, nothing is familiar. This is peculiar because I was so immersed in that World Cup that my mother sat me down to say she was seriously considering a TV ban till my exams were done. I nodded – then watched most of the games anyway, sometimes on mute.

My memories are so vivid for the most part… except for that blackout on February 29. Two days earlier, India had played Australia in Mumbai. I can talk for hours about that match: the first time I watched a whole innings with my dad and the first (and last time) I saw him scream with delight at something that was unfolding in a cricket match (Tendulkar launching into McGrath). My dad has most certainly forgotten this but trust me, it was so bizarre to see him gripped by that run-chase that I knew I wouldn’t forget the scene all my life.

In 1999, I remember where I was when Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad mowed through the Pakistan top order in Old Trafford. A group of us were playing carrom in a recreation room. Soon we stopped our doubles game and began shrieking at the monitor – letting out our loudest wooohoos when Azharuddin took two catches at slip. “Is Wajahatullah Wasti playing?” Harish had screamed. “No,” said Sridhar with a chuckle. “That would just be Wajahatullah Jaasti.” [Translation: ‘Jaasti’ means ‘excessive’. Sridhar was punning on Wasti and his non-selection.]

Fast-forward nine days later, though, and I have no personal memory from that semi-final at Edgbaston. I was most certainly at home – the game finished well after 10 pm after all – but I can’t call to mind much else. Did I feel as bad for Klusener as I had for Richie Richardson in the semi-final in 1996 (when I was close to tears)? Was I upset that Australia had pulled off yet another jailbreak to worm their way into another World Cup final? This was arguably the greatest one-day match ever played. So much tension and drama. Warne’s curler to get Gibbs. Reiffel’s drop. Klusener’s blistering square drives. Darren Lehmann’s missed run-out. Bill Lawry’s wonderment at the climax. The mayhem in the stands. And yet, I don’t know whether I saw all this live or whether I caught up on all the action via the highlights. I don’t even remember talking to any of my friends about the match the next day (a Friday). What had Harish and Sridhar made of it? Had I read the match report in the newspaper the next morning? I don’t have the faintest clue.

For spectators, there are two parts to a sporting contest: the on-field action and your off-field reaction. The first is recorded in scorecards and captured on photographs and in video. There are match reports and interviews to paint a picture. What nobody records is your off-field reaction. Your fist-pumps, your yells, your whoops, your bitten nails strewn on the floor, your anger, your tears. Nobody notes down where you are and what you are doing when a great event occurs. You could be sleeping. Or in an airplane. You could be in a traffic jam. Or in a boring meeting at work. The players are being closely monitored. You, on the other hand, are left to your own devices.

Through the 1990s I filled several scrapbooks with scorecards and match reports. I clipped photographs from glossy magazines and collected every single Sportstar poster for about five years. I wrote amateur essays – on India’s one-run loss in Brisbane, Sri Lanka’s triumph in Lahore and Sachin returning from the death of his father to make that hundred in Bristol.

But I paid no attention to myself. Where was I? What part of the games did I watch? What were the emotions that overcame me? What was my highpoint of a match? How did I celebrate? Some of it remains etched in memory. So much of it is lost forever, swallowed up by the passage of time. I didn’t know better then, but I wish someone had told me to note these down in the margins. How precious those nuggets would have been after all these years. They would have revived so many rich experiences. And they would have allowed me to fill in the gaps in my World Cup jigsaw.

This piece first appeared in