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What will high school sports look like when they resume?

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What will high school sports look like when they resume?

The Maine Principals’ Association is preparing for the return of high school sports this fall, but whether all sports will be played or if the season may be shortened remains uncertain. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The challenges, to be sure, are significant. But there are encouraging signs for the return of high school sports in Maine despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Maine has avoided the surge in COVID-19 cases currently sweeping the South and Southwest. Hospitalizations across the state are low, and Maine has the lowest estimated virus reproduction rate in the country. Some parts of the state outside the more populated Cumberland and York counties have seen few positive cases.

On Friday, the Maine Department of Education outlined a plan that it hopes can get students and teachers back to school – or, in some cases, result in a hybrid mix of remote and in-person learning. And, the Maine Principals’ Association said Friday it’s still planning for high school sports this fall, even in the wake of the University of Maine and other colleges in the state shutting down their athletic programs.

The MPA, which governs the state’s interscholastic activities, has introduced the early stages of a four-phase plan for resuming sports, beginning with in-person conditioning workouts in small groups in July. But details for the third and fourth phases still have to be formulated. The DOE’s county-by-county plan for reopening schools adds another layer of complexity to revamping what was always going to be an abnormal, at best, season this fall.

Based on interviews with educators and officials in Maine and other parts of the nation, and by looking at how other states are approaching the restart of high school sports, here are seven ways the impact of the pandemic is likely to be felt once interscholastic sports resume:

1. Administrators must prepare for COVID-19 infections.

Based on the Maine DOE’s red-yellow-green COVID risk assessment plan, if a county is designated “red,” then schools will be operating completely remotely. MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham said Friday that would mean no sports at all in those counties.

Regardless of the number of schools able to participate in high school sports this fall, there are likely to be disruptions because of COVID-19 infections. That’s already happened in one state.

Iowa plays high school baseball and softball during the summer, and opted to do so again this year with a delayed start. At least 25 baseball teams and 20 softball teams – roughly 7 percent of all teams – have had to cancel games because of players or coaches testing positive. As of Friday, 10 softball and 12 baseball teams had ended their season prematurely because of COVID cases, several of which were reported in the final week of the regular season. The state playoffs start this weekend.

“More and more schools are dropping out. The top-ranked (baseball) team in the state had to shut down this past week,” said Scott Garvis, the athletic director at Ankeny Centennial High. Garvis has been communicating with athletic directors and coaches in Maine throughout the summer via a series of Zoom meetings set up by Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens, called the Pandemic Project.

“I always tell my coaches, we are one person, one case, away from being shut down,” Garvis said.

Maine, with a population of 1.3 million, is seeing a much lower incidence rate of new cases (a seven-day average of 18 per day) compared to Iowa (seven-day average of 419 new cases per day as of July 14 in a state of 3.15 million). So perhaps team-wide quarantines will be rare in Maine. To think it won’t happen at all is unrealistic, however.

When one case happens, be it in an academic or athletic setting, closures and quarantining will take place, said Yarmouth Schools Superintendent Andrew Dolloff in the Pandemic Project’s most recent conference call on Monday.

“I’m still waiting to see specific guidance, but I’m anticipating that if a person tests positive, it will mean a closing down of at least a school, or a district, for a specified amount of time – I’m hearing from two to five days – and the quarantining of those students,” Dolloff said.

2. Even with a green light, the season could be shorter.

On Thursday, New York state’s high school association announced it will delay the start of fall sports until Sept. 21, and also canceled regional and state championships. Vermont is also planning a later start. The MPA’s Burnham said Friday a later start is a possibility in Maine.

Even though the MPA approved in-person, conditioning-focused activities between coaches and players starting on July 6, school superintendents in southern Maine and several other areas of the state are not allowing those interactions before Aug. 3.

The MPA, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and athletic directors in Maine are also emphasizing the need for going through a series of multi-week “phases” to ensure safety and conditioning of the athletes before competition begins.

For superintendents, the No. 1 goal is getting the academic year started. Sports are secondary. And, what they don’t want is to have a COVID outbreak during a preseason practice session, as happened in Lake Zurich, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where 36 confirmed cases were reported among participants in a high school sports camp.

“We’re wondering about the timing of athletics, of having kids coming back to participation in fall sports, ahead of when we start in-person education and how is that is going to impact us,” said Kevin Jordan, the superintendent of AOS 94, which includes Dexter High in Penobscot County. Jordan said many districts in Penobscot County are waiting until Aug. 6 to begin activities.

The MPA also has taken a cautious tack. Back in May, Dr. William Heinz, the chair of the MPA’s Sports Medicine Committee said, “Our approach from the MPA is that, we’re going to be more careful. We don’t care if someone looks back a year from now and says we were way too cautious. I’d rather have that than someone get sick and a whole team exposed.”

Players battle for the ball during a field hockey game between Cony and Mt. Blue last fall. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

3. The closer the contact, the greater jeopardy for sports to be played.

Earlier this month, New Mexico’s governor ordered high school football and soccer to be played next spring instead of this fall. Virginia’s high school sports organization came out with three possible scenarios on Tuesday for rearranging sports seasons in 2020-21. None of them included football in the fall. Conversely, state athletic associations in Utah and Pennsylvania have declared they will go forward with their full, regular fall sports schedules.

Football’s larger roster sizes, close contact on every single play, and use of cramped, poorly ventilated locker rooms present problems.

“I don’t see how you can do football and do true social distancing the way we understand now,” said Marshwood football coach Alex Rotsko.

The U.S. Centers of Disease Control, the NFHS, and several individual state organizations have outlined which sports carry the highest risk of transmission of the virus during competition. (The MPA has yet to establish its own risk-factor chart.) While there are slight variances, football is always in the high-risk category. The NFHS document goes through a three-phase approach to returning to play. Only in the third phase does it recommend “modified” practices for high-risk sports. There is no guidance for when games in those sports should begin.

It’s not just football that’s at risk this fall. Soccer and field hockey are also sports where opposing players are in close proximity to one another. And in those sports, the play is continuous, with players breathing heavily as they run up and down the field. Coronavirus has been shown to be predominantly spread by airborne respiratory droplets.

While clearly there are differences in travel, team demographics, and adult supervision between high school sports and college sports, it is hard to ignore the flurry of colleges suspending fall sports and stating an intent to try to play football and soccer in the spring of 2021.

4. Transportation challenges will be even greater.

There will be no more piling onto a school bus with both the varsity and JV soccer team – not with CDC recommendations that only 14 people should be on a standard bus.

Even before the pandemic, transportation could be a nightmare. Waynflete Athletic Director Ross Burdick said in the past he’s had to send buses to an opponent’s school so that a sub-varsity team could travel to Waynflete. Freeport AD Craig Sickels said having only three buses available for all after-school activities on a given day is the norm.

With COVID restrictions, Sickels is among many athletic directors who would support a switch to geography-based scheduling to reduce travel time. New York, in its recent announcement, is encouraging that strategy. At this point, the MPA is not endorsing regional schedules, in part because of concern that it would be too hard for smaller, rural schools to find opponents.

Schools are going to have to rely on parents to help with transportation, or ask bus drivers to make multiple trips to one short-distance site if they intend to maintain full varsity and junior varsity programs. Getting more buses isn’t a realistic option.

“In rural Maine, we have a hard enough time finding bus drivers, and to find three or four more is a real challenge,” said Jordan, the superintendent in Dexter.

5. Restarting sports during a pandemic adds extra costs.

Athletic departments are going to need personal protective equipment and sanitizer to keep students, coaches and staff safe. They will need signage around every field telling people where they can and can’t sit. Garvis, the athletic director from Iowa, says he’s needed extra game personnel to enforce the rules. It’s all going to cost money.

Gov. Janet Mills announced Friday that $165 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding that Maine has received will be designated for schools. The funding for schools is in addition to $44 million Maine already received to directly reimburse districts for coronavirus-related expenses. But Mills said more funding will be needed to fund all the safety requirements.

Jessica Hopgood, the certified athletic trainer for Sanford High, said she’s already ordered $3,000 worth of face masks, sanitizer and touchless sanitizer dispensers. She’s not sure how long that will last. What she hasn’t yet ordered, because she’s unsure she can afford to, are typical supplies like athletic tape.

Another potential cost could be hiring more coaches (if they can be found), or at least supervisory personnel, to allow small groups of players to work out separately during the season – especially if athletic programs want to maintain sub-varsity programs.

Why is that important? Garvis, the AD in Iowa, had to quarantine two of his sub-varsity baseball teams during the season. The only reason his varsity team wasn’t forced to also quarantine is because from the outset, Garvis kept teams isolated from one another.

Spectators wear masks while sitting socially distanced in their own lawn chairs during a travel-team basketball game at XL Sports World in Saco in June. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

6. Fans, the few that will be allowed at games, will have to adapt.

The Mills’ administration announced Friday that virtually all students and staff will be required to wear face masks when schools reopen. Coaches and players will wear masks when on the sidelines or benches – and fans are likely to be required to do the same, particularly for indoor events.

It’s also likely that attendance limits will have to be set. Maine has a 50-person limit on gatherings through at least the end of August. If that continues through the fall, what would a playoff game look and feel like?

Asked what advice he would offer to athletic directors, Dolloff said ADs need to start thinking about how they will monitor and appease fans. “Will you offer streaming of the games? Will it be parents only (at games)? What about stepparents?” Dolloff said.

7. Then comes winter.

Even if players, coaches, parents and fans can get through the fall season, the winter sports season could be even more challenging. All winter sports except skiing are indoors. Mask wearing and social distancing will become more important, even though much of the allure and excitement around sports like basketball and hockey involve playing in front of large, vocal crowds, with rambunctious student cheering sections.

Maine, and the nation, could be in a very different place when it comes to the virus.

Dan Schuster is the director of educational services for the NFHS. He joined a Pandemic Project Zoom meeting to discuss the organization’s online professional development course called “COVID-19 for Coaches and Administrators.”

“COVID is making the rules here. Let’s not forget that,” Schuster said. “We’re trying to play the best that we can. We want to get all this information to the coaches and administrators, but every piece of content in the course could change.”

Still, Schuster is optimistic that high school sports can adapt.

“We’re seeing a lot of these college sports cancel, but high school sports are unique. We are community-based and we think just because the colleges and universities are canceling, it doesn’t mean the high schools have to follow that,” Schuster said. “We have to do what the virus essentially allows us to do.”


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Fashion

Fashion Briefing: Fashion’s emerging founder-investors are mega-influencers – Glossy

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Fashion Briefing: Fashion’s emerging founder-investors are mega-influencers – Glossy

Fashion’s OG Instagrammers are building empires and, at the same time, growing their influence beyond the industry.

After being schooled for years on the workings of the fashion industry, mega-influencers including Danielle Bernstein (2.7 million Instagram followers) and Rocky Barnes (2.5 million Instagram followers) are graduating to careers less reliant on brands. To take it to the next level, they’re leveraging their prowess and communities, driving deals with effective business partners, and evolving their focus, based on the industry’s direction and their own passions. The emerging results, for both Bernstein and Barnes, are personally-backed brands and investment portfolios set to expand based on early successes.

“The plan is to grow, in a big way,” said Bernstein. “I’m a serial entrepreneur, so I’ll always want to introduce new businesses and categories to my brand. And I’m angel investing and joining the board of advisors for so many companies. That’s the future of the creator economy: harnessing and creating community around your existing followers and then figuring out how to monetize that.”

In 2019, upon inking a licensing deal with New York-based clothing company Onia, Bernstein launched the Shop We Wore What e-commerce site, populated with her expanding We Wore What fashion collection. The collection has been at the center of much recent controversy, due to allegedly including copycat designs. According to Bernstein, she turns to vintage pieces, editorials and travel for inspiration. Bernstein’s also become an investor and advisor for hair supplement company Wellbel and CBD brand Highline Wellness. In May, she became active on Patreon, offering exclusive video content to paying members of her community.

In addition, Bernstein heads up We Gave What, a charitable arm of her company. In 2019, she launched tech company Moe Assist with a project management tool for influencers, though its social accounts have been inactive for two-plus months. When asked for comment, a spokesperson said Moe Assist is in a new fundraising stage and “should have news to share shortly.”

Barnes, meanwhile, partnered with Reunited Clothing to come out with her apparel company, The Bright Side, in December. And she recently became a first-time investor-advisor, for 6-month-old SMS shopping platform Qatch. She announced the partnership in an Instagram post on Monday.

“I feel like a grown-up,” she told me, before confirming that she’s interested in investing in more companies. “Diversifying my business has been a really big [focus] for me. I interact with so many different brands and companies on a daily basis. Using my market knowledge in ways that can help other people is fulfilling and exciting for me. And I especially love when I can be involved with a company from the beginning.”

Building on their content creator role in fashion is a natural progression, both said. And it plays into many industry shifts: On its way out is fashion’s DTC era, largely fueled by Harvard Business School and Wharton graduates using a plug-and-play, marketing-heavy business model to launch brands. More consumers are prioritizing quality, differentiated products, making industry experience and style expertise greater virtues among insiders. At the same time, consumers are increasingly taking shopping cues from relatable, platform-native celebrities, moving on from authoritative editors and more closed-off celebrities.

The school of collaborations
The collaborator-to-founder shift isn’t the newest thing. Other longtime influencers that have made the pivot include Arielle Charnas, with Something Navy; Aimee Song, with Song of Style; Rumi Neely, with Are You Am I; the list goes on. Most often, the names behind these brands don’t have formal design and business training — for her part, Bernstein said she “went to FIT for two years, but didn’t study design and production.” But, for years, they’ve worked hand-in-hand with companies to bring their visions to life. And along the way, they’ve come to know what resonates best with their vast communities, from marketing to merchandising to product.

“My most successful collaborations have led to the largest share of my business,” said Bernstein.

Bernstein’s partnership with Onia came out of her swimwear collaboration with its Onia brand, in May 2019. On the collab’s launch day, it drove $2 million in sales, and an included style was the brand’s best-selling swimsuit of the summer. Also in 2019, Bernstein collaborated with Joe’s Jeans on multiple denim collections. The launch day of the first, in March 2019, marked Joe Jeans’ best sales day to date, said Jennifer Hawkins, the brand’s svp of marketing and innovation on a Glossy Podcast in October.

Both served as learning opportunities for Bernstein, who said — as with all of her collaborations — she took full advantage: “It was never just [uploading] a post, and then I went away,” she said. “I always wanted to know how the performance was, in terms of sales, and asked questions: ‘Can you share the analytics?’ ‘What did you see on your end?’ ‘What worked and what didn’t work?’”

She added, “They provided a ton of data, in terms of what I could sell and what the market was missing.”

Likewise, she said, she always followed and shared with partner brands the Instagram Insights and Google Analytics numbers around her corresponding posts. Doing so gave all parties a 360-degree view of a collaboration’s success.

“I’ve learned what works for brands so they get the largest return on their investment,” she said.

For example, she’s learned to lean on her audience’s tastes, versus rely on her own, by allowing them to offer feedback throughout the design process through Instagram. That’s included the selection of fabrics and colors and the fit sessions with models. She only spotlights her favorite styles and what she wears in her own social posts, as a play for authenticity.

According to Bernstein, the collaborations with brands allowing her to play an advisor role — by guiding them on influencer partnerships, marketing and messaging — are always more successful. And they often turn into longer-term investment or advising partnerships.

Bernstein chose to work with Onia on the We Wore What collection based on its prioritization of quality and fit, and ability to keep to affordable retail prices. Currently, prices on the We Wore What site range from $20, for a scrunchie, to $228, for a vegan leather jumpsuit.

Barnes was also ready to go out on her own after finding the right partners. Her Reunited Clothing partnership came after working with the company to create her Express product collaboration, in early 2019. On its first-quarter 2019 earnings call, interim CEO Matthew C. Moullering said the company had seen “a strong start to [the] collection both in-stores and online and [believed] it [was] helping to introduce the brand to a new audience.”

“Having your own brand is terrifying,” Barnes said. “But I like that I’m in control and not so dependent on doing the day-to-day posts promoting other companies.”

But, she added, “One of the huge benefits of working with all these different brands on all these different projects is that we’re constantly getting introduced to new people and seeing who we like working with.”

Barnes’ internal team consists of her husband, who’s the “business brains” of the company, she said, and an assistant.

Like Bernstein, Barnes stressed the need for outside support in the production process: “I love such quirky, crazy things, but I also understand what is realistic for a buyer and a normal girl buying clothes,” she said. “The experience of taking ideas and making them work for a bigger group of people was my learning curve going into a business. It’s important to have a good, diverse team around you who can make your idea something that’s marketable.”

For its part, We Wore What has seen “200x growth in the last year,” as it’s expanded to new categories, Bernstein said. Its ready-to-wear, swimwear, resort wear, and activewear are now sold in “dozens and dozens of retailers around the world,” many of which offer style exclusives; they include Revolve, Bloomingdale’s and Intermix.

“Launching my own brand was putting the proof in the pudding for the power of influencers, when it comes to selling product,” she said.

As with her Joe’s and Onia collaborations, Bernstein sees a rush-to-buy with We Wore What product drops. “The first 10 minutes is when we see the biggest portion of our sales for the entire collection,” she said.

To build buzz, Shop We Wore What’s Instagram account (213,000 followers) features in its Stories the line sheets of the soon-to-launch styles, allowing customers to thoughtfully plan their buy. Doing so has led to lower return rates, Bernstein said. The company’s marketing mix also includes text messages and emails, VIP discounts and user-generated content.

Bernstein has a staff of four people, which include a chief operating officer and a brand coordinator. She said she prioritizes establishing partners with skills and expertise she doesn’t have, so she can learn from them along the way. Ideally, she’d have learned about tech packs, fittings and production logistics in school, but she’s training as she goes.

Moving forward, Bernstein said she plans to extend the size range of We What What styles, which are currently available in sizes XS-XXL, and launch collections with collaborators to sell exclusively on her brand’s DTC site. In addition, she aims to eventually open “experimental” physical retail, starting with pop-ups.

As for her investment-advisor portfolio, she’s currently in talks with companies centered on the concepts of “being able to sell your closet and even rent your closet.”

As for Barnes’ Bright Side, she said it will hit “a bunch of new retailers this year.”

Moving beyond fashion
Up next for Shop We Wore What is a new product category that will hit before the holiday season. Considering her passion for home furnishings and decor — based on her @homeworewhat Instagram account (7,500 followers) and recent press coverage of her new SoHo loft — it’s a safe bet that a home-related category is in the cards.

Likewise, Barnes hinted at a future Bright Side home collection, following her recent, two-year home remodel, which she’s getting set to debut on social media.

Lifestyle brands are the clear goal.

“I would love to be a combination of Rachel Zoe and Martha Stewart, just having my hands in everything and creating this really beautiful lifestyle where you can entertain and be fashionable,” Barnes said. “That’s kind of the dream.”

She added, “Fashion is where my heart has always been, but I’m growing as a person and there’s so much more in my life right now: my family, my home — and I’m getting older, so beauty [and skin care] makes sense now. Sharing all of that with everyone seems so natural; it would be weird if I only did fashion.”

As for future investments, though Quatch fits perfectly into Barnes’ world, with its fashion-tech focus, she said she’s open to investing in any company where she sees opportunity.

What’s more, she has no plans to retire from social media, though she has yet to tackle TikTok.

“People’s need for content has only increased, so I’m posting and creating content more than ever,” Barnes said. “But I’ve learned to become more of a hard-ass with brands. The companies that are willing to work with me and [facilitate] the most like authentic relationship possible are the ones I move forward with.” Reunited can attest.

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South African bowler Tabraiz Shamsi: Amateur magician; professional tweaker-trickster

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Harry Potter fans would know this as the Room of Requirement; muggle cricketers dub it backend operations. Tabraiz Shamsi is an amateur magician. He is also a professional worrier of why some googlies don’t turn as much as he’d want, in cricket.

For the Proteas chinaman bowler, the room of requirement from where he could pull out any game data, used to be the dependable ‘P Dawgg’, former South Africa analyst Prasanna Agoram combining his ken and nous and fast processing laptop. Prasanna enviably would be privy to the trial (and error) runs of Magician Shamsi’s classical Tourniquet coin-drops with the cricket ball. Which was the unglamorous, quirk-in-progress of his left-arm leg spin.

At the stroke of 1 a.m, oftener than not, Shamsi would come looking for what he called ‘shit balls’, in what Prasanna reckoned were otherwise impressive, less-than-run-a-ball bowling spells. This was that one specific delivery that went for a six to sully Shamsi’s 4-0-22-3 T20 match figures. It was the bugs, not the features, that the 29-year-old would cussedly fixate on.

“I’d never point out that he’s missing his length or the back foot was collapsing, at 12.30 in the night. Because Shamo, you see, would then take me to the nets at 1 a.m! He’s capable of calling the manager and telling him at that hour that I have to practice NOW. You had to be careful about what you told him at 1 a.m,” Prasanna laughs, underlining ungrudging admiration for the Proteas spinner’s dedication.

A series of self-recriminations in staccato would follow the ‘Bhai, can you please put on the shit-ball that went for a six.’ “He’d curse himself watching replays: ‘no good, not international class, garbage ball.’ If you try telling him it is ‘well-played’ from Jos Butler and not exactly a poor ball, he’d be hard on himself and say, ‘This is nonsense from Shamo’,” Prasanna recalls of his exacting standards.

For, the South African World No 1 spinner – who lends mystery to the Saffer bowling attack if not entirely upstaging their thunderbolt battery of pacers – knows that all sleights of hand, can come with uncontrollable twists of fate. Both in magic, and cricket.

A young boy of 15 at Paarl who tried to bowl quick like Wasim Akram and Chaminda Vaas, had wound up as a left arm leg spin all-sorts, after years of compulsive fine-tuning. And taken failures and omissions into his run-up’s five-strides.

***
Born in Johannesburg, Shamsi wanted to be a super quick in the land of bolting pacers. His progress though didn’t follow the regular route of being identified early for First teams at schools and playing age-groups. Also, he was told he wasn’t quick enough.

Speaking to the podcast ‘Pavilion conversations with C.S’ recently, Shamsi recalls his earliest break at age 15, bowling alone in the school nets, with the cricket coach’s office nearby. The coach would stop by and ask him what he was upto. “I said, ‘Sir, the U15 trials are coming up. I want to make the Paarl team wanna progress’. He told me – you are not gonna make it. But even there I thought he realised the type of character I am. That was just his way to push me even harder. He said ‘Don’t waste your time practicing coz you won’t get selected. And i was even more driven,” he told the host Mr. Chiwanza.

Shamsi would end up with most wickets that tournament, make the B team (“Still not A”), followed by U17 and U19s for the local side. “I didn’t get selected for SA U19s or invited to camps. My past was little different. In fact I got my opportunity at semi-pro cricket because one player got selected for U19s and went to the World Cup. A spot opened up because of him. I just knew that was my chance I had to make it work. And fortunately I performed. When he came back from the World Cup, he couldn’t get into the team,” Shamsi recalled.

It was around 2015-6 after he had zeroed in on Chinaman as his chosen bag of assorted tricks in franchise, provincial cricket, that he first sought out Prasanna, while closely following senior leggie and his ‘bruv’ Imran Tahir. Prasanna promised to compile a list of outstanding T20 spinners of that year for comparison, when Shamsi asked him: ‘Why just T20? I want to play all formats.’

Prasanna promised to revert after two days on Friday, and on Monday, he had a message from the hotel lobby at 10.30 am that Shamsi was waiting. “Normally, cricketers will turn up at 11.30, if the analyst time is 10.30. This guy made me abandon my breakfast and was ready with a list of questions. I’d prepared a presentation earlier on bowlers like Warne, Ajmal and Herath and how they bowled on unhelpful tracks, what lengths to bowl at what stage, and offered to email it to him. He tells me: “No. I’ll write it down in my own words. I don’t want shortcuts.”

Shamsi would sit and plan for every batsman – his notes diary in tow, even on matchdays when he wasn’t in Playing XI. And once he would spill the beans on why brainwaves struck him at 1 a.m – his preferred time to brainstorm with the analyst. “He once told me he eats my brain at that hour, so that he gets dreams of how to get a Kohli or Sharma out, so he can wake up next day he can execute the training plans.”

Once he came angsty about his googlies not spinning as much as Kuldeep Yadav or Brad Hogg. “When he said it’s not spinning, I told him Shamo’ you didn’t bowl any googly. That’s it. He hit the nets and bowled 1000 googlies non-stop and then said, he’s now hitting the groove.”

But nothing had prepared Prasanna for Shamsi’s mic-drop in the pink ball Test against Australia where the Chinaman was fancied as it’s tougher to spot the wrist in the Adelaidian twilight. Shamsi was instructed to block for 20 balls and support Faf as Proteas were hanging on at 210-9. Shamsi would announce he would score a 50 – against Pat Cummins, Hazlewood and Starc. Finally he was unbeaten on 18. “He came back and blustered ‘If someone had suported me, I’d have hit that 50’.”

***

This constant state of ‘upbeat’ – talking up his own abilities to score a 50 coming at No 11 against Cummins & Starc – might well be the sort of swag and sizzle that the staid South African teams need at ICC tournaments. For a large part of the last 30 years, the Proteas have entered tournaments with burdensome tags of ‘talented’ and ‘favourites’ and come up short. The tasteless mocking glee of choke-jokes has run its course, and being light-weights might well prove liberating.

For all their botched run chases in 50 overs, South Africa can stake claim to the historic highest run-rally to 438. And the innings-interval remark of Jacques Kallis, the most expensive bowler in Australia’s 434, who had quipped “Guys, I think we’ve done a good job. They’re 15 runs short.”

Shamsi likes his boisterous one-liners too. And his showboating and noisy over-the-top pantomime aggression.

After starring in a T20 win against Ireland earlier, he would tell South African journalist Telford Vice, “In my young age, I started as a seamer but was told I’m not quick enough to be a fast bowler so became a spinner. Grew up watching Andre Nel, Dayle Steyn, Allan Donald, that’s where aggression comes from.”

He knows it’s a double-edged sword and a bowler can be packed off, but it can disrupt batters too. “Whatever it takes to win. I’m in charge of making our presence felt on the ground and ensure the team never backs down from opponents,” he added.

Shamsi recently responded to Darren Sammy’s tweet on who would win the T20 World: “Come on skipper, you know the answer to this already…. South Africa of course.” Scroll down the thread, and some mocker mangles his grammar: “are you comedy me”. A good laugh was had by all. Pressure punctured.

“He’ll say things like ‘I’ll single-handedly win this,” Prasanna says, “Whether it happens or not, it gives confidence to people close to you – your team.”

***

Shamsi’s made it to the top of rankings, taking 49 wickets from 42 T20Is, at a strike-rate of 14.8 and averaging 6.6. There’s been a bucketful of wickets in franchise cricket and The Hundred. He’s 31 and has bidden his time to make it to the national team, and another 4 years into the Playing XI. The Wicket then, is an ocassion to celebrate, he reckons.

“I’m a human being and not a robot and want to make long-lasting happy memories that will live with me forever long after my career is done and that is the reason behind my celebrations,” he wrote in a social media post once. “My celebrations mean no disrespect to the opponents. They help me enjoy myself, switch on and off during the game to release some pressure, and put some smiles on people’s faces too.”

There’s the “Shoe” that got going in the West Indies, where within seconds of a wicket, he’d shrug his ankle open from the left shoe and pretend to speak on a landline receiver. Then there’s the bus driver-celebration with Carlos Braithwaite and something about a birdie’s chirp. A flying kiss to the wife and a mock punch to a fielder like a streets hip hopper. Though the untold back-stories raise anticipation of what he’ll whip up next.

Prasanna says there can be new hairdos before every game, sometimes “thrice a week”, and that magic tricks and celebrations are practiced as diligently as the googlies and top-spinners. “Not only will he say, ‘Tomorrow I’ll get Ben Stokes out.’ He’ll also ask you to watch the celebration.”

Amongst his most famous on-field triumph-trumpetings after snaring a batter is pulling a wand out of a hankey – a magician’s staple. But never in cricket, where magic’s glossary is slathered on the slow bowlers and their guiles.

T20 commentators love his name, lending it a South American football match caller’s vroom: “Shaaa-mzzziii”. But it’s the celebrations that can befuddle the most trained of raconteurs. When Shamsi got Wihan Lubbe in the Mzansi Super League, the commentator would build up to the expected celebration. “Is the shoe coming off? No. Look at that…it’s magic,” he would chortle. Cricket was momentarily put to the side, before he resumed confused: “That was a legspinner…… Beg your pardon… Offspinner… That did the trick..” Shamsi’s delivery had jagged away from the leftie and the post-celebration left the commentator’s mind in knots.

Appearing on the Dan Nicholl Show in SA, Shamsi had pulled one of those ‘I can guess the card pulled out of the deck after being shuffled’ tricks. It was ace of spades.

Magic had been his fallback option till age 16, he’d say. “So if cricket doesn’t work out… I ll practice magic for 10 years… But naa… It’s gonna work out.. I’ll bamboozle you all,” he would say, charming the audience.

At the start of the magic gig, Shamsi had handed a sealed envelope to the host. “Sealed with Proteas saliva” Nicholl had joked with whispered reverence. The distracting envelope had briefly become the centrepiece, and Shamsi would explain later:
“You satisfied you made me stop shuffling when u wanted me to? Funny thing is…You thought you were in charge of the trick… Telling me when to stop. Even though it’s your show, I’m running this party… I was controlling you and I actually made you stop at a specific point. …And to prove that I had written down something in this envelope before starting the trick..” It read Ace of Spades.

Shamsi’s assortment of Chinaman, is a bit like that: planned spontaneity. Allan Donald in a video while introducing him to RCB few seasons ago, said: “Left arm, tweaks it this way, tweaks it that way, then tweaks it the other way.” Offering attacking options in the middle overs, with his ability to turn ball both ways, and variations of top spinner, the side spinner and googly, makes him effective against both lefties and righties. The constant explosion of activity – before, right after when appealing (he once did a spot of bhangra jumps, then sat down altogether while pleading a decision) and when celebrating, is in fact the sealed envelope distraction.

Yet, bad days are not unfamiliar to Shamsi, and his role can be flexible like the magician’s wand, like in the West Indies, to keep things quiet, contain against the big power hitters. “There’s two ways to skin a cat… Not really fussed about not getting wickets in WI. That was a different role,” he told the media later.

Sometimes the magic is in not believing the flimflam and sleight. Like rankings. “I don’t lose sleep over being No 1. Obviously it’s a nice feeling to be on top. But I’ve said it before and I truly mean it. I don’t even think I’m the best bowler in our team. We have some great bowlers in the unit. Rankings don’t mean anything if a batsman gets hold of you. I don’t even know how those rankings work honestly.”

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Five great Twenty20 World Cup upsets

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