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Vedant Sharma – An enterprising & undaunted face of Sports Media in India

It was nearly two months back to the day where I found myself biting my nails on an otherwise pleasant Jaipur evening. The date was April 9, 2022. The time was sifting towards 7:30 in the evening. 

Dinner plans had been made, though for later in the evening. 

I had close to an hour to discuss cricket and cricket alone with an impassioned bloke often described by his close circle as Jaipur’s biggest cricket nut. Make no mistake, on Twitter, he self-describes himself as ‘that cricket guy!’

But adjectives be darned, where was he?

I had already made my way into one of the salubrious and princely destinations that India’s famous Pink city offers: the Jai Mahal Palace, a Taj property.

No, there was no apparent reason to feel nervous. I wasn’t meeting Shah Rukh Khan or the serving chief minister of India’s largest – and also grandiose – state, Rajasthan.

Obviously, right!

Though, I was a touch concerned as to the whereabouts of the bloke I was to meet.

Where had he been caught up? Was he actually coming even later than I expected? There was no sign of him with me having waited for fifteen minutes, which is when I messaged him on Whatsapp.

And even before I could send out the text, bang came in the reply; “Almost there!”

I laughed to myself, “hey, he’s gonna take another ten”.

But he didn’t. My eyes lit up with a sense of relief as he walked down ambling gracefully in the comforting corridors of a place where we’ve previously met.

Only this time, there was no laptop bag but a book wrapped.

A present for me, I thought? And that’s exactly what it was!

Upon asking his permission to unwrap it, to my pleasant surprise, it was “Many Lives, Many Masters!”

Though, truth be told, it was absolutely perfect that my guest for the evening offered me that fitting read.

Because those who’ve worked with him, those who still do and those who’ve gotten a chance to be associated with him would know Cricket as being Vedant Sharma’s life. It’s one of which he’s a true master!

But it wasn’t always like that.

Cricket fanatic

Back in college, the sprightly youth, who considers himself as an adventurer (when he’s more) in the sphere of sports content and cricket media, was all about dramatics.

Cricket wasn’t ingrained in the DNA as such, nor work around the sport was supposed to have been a calling.

What’s the first thing that Vedant told me that evening soon as he met me?

“Sorry mate, the IPL got me a bit late.”

Boy, I should’ve known (I muttered to myself).

Vedant, a key figurehead of SportsTiger, one of the fastest growing and widely received sports content platforms in cricket-obsessed India, had spent much of his Saturday, a day off for some, strategising content on the IPL.

Vedant’s IPL commitments meant he was running late, but it would be well worth the wait

It’s a site that covers, in addition to cricket, of course, engaging content on myriad spheres- Kabaddi, Badminton, Tennis, Archery, Athletics, and even Formula 1, to quote some.

Yet, funnily, ten minutes into our conversation, as he sipped his refreshing lime, he put the-then IPL contest on his phone. Tilting his smartphone to portrait mode, Vedant reclined the gadget against my glass of soft-drink.

A perfect example of using every bit of space with utility; he uses the space he has, i.e., 24 hours, by developing original, first-hand, well-researched sports articles, devotes time for his Jaipur-based family, and even dons the pads and gloves to whack the ball wherever it is that he can play leather-ball tournaments in the city of Rajasthan Royals.

And as soon as he dreaded the dismissal of Faf du Plessis during RCB’s batting, he shut the phone but not before exclaiming, “It is only for you that I am evading the IPL, you know that right?”

A polite smile followed but so did an afterthought.

“Vedant” I asked out of sheer curiosity, “how did you enter this industry?”

It’s an industry that’s incessantly competitive. A flop article can result in boos over social media, much like how a trending article can increase your stock as a content platform.

The bespectacled wearer of cool weathers paused for a few seconds and went on, “Hmm, I only entered this industry out of sheer passion and love for the game. When I started, I never even thought about how much money I would make, what exactly would this industry give me but the only happiness was that I would be able to watch the game I so love.”

Mystic Vedant

Rather interestingly, it was a candid conversation between Vedant and his father back in the day that prompted the former to sit back and take note of just how good he was at analysing the sport. 

Apparently, with the father and son duo watching a live game of cricket on the TV, Vedant predicted what would happen in the next few deliveries, which turned out precisely as how the affable youngster had predicted.

Vedant’s maturity exceeds his years

This made his father encourage his son with a line of thought promising him that he’d get his son published in a leading Indian press daily if-and only- Vedant wrote about the game seriously. 

But after initial bouts of scepticism, Vedant nodded his head in approval, ever his dad’s doting son and went about pursuing cricket writing. 

These were humble beginnings, which soon would culminate into something beautiful. 

Vedant Sharma is not only a BCCI-accredited journalist, has covered the IPL professionally for several seasons, has been associated closely with the Rajasthan Royals franchise, but has also written for revered publications that deal with sports, such as CricTracker, Sportskeeda, My Nation and Betting Circle. 

Having said that though, how did SportsTiger happen for someone who, back in the day, was as adrift from content as Sourav Ganguly from right-handed batting?

“The product”, Vedant continued, “started two years back in the day and am glad it did. The concept took birth to fill the void there exists between interesting, palatable content in sports and users’ demand for it!”

So has SportsTiger been able to fill that void, I asked? 

“I believe that SportsTiger has been able to make a difference in an industry that is truly thriving and unstoppable. With 140,000 followers on Instagram, with over 120,000 followers on Facebook, and over 10 million users every month on the website.

We are always rolling out content keeping in mind the divergent needs of sports fans given one may not always or only be cricket or soccer follower; and that there are fans for other sports as well!”

Frankly, for someone so young to be talking very serious and arresting numbers, I don’t know what could be more impressive.

Which is precisely when Vedant offers something more; much like the content SportsTiger provides. There’s always something more for the intrepid sports lover. 

He continued, “Now am personally entering into a few more verticals, none of which, however, are as interesting as what’s lined up in front.”

From Student to Teacher

“I’m going to be teaching Sports Management at the Westford University college in the UAE,” Vedant added and shared, “I want to share what I know, want to make sure that people enjoy what they do, and that they believe that anything is possible in life.” 

But in this realm of infinite possibilities, could there be some challenges as well in sports content field, I wonder? 

“Lack of readership” rather challenges with “scaling up readership” arrives as the firm reply! 

I coaxed him to elaborate for this is getting interesting. 

“I think somewhere there’s a blame that rightly rests with our generation that it doesn’t read all that much. For me personally, I remember and fondly so, the days when my mum would come home with an Archie comic and I’d always be like hey, I want to read this! That’s when reading became fun.”

“But I think what we as sports content producers need to keep in mind is to write from a perspective of what they [The readers] want not what we want to do!

“How do you give something to the user that encourages him to read? And that is where, at least I feel, things that become important are what we are writing, when we are writing it and how are we going about it!” 

“The span of time spent on textual articles is coming down and subsequently, many are spending time on video content. We are at an interesting junction where sports content is concerned and it’s precisely here where our skills will be getting tested.”

That’s when I feel content is much like cricket, it ebbs and flows! 

But as I see the glowing evening ticking towards dinner time, me having successfully overspent an already overworked Vedant’s for what is one to do for the conversation was so interesting, I thought it’s time for one last question. 

What advice would you give anyone wanting to find his bearings in the Sports content industry, Vedant? 

And customary to his fervid enthusiasm, pops comes another reply as if his perceptive mind was already aware of what I was going to ask. 

“I think it’s very important to love what you do. But at the same time, be consistent. Take it as a process. It can’t be that one day you’re all gung-ho and the other, not consistent. So my advice to anyone wanting to get into Sports media & content is to go out there, enjoy yourself, give it your hundred percent and never hold yourself back. Most of the people are not able to do what they want to do because of a lack of self belief.”

“So love what you do and your belief will add up to taking you places. It doesn’t matter whether a 35 or 40-year-old is entering the industry,” adds the earnest young man who perhaps doesn’t know that he’s among the few who tend to always make sense when they speak. 

For to speak is easy but adding substance and sense to it is not everyone’s cup of tea. That Vedant Sharma, a young symbol of self belief and determination, is doing just that with the awareness that he’s got much to offer so much more is yet to happen, is indeed commendable and honest. 

And hey, isn’t honesty much like a falling leaf from a tree during spring? You never know where it’ll end up. 

Though, I am glad that someone like Vedant ended up offering his skill and passion to the firmament of sports content. 

This interview was conducted by and article written by Dev Tyagi.

What is Kieron Pollard’s legacy?

“Impact” – That’s perhaps the single most important thing about any sportsman; how can he impact a contest? 

It’s the currency sportsmen deal in. It’s the basis for their selection in a team. This is also the cause for which they fight and sweat it out. 

Lewis Hamilton’s impact in Formula 1 is that he made winning a habit. So utterly dominant was he until 2020 (from the onset of 2014) that he made the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull merely banal participants in the fastest form of motor-racing on earth. 

Similarly, Rafael Nadal’s impact can be gauged by the way he devoured – and still does- opponents on the clay turf. There’s no better athlete on the red surface than the ‘King of Clay!’

But as a famous career comes to an end in the world of cricket, one’s compelled to ask what was the true impact of Kieron Pollard?

A big man with a big legacy

There’ll be many who’ll be quick to point to his 99 sixes in the T20 internationals. Others will state his powerful batting that contributed to the 2012 team that lifted the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka. If you were to separate Pollard from the narrative statistics paint, though, you’ll notice that his true impact in the sport was fear. 

It’s what transformed  Kieron Pollard the person into the cult of the personality we know today. Pollard brought fear into the minds of the opposition. Pollard made bowlers conscious. He was utterly unafraid of stepping down even to fast bowlers. 

He backed himself to go for those big strokes that have today become famous depictions of the mayhem he caused with the bat. The blows he hit against one and all; whether a Malinga or Watson, Dananjaya or Bumrah, McBrine or Saini, Afridi or Maxwell, Boult or Jordan. 

All have suffered the Pollard plight. The West Indies, meanwhile, have lorded many a time on Pollard’s ferocity. It’s in this impact where part of the Kieron Pollard success story lies. 

Few have gone on to extract as much from a truly behemoth physicality as the right hander. At 6’5”, you were intimidated by Kieron Pollard’s presence around you, forget the feeling he hit you with when you landed anything in ‘the slot’ or too short for his comfort. 

Just the kind of man you didn’t want to be stuck-hypothetically speaking- in an elevator with. The game, well and truly speaking, wasn’t over for as long as Pollard was at the crease. 

How good is Pollard?

Make no mistake, Pollard was no master of technique akin to a Kallis, Jayawardene or Dravid, the Wall. He didn’t wield a watertight technique that could suppress a bowling attack. Nor was he gifted much like Lara or Chanderpaul, his famous compatriots, to focus for long hours at the crease. 

Much of what Pollard did- 3 ODI centuries, 19 white-ball fifties, 4275 runs, 224 caps for West Indies- was down to brute power and quick judgement of length. 

Image: IndiaTV News

He was the mayhem maker; that he arrived in T20 cricket with a huge six in New Zealand and ended his favoured format, one where he struck almost 1600 runs, with a boundary against India, offers sufficient evidence that Pollard was power and stroke play. 

That was his true impact. The fact that he was ready to take you on. Someone who switched quite comfortably into the battle mode. 

Very often that was much to the surprise of the opposition that would think that a quiet start – say 0 from 4 deliveries- would also end the over quietly, which is where he’d lift the slower leg spin easily over long on for a 90-metre six and suddenly you’d read the scoreboard- Pollard 6*(6). 

What contributed to Pollard’s success is that he backed himself to clear the ropes at any given point in the match. That 970 of his 1569 T20I runs for West Indies, which is more than half of this share of runs, came only through fours and sixes is evidence of Pollard’s brute strength as also the damning condemnation of bowlers. 

It wasn’t all about batting and bowling…

But his was also a dramatic career that insinuated fans that expected a great deal more from the man who was unafraid to take on any bowler. 

Pollard was caught up in the whole stand against the WICB skirmish of 2014, which resultantly truncated his international journey; at times, he’d make himself unavailable and on others, he’d be simply overlooked. 

How on earth did a batsman who was in great touch in the T20 World Cup, wherein his brutal 35 off just 14 against Australia helped Windies march into the finals not play in the 2014 World Cup? The board thought of others as being better than him. It wasn’t his fault. 

As many will look back at a career that was chequered with blazing hits but also peppered with lost chances, one’ll question why Pollard never appeared in the 2016 World Cup? Probably, fair to say he wasn’t as motivated and refrained from participation. 

The final score line reads 2700 plus ODI runs and had he participated in more national duties instead of the growing number of seemingly repetitive T20 leagues, then many more runs than his 1569 in 20-20 for Windies.  And that is where one’s got to address a conundrum before passing a lame verdict. 

Yes, Pollard’s growing fascination for T20 leagues around the world- think WBBL, PSL, BPL, IPL- was often at the cost of forgoing national duties. 

Pollard came at the perfect time

But wasn’t he naturally inclined to be part of the culture that became Cricket’s dominant tide, debuting in 2007, which is when T20 concept truly boomed into being something spectacular? 

Little is spared to note that the year Kieron Pollard first wore the Windies maroon, cricket evidenced its first showpiece T20 event: the World Cup of 2007. The Lara’s and Chanderpaul’s, Hooper’s and Sarwan’s were part of an era where Test cricket – still the sport’s most respected format- was truly the litmus test of measuring one’s worth. 

But the generation that came after, the Sammy’s, the Bravo’s, the Pollard’s were caught up in the counterculture of cricket at a time where the sport, perhaps in a bid to reach wider geographies, was experimenting with T20s. 

What helped Pollard, a man of big muscles and even bigger sixes, was that he was licensed to thrill in a format that was about entertainment. He readily plied his trade, clearly also to amass the moola. 

What didn’t help, the West Indies of course, was that they didn’t compensate players as lavishly as some of the other boards at the time did and still do: think India, Australia and England. 

That Pollard, at the ripe age of 32, chose to focus on re-calibrating a fledgling white ball career by becoming captain is worthy of respect. 

Inspirational captain

Under his leadership, West Indies smashed Afghanistan in a popular bilateral series held in India, circa 2019. He’d collect famous wins thereafter, such as the ODI triumph against Ireland in 2020 and as seen in the last six to nine months, the fantastic T20I series triumphs against Australia of all teams and England. 

But it was also during this stint that Pollard’s leadership earned the growing wrath of a public that believed he was egotistical. That he was responsible for ignoring Odean Smith’s inclusion in the 2022 T20Is held in the Caribbean. And lest it is forgotten, Pollard was at the helm when Ireland posted their first ever ODI series win in the West Indies. He’d later fail to inspire his team in India as the visitors found themselves quite simply, crushed. 

He was a miserable failure with the bat. 

But you win some, you lose some. When we assess Pollard and point to all we think he could’ve achieved it’s also important to recollect that his craft wasn’t that of a seasoned match winner. He wasn’t marked to be, for instance, the next Sir Viv or Sir Sobers or his greatest immediate predecessor, Brian Lara.

It’s only fair to state Pollard did the maximum he could with a craft that was high on power if not necessarily on long term performance. 

More of a holiday shack instead of a plush holiday home. A car that zipped on cruise control, never mind if it wasn’t a sports car. 

And in some sense there’s gladness that perhaps Pollard gave back something invaluably good over and above his breathtaking strokes in mentoring the  man who could be the next West Indies white ball captain: Nicholas Pooran. 

 If that’s not big impact, then what is? 

Can unpredictable West Indies weather the mighty Australian storm?

A few days ago, when the widely watched Women’s World Cup was yet to reach the semifinal stage, a video specifically related to the Windies team went viral. We saw live spontaneous reactions of a closely knit unit of the West Indies women watching the proceedings of the (then) ongoing India-South Africa clash. 

One run was needed off as many deliveries for the Proteas to qualify. Failure at doing so would’ve meant that India would march ahead with the West Indies boarding the next flight back home to the Caribbean. 

What happened next spelt agony and ecstasy 

As the experienced Mignon du Preez hit the winning runs of Deepti Sharma’s off spin, the Proteas romped home absolutely ecstatic, and India crashed out of the World Cup with nothing more than sheer agony for company. 

As a result, the West Indies were overjoyed. 

There was pandemonium in the hotel gallery where the Caribbean unit was watching live proceedings. 

Remember, they weren’t in the game; and were mere audiences. The girls- Hayley Matthews, Chedean Nation, Shakira Selman, Deandra Dottin, Anisa Mohammed- all of them were simply overjoyed. 

Oh, what scenes! 

And yet, there was something about the overjoyed team that stood out, but perhaps didn’t get many people’s attention. 

It was the sight of their captain, Stafanie Taylor, who rather uncannily sat motionless, absolutely unmoved at the corner table. It was as if she was into a world of her own, silently reclusive from the band of zealous girls who had landed on the moon for such was their happiness. 

So, was Stafanie not happy about the fact that West Indies had progressed into the semifinals?

Of course, only the opposite is true. So why was she the way she was?

Taylor stayed cool and calm, like a true leader

Truth be known, there was a great reason as to why Taylor retreated to reticence and was calm about the proceedings. 

She did cut a smile later on as the entire team came together in a huddle of sorts. But the reason to abstain from wild celebrations was perhaps down to the fact that the wise one from the West Indies camp was aware of the magnitude of challenge that lay ahead of her team. 

The challenge called Australia. 

There are some opponents who seem like stern walls to climb. But Australia are a mountain obstinately insurmountable or so it seems to the untrained eye. Maybe it was the realisation that her West Indies had fixed a semifinal date with the very team that had thrashed them days before that got Stafanie paying heaps of attention. 

What the West Indies have against them isn’t just a cricket team; it’s a continent. Mathematically speaking, it’s a seventh of the world that’s opposing their chances to reach the finals. And this is the mother of all cricketing battles, the grandest stage that there can be. 

At times, it does appear that to merely confront Australia is akin to staring deathly into the eyes of a lioness.

Mayhem will likely follow

Few teams play as aggressively and tactfully as the Southern Stars. And in confirming precisely this, Meg Lanning, unsurprisingly the “Mega Star” of the game, already stated that they are planning for each individual from the “dangerous” West Indies team. 

What chances the West Indies have of overcoming an onerous challenge called the Australian team could be ascertained from the bet-o-meter that’s already likely announced the odds and it doesn’t seem as though Taylor’s girls have that mega a chance. 

There’s reason to this and it’s not irrational. 

In their last outing in the World Cup of 2017, the Windies were smashed by the Aussies. In this edition itself, Lanning’s team drained the life out of Taylor’s unit, disallowing them to even reach a score of 140. 

While on paper, the West Indies offer both boldness and mercurial strength, on ground things change rapidly as seen in their previous campaigns. 

They can do both- collapse quickly like a pack of cards and win games when oddly nothing’s left to play for. 

In their opening campaign of CWC, they offered Dottin, who’s not been bowling a great deal, the final over and the result was an emphatic defeat handed to the hosts. 

In the game against England, another neck-to-neck encounter, Anisa Mohammed, a spin legend, turned the tables in Windies’ favour. 

In both games, two of their big three- Dottin and Mathews- chipped in. Taylor, an all round par excellence failed with the bat. 

Then came the heartbreaking losses to India and Australia and now, as the team needs one final push to make it to the finals, there stands amid a hubris of doubt a massive question for the West Indies. 

Rather, make that two, instead of one. 

Will their big three- Deandra Dottin, Hayley Matthews and Stafanie Taylor- fire with both bat and ball? 

Truth be told, only Matthews- a hundred to her name in the eminent event- has seemed in fine touch. Dottin, despite her destructive 62 vs India hasn’t quite been herself. 

Taylor, on the other hand, has gone softer, scoring only a solitary fifty in such time. 

But is the Jamaican leader saving her best for the last? The West Indies wouldn’t mind that one bit. 

What happens if the big three fail to pack a punch?

How far, supposing Windies bat first, can the likes of Knight (awfully out of form), Nation(painfully slow in run making) and Campbelle (who’s looked promising in patches) shoulder the responsibility of run scoring?

If they come to defend, even then the West Indies have their fair share of problems. 

Afy Fletcher has already been ruled out of the game. Karishma Ramharack, though mighty impressive and economical versus Bangladesh and Australia, hasn’t picked wickets. Connell, the go-to option for seam has only just recovered from injury and Selman hasn’t looked terribly threatening to score of. Can Mohammed take wickets on her own?

There are more questions than answers confronting West Indies at this point and most of them deal in the realm of “what now?”

Theirs is a familiar template of unpredictability. For a team that brings such much passion to the game, the performances are too often underlined by mediocrity and a sense of unpredictability, the latter that you’d love to avoid when it’s certainty that one badly needs at the business end of tournaments like the ODI World Cup. 

So as the first ball goes underway in just a few hours from now – the big question concerning the woman who sat calmly during those absolute scenes with her teammates going berserk is this- can Taylor’s team do something that makes her jump in joy? 

Forget not that in order to do so, the spirited bunch of cricketers will have to mow down what’s essentially a redoubtable quintuplet of match winners, starting with Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy, Meghan Schutt, Jess Jonassen and Rachel Haynes. 

The good news for Australia is that West Indies are unpredictable. The bad news, however, too is the same. 

So, what can the unpredictable Windies do? 

Faf du Plessis – The Vigilante of South African Cricket

In an age where the narrative around Cricket is constantly changing, a sport that once had just two formats to now accommodating even The Hundred, where basing a career in has taken a backseat to milking money from. Where talents play as opponents first only to become teammates the next day thanks to T20 leagues, it’s rare to find consistency. 

Rather, time has come to ask fans and those who dabble with punditry- just how important is consistency in an age where Cricket, apart from being commercialised, is seen filling the vacuum of entertainment?

And if holding the baton for one’s nation still as relevant as finding oneself adapting to whatever cricket’s changing vagaries ask of its devotees- then have we properly examined Faf du Plessis? 

Who is Faf du Plessis?

For a career that was born amid crisis- South Africa on the brink of a great defeat at Adelaide, only to find a young debutant hold his ground in striking a century (110 v Australia)- and continues to flourish amid one- think those 11,000 plus international runs, aged 37, at a time where political control over their cricket is still very much a reality- Faf is no less than a national hero. 

Except the country to which he belongs doesn’t believe in making Gods out of mortals, which is actually even better for all that Faf du Plessis – former captain, rescuer, smooth sailor, frequent run hitter – has done for South Africa. This makes one react with awe given he’s a man of flesh and blood albeit one of a lion-hearted will. 

22 centuries, 56 fifties, a highest individual score of 185 in ODIs, over 1,500 T20I runs, pounding 888 Test runs versus Australia and striking Sri Lanka with 1,100 ODI runs, Francois du Plessis has done more than what he’s gotten in return for a country for whom de Villiers is an icon and Faf is not nearly as great. 

Though in reality, it was Faf who extended the love for the game and blazed a legacy that de Villiers, the genius left behind, with unfettered excellence and boundless enthusiasm. 

Not to mention, an astonishing show of dominance in white-ball cricket where starting 2017-19, having reached the declining years of prowess and reflexes, Faf scored ODI runs at an average of 60, 62, and 67- respectively. 

Post-captaincy

When de Villiers stepped back from the captaincy in December 2016, a period in which South Africa were nearing their decline accentuated by frequent injuries to key names, one man stood up and made himself counted. 

Not the man with silken touch, Hashim Amla and not the force with Steyn-gun of deadly pace either; it was Faf du Plessis. The man under whose leadership South Africa registered a famous Test series win in Australia, 2016, the man under whose captaincy South Africa hammered India in 2018 at home. 

The very man, who after rescuing South Africa, time and again from the unlikeliest of situations, today finds himself having to knock on the doors for selection in the upcoming T20 World Cup squad. 

The conundrum, if any, that surrounds Faf, who’s played 50 T20Is for South Africa, remaining unbeaten in 7, and scoring runs at a strike rate north of 134, is not of capability or availability but of the team’s make up! 

Whether Faf should play a key ICC event reminds one of his importance to the team, a lifelong example of which would lead the Protea fan to revisit a heart-breaking albeit meltingly beautiful semi-final contest (50 over World Cup) of 2015, where he single handedly made 82 of South Africa’s 281 runs. 

In the aftermath of the contest where everyone was in tears, the South African hearts crushed, one man controlled his tears, not because the river ran dry but because the true measure of a man is his poise under pressure and his control amid adversity. 

That was Francois du Plessis! 

Whether Faf is made to play ultimately will rest in hands of those who probably may not consider his selection as being a litmus test where alongside exuberance of youth, what one may need is also experience, that of a soldier unwilling to put the gun down. 

The truth certainly is that whilst his career doesn’t boast of multiple double hundreds nor has seen South Africa lift a prominent ICC crown, Faf has seldom choked under pressure and fought fire to fire when the chips were down. 

Picture 2019 ODI World Cup where no South African went on to hit the three-figure mark save their captain- Faf du Plessis, whose 100, that came at better than a run a ball gave fans something to cheer about when the scenes were listless. 

Not that Faf du Plessis’ 100, which came against a Starc and Hazlewood-powered Australia helped ease the hurt the campaign brought to a team that had seen far better days in the past. 

Though forget not that in an age where Faf too may have gladly retracted and decided to take it easy, playing the safe option as did a few in their times, he continued fighting bowlers and detractors alike with the bat. 

In 2019, when aged no spring chicken at 35, du Plessis hammered 814 runs in the ODI calendar year. 

In some ways, he’s matured like fine wine that gets better with age minus any hang-ups or bitterness toward anyone. Make no mistake though- he’s no monk and been found guilty of ball tampering, a controversial saga that’s hurt the South Africa-Australia contests in the path. 

But whenever the team needed a figurehead to hold it together- Faf held it close to his, against a beating heart displaying- not showing off- those throbbing veins and that burlesque Sparta-like figure. 

What verdict might one pass on the career of a hard-as-nails cricketer who emerged as a tough cookie, stroking a deadly 199 against Sri Lanka just last year to help his team achieve yet another series triumph against an opponent its often toyed with? 

That’s a matter that cricket will be convinced to pass a ruling on and cannot shy away from akin to the soldier who never shied away too in rescuing an often-embattled Proteas, much like a lion, often single-handedly. 

Caught at Point Podcast

For more info on the South African vigilante of cricket, check out Caught at Point’s Podcast where Dev Tyagi and Pranay Rangra discuss his impact on the sport:

Mignon du Preez: A Giant of Women’s Cricket Turns 32

In a game that loves to anoint famous nicknames to its icons, Meg Lanning known as “Superstar,” Sachin revered as the ‘Little Master,’ Shabnim Ismail famous for being “Cape Town Express,” and Brian Lara celebrated as ‘The Prince of Trinidad,” Mignon du Preez of the Proteas women doesn’t really have one.

Not that she would mind being this absolute beacon of simplicity.

Though, what the famous South African batswoman does have is something none around her or in her league have- a branch of South Africa’s famous SuperSport Park stadium being named after her- the Mignon du Preez gates.

Unveiled in mid-March, 2019, Mignon’s name has also been carved on the wall of fame.

Forging a path for good

In an age where cricket is still accommodating and often ‘accepting’ women in the mainstream, Mignon is a trailblazer of sorts, a character in an age favouring shenanigans, a real hero in a time where countless exist on social media landscape in virtual avatars.

Rare are moments where the game rewards itself by extending tribute to characters that have helped shaped its identity. Its stature. Its very being.

And when Cricket South Africa honoured Mignon by naming those gates after her, in truth, one was reminded fervently of a biblical expression in Revelation 21:21, “Those not fit to enter heaven are denied entrance at the gates.”

Though, in cricketing parlance, you could be anyone- a newbie, someone trying to find her feet in the international annals, an experienced ‘have-been,’ or a talent stymied by uncertainty- there’s most definitely a chance that Mignon du Preez would make space for you and there won’t be any denials!

No boundaries

At the conclusion of South Africa’s record-breaking tour to India where for the first time in history, the visitors smashed the hosts in both ODIs and T20Is, Mignon took to social media to post a picture with someone who happened to be an opponent.

Putting her hands on Deepti Sharma’s shoulders, posing with that bright smile that can electrify a city for its innocence and charm, Mignon’s caption read- “Friendship has no boundaries!”

And that’s really what makes South Africa’s most illustrious run-scorer endearing to tens of thousands around the world.

Perhaps with the Aussies and the English you can sense a bit of sternness on occasions, the occasional stare, if not a rebuke.

But what you get from the famous Pretorian is a feeling of earthiness, a down-to-earth-ness that’s hard to find in an age where fans are perhaps crazier to create rivalries between sides than the sides themselves.

Though, make no mistake. In the exact same charismatic batswoman, there exist two characters.

So, what we have here?

There’s the serious grafter of runs, who, specifically from the onset of 2018, vastly improved in the briefest form of the game, which is mostly about switching modes as a batter. This is the person who will combat all adversaries who push the Proteas women to the edge and will stand in between an opponent and the Proteas.

Then, there’s the ever-smiling persona beneath the helmet with twinkling eyes and an affability that’s rare to find. Well, exceptional for a cricketer whose name bears a plethora of achievements.

And in being all of this, forget not what Mignon du Preez has accomplished- over 5,200 international runs, 3 centuries and 23 fifties.

But while the excesses of international cricket pose threats of severity, challenging the physical frame of athletes, imposing the daunting challenge of playing all throughout the year, Mignon, hardly hampered by these demands, has emerged as a parable of longevity.

A school-girl prodigy, she was once a kid who debuted aged 18. For someone who struck a mega double hundred when she had barely entered her teens, greater heights would soon attract the smiling attacker of bowlers.

Where most cricketers dream of donning the captaincy, Mignon did so for both T20 Internationals as well as the ODIs and for well over half a decade.

To this date, she’s played in seven world cups and hasn’t merely contested but scored most runs for a South African cricketer – amassing 1750 T20 international runs at a healthy strike rate of 101 and nearly 3500 ODI runs.

And at that stage of her career where she could simply have become resistant to change, unwilling to adapt to growing demands, Mignon even excelled in the most watched premium T20 franchise-based league- Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League.

What about the future?

In a sport that likens young blood akin to a girl’s love for diamonds, a 30-year-old Mignon du Preez became the second-highest scorer for the Melbourne Stars, smashing 266 from just 14 games. But implicit in du Preez’s desire to excel is her penchant for improvement and taking each game as a new challenge.

It’s worth noting that someone whose T20I strike rate was no more than 95 two and a half years ago, currently sits north of 101.

A lot of it could be credited to a rather impressive outing she had and that too on spinning, testing sub-continental turfs of India, during the 2018 tour.

Starting with a 27-ball-31 in the opening T20, following it up with cameos like an 11-ball-17, du Preez was just beginning to get into the groove.

In the pinnacle of the contest, the 2020 Women’s World T20, her final over six on Katherine Brunt walloped England and sailed South Africa right on top of an opponent it had never previously beaten in any of the world cups.

Mignon’s contribution- an unbeaten 15 off just 11 at the crunch situation of the game!

To this day, one wonders what might have been the run tally that one of the most dependable batters around would’ve gone on to amass had we seen more Test cricket for women, which rather inexplicably misses nearly every team’s yearly calendar.

It didn’t take long for the bright-eyed right-hander to stamp her authority in cricket’s longest format, smashing 102 in the only Test she played around a decade back in time.

That the standard-bearer of excellence for Proteas women is still around, despite a 15-year-long run spells good news for just about everybody.

Mignon’s seen generations change around her, having played with the likes of Cri-Zelda Brits and Sunette Loubser to now being an anchor to the likes of Laura Wolvaardt, Tumi Sekhukhune, and Anneke Bosch.

Yet, what hasn’t changed is her desire to excel and represent what it truly means by the phrase Proteas Fire- the spark of incandescence that burns with bright hope to seek victories for South Africa eternally!

At 32, having witnessed both peaks and lows, the latter perhaps reminding one of the Proteas’ heartbreaks at the 2017 ODI world cup, where they were the semi-finalists and the 2020 T20 world cup, where they lost to Australia, Mignon is gearing to inspire a new generation of talents who desire to stoke the Proteas fire.

Just like the figurehead who sports a warm smile and commitment, but never any trace of arrogance or ire.

Caught at Point Podcast

If you want to hear more opinions on the world of cricket from Dev Tyagi and Pranay Rangra, check out the Caught at Point Podcast:

Ode to a true Australian titan – Steve Smith, a batsman like no other

Cricket expects England to continuously dominate, and the world champions truly came into their own in 2019, having demonstrated a spark of unsullied brilliance ever since 2017. Cricket also expects no less from India, who are world-beaters on their day, with the fact being that their days last longer than the ceaseless miles Usain Bolt can jog off without much sweat.

But from Australia, a bastion of cricketing excellence, the world expects something unreal. Australians are expected to regain the stronghold they particularly enjoyed over the sport back in the heydays of 2000s and throughout the nineties.

It’s not like the one among Cricket’s top three isn’t a strong force today; but it would be lovely to see Australians become the demolishing force they once were, one that instilled a fear in the mind of the opponent.

And when you look at a Pat Cummins, you see a bright future leader who’s just waiting to explore his wings. David Warner, a Test triple centurion is still going strong. There’s Hazlewood, Zampa, Stoinis, and Lyon- a quartet of match-winners.

And then there’s Steve Smith- a batsman like no other, a man who none can ever be.

Why Smith is special

A man who’s conquered inner demons, who has bitten dust and turned dust into gold, which incidentally also happens to be the colour of a jersey he wears with pride, truly aware today of the enormous responsibility it reposes on brave men who walk out there on the cricket pitch with an aim to churn magic.

And above all, Smith is the only candidate from Australia in the titanic tussle towards winning the battle of being the world’s best batsman, to which Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson are worthy competitors and enormous challengers.

No monk or beacon of self-righteousness, Steve Smith, who turns 32 today, has already endured what many might call a rollercoaster ride. He’s churned out records and attracted brickbats at express speed akin to the famous Ferrari roller coaster at Abu Dhabi-bound Ferrari world.

Smith arrives on the world stage

No sooner than he was introduced to the world of cricket did Smith go onto prove his credentials as a talented leg spinner who possessed the guile and loop to endanger the batsman’s stumps. Warne was already history and there was vacuum for an able spinner to inherit the spot.

In those days, circa 2010, Smith would only swing the bat on an occasion or two, never afforded a space in the top or the middle order of a line-up, which was replete with talents like Clarke, Watson, Hussey and Bailey.

Yet the Steve Smith story owes its thrills to the fiery proclivity using which a one-time leg spinner who never had his sights on batting became one of the world’s most dominant batsman, and that too, in the sport’s most arduous format- Test Cricket.

Although, that wasn’t before biting maliciously into some ‘sandpaper!’

Remember 2018? Newslands, Capetown, days after which the usually supremely confident Smith, a bloke with boyish charm and excessive self-confidence lacked every ounce of it when he went behind the mic tearing up like a schoolboy smacked on the face for notoriety?

Smith broke down during the interview where accepted full responsibility for the ball tampering scandal

Being an Australian cricketer is hard enough. You not only have to rise through the ranks, but a well-oiled domestic structure proving it difficult to reach the top annals. But the challenge of breaking in and proving oneself to be a staple resource in Australian cricket becomes an exasperating exercise in the event of one becoming a captain.

So, when Smith was found guilty of ball tampering, being a leader, it was almost curtains down on a glowing career whose byline was enormity of run scoring and boundless potential.

That could’ve been the end, but it wasn’t

In some ways, Smith being around again and going strong is down to the fact that he’s much-loved and regarded as a true modern great of the game. It’s not the world being blindingly kind on a talented bloke who chose an erroneous path.

It’s down to the stunning numbers that Smith has amassed, in a sport where most envy longevity and dream to win the much-coveted Ashes series.

In four of his ten calendar years in Tests, Smith has smoked in excess of 1,000 runs.

And what truly indicates his herculean nature at run-scoring is the fact in seven of the ten years he’s wielded a bat in Test match cricket, he’s scored at an average north of 70.

That’s like a Cristiano Ronaldo scoring 4 games per outing or Sir Lewis Hamilton delivering a pole, win, and fastest lap for consecutively for, at least, half a Formula 1 season.

It’s bizarre meets brilliance. It’s the marriage of fire and ice.

But a number that should truly drive cricket critics who still question Smith’s inclusion in Australia having committed a sacrilege-like error of ball-tampering are his numbers against England and India, two of the strongest bowling attacks.

Of his 7540 Test runs, nearly 4500 have come against the game’s most daunting forces.

Moreover, he averages 72- read that again- 72 against India and 65 versus England.

The man who once hid behind his father’s arm for the world seemed a demon in front of his cricketing catastrophe has come back like a Thor on a battlefield just that his bat is the hammer.

And some of his Ashes outings are evident proof of that. For instance, the Perth double hundred, the revered 239 that saw Smith hold his nerve for over 500 minutes in the middle.

He scored 774 Ashes runs- a high flying effort resembling figures etched on a Boeing carrier- in 2019 Ashes and didn’t even need the full quota of 5 (the usual no.) Tests to do it.

In a ten-year journey, Smith has become the poster boy of Test heroism and dauntless consistency as also the bad boy of cricket whose every forthcoming inning seems an effort of atonement to wipe out the past mistakes.

There’s always something he brings to the crease- whether it’s his rather odd way of letting a delivery by, taking his stance, shuffling, and that trigger movement captivating much like watching someone wearing an umbrella over the head.

But to Australia it truly signals that the team is safe and under cover from harshness of the opponents.

Also, the man who’s fired 38 international centuries would definitely want to get better in the 50-over format where it seems his best is yet to come.

Though, for now, the man who turns 32 but still looks pup-eyed rules with the élan of a man made of steel, built on self-conviction and that voracious appetite at run-scoring that doesn’t look if it’ll be swayed by any more distractions.

Happy bday Steven Smith. 

Kieron Pollard – the long distance runner for West Indies cricket

A little over thirteen years ago, with the West Indies facing South Africa in an important ODI World Cup contest, one particular Protean was in outstanding form. Opening for his side and facing 130 deliveries, he fired 146 of his team’s 356 on his own. AB was on fire!

Resultantly, the West Indies were never really in contention to challenge South Africa’s authority, despite having the class of men like Lara and Chanderpaul. And though, there was a young debutant, aged just 20, someone who could only score 10 with the bat, there was something of a strong presence about him.

Tall and agile, he refused to hold himself back from athletic dives, piloting different positions on the ground moving very much in the fashion of a man who seemed here to stay. He reminded very much about what it meant to have a giant in motion in a cricket field.

Fourteen years later, as Kieron Pollard turns 34, with no fewer than 116 one day internationals under his belt, he’s recognised as more than a handy all rounder in West Indies white-ball cricket.

Leader for club and country

The man who often engages in carnage with the bat, being a total menace to some of the strongest bowlers around, little would many have thought that the man who failed in his maiden appearance for West Indies would go on to smoke 212 sixes in limited overs cricket (outside of T20 internationals) and would become the only walking player on the planet to feature in 500 T20 internationals.

If you were a spectator distraught at seeing the Caribbean side lose the world cup, despite hosting it in 2007, would you even have thought that Pollard would go on to lead the very team one day?

Today, Kieron Pollard has emerged as an irreplaceable figure for the Mumbai Indians in the famous Indian Premier League. He’s a man, who in addition to his heroics with both bat and ball has also led the Trinbago Knight Riders to a unique feat- wherein they won 12 in 12 games (during CPL 2020). This is testimony to the fact that good things come not only to those who wait but also to those who persist.

Not the batsman you’d ideally see bat throughout an inning, neither a bowler whom you’d associate with wicket-crushing yorkers or dynamite bouncers, Kieron Pollard acts well the part for that’s where the glory lies.

Pollard makes the difference

Then whether it means playing second-in-command to the mighty Chris Gayle against the Aussies in a must-win T20 semi final – circa 2012- wherein he fired a 15-ball-38 or taking the Mumbai Indians home courtesy a fireball of an 87, Pollard’s the man on whom you depend today to win you matches.

Not just a proficient all-round cricketer who fires behemoth sixes and sends the white ball into a state of perpetual disappearance, he’s emerged as a fantastic mentor to up-and-coming cricketers in the Caribbean in whose hands rests the responsibility of making West Indies cricket great again.

Take Pooran for example, who considers Kieron Pollard, his compatriot, a mentor. The guidance the elegant leftie received whilst nursing a near-fatal car accident to the smooth road to recovery emphasises the fact that Pollard is quite masterful in translating his cricketing experience into reviving someone’s fledgling career.

Today, you cannot imagine a limited overs Caribbean side without both- the master and the apprentice- can you?

Moreover, with the 2021 T20 World Cup fast approaching, it’s not only the big lashes of Gayle or the slower ones of DJ Bravo or even the wham-bam starts given by Evin Lewis on which the West Indies would depend; they’d look up to Kieron Pollard to blast past attacks and put nearly a decade and a half of his experience into nurturing West Indian hopes.

How Pollard has evolved as a player

What’s changed about Pollard is perhaps the fact that he’s not the brisk starter of an inning as he was once. What hasn’t is that despite the added pressure of leading a side tasked with the responsibility of entertaining a globe-trotting cricketing audience, in addition to countless T20 leagues, Pollard’s still the hungry athlete who desires to get better.

A month and a half back, he became the only modern day West Indian to fire six consecutive sixes against Sri Lanka in a T20 his side eventually won. He was also leading then. Since November 2019, when he was tasked with white-ball captaincy, he’s taken the West Indians to experience some highs they had hitherto lacked.

For instance, not succumbing absolutely to the Indians during their 2019 tour. Under his leadership, the Windies didn’t recede to a whitewash, and moreover, fired 207 in their maiden T20, an effort in which the captain made 37 off just 19, a game after which he’d score 68 of his team’s 173 in the final Wankhede-bound T20I.

He began his leadership role of a newly resurgent West Indian side with a commanding 3-0 hammering served to the Afghans. He was also at the helm of the affairs when Windies finally found a way to beat the Sri Lankans in the T20s in Sri Lanka, 2020.

There’ve been series wins in ODIs against Sri Lanka hosted later in the Caribbean as well as the triumph against the touring Irish.

Pollard, alongside a Gayle, Bravo, Simmons, Hope, Lewis, Holder and Roach appears akin to one among the nuclear arsenal, which on the day of launch can rip into any line-up.

While his opponents will desire nothing more than a low key outing in the mother of all sporting battles up ahead (the T20 world cup), Pollard would be aiming for one thing alone- can he inspire a very able group of youngsters into giving their best?

At 34, he’s not getting younger, but neither is the threat of bowling into his slot or pitching it short becoming a worthwhile idea.