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NFL should scrap the schedule it originally planned for 2020 and do this instead

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NFL should scrap the schedule it originally planned for 2020 and do this instead

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Tiki and Tierney: Devin McCourty speaks up about the NFL pushing to change the opt-out period
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If I’ve learned one thing from sitting on my couch and watching 112 hours of sports over the past nine days, it’s that the NFL might want to start re-thinking its plan for the 2020 season. Unlike the NBA and NHL, the NFL has decided not to put its players in a bubble this year, which is the same plan that Major League Baseball implemented, and if you’ve been watching MLB, you’ve probably noticed that it’s been nothing short of a disaster.

In Major League Baseball, more than 30 games have already been postponed and that’s mainly because one team — cough, the Marlins — is single-handedly trying to get the sport shut down (The Cardinals  also aren’t helping out very much). The good news for baseball is that it’s pretty easy to reschedule any game that gets postponed, which means the Marlins (and Cardinals) will likely be able to play a full schedule even though half their rosters have came down with coronavirus.

Unfortunately for the NFL, things won’t be as easy in the rescheduling department if a team comes down with dozens of cases of COVID-19. Although the NFL does have a few contingencies built into the schedule this year, the fact of the matter is that those contingencies aren’t going to solve every problem that comes up.

Here’s a quick look at those contingencies:

  • All teams playing each other in Week 2 have the same bye week, which allows the game to easily be rescheduled if it has to be postponed.
  • Week 3 and 4 have no divisional games, which means the NFL could conceivably cancel both weeks if there’s some sort of outbreak.
  • Every team has two home games and two away games over the first four weeks, which means if the first four weeks of the season had to be canceled all 32 teams would still have the same amount of home and away games.

Despite those contingencies, there are still a lot of questions the NFL hasn’t answered. For instance, what happens if the dozens of players on a team all test positive for the virus on the Friday before any game played after Week 4? Will the NFL simply postpone the game until January or scrap them entirely?

Also, what happens if a team tests positive AFTER a game? That would conceivably mean that not only would the positive testing team have to isolate, but their opponent would have to isolate as well, knocking out two teams for the following week. Basically, if baseball has proven one thing, it’s that one team can wreck a season and football simply isn’t equipped to rebound from that if it happens.

If I were running the NFL, I’d fix things by completely revamping the 2020 season plan, and here’s how I’d do it (you can also listen to me explain it on the Pick Six Podcast, listen below and be sure to subscribe here).

First, remember that schedule that the NFL released in May? I’d toss it out the window. We don’t need it anymore. The remodeled schedule will chop the season down from 269 games (including the playoffs) to 222 games. Although networks won’t be thrilled with the thought of losing that many games, I’ve added a few wrinkles that should make up for the lost inventory.

Right now, the NFL has so many questions to answer that Odell Beckham doesn’t even think the league should be playing this year, so let’s see if we can change his mind with this completely revamped regular season.

So what will this revamped schedule look like?

Let’s check it out, and Roger Goodell, if you’re reading, please feel free to steal all of these ideas.

Regular season

The first big change here is that the regular season will only be 12 games long. Another major change here is that AFC-NFC matchups will be completely scrapped from the schedule because it doesn’t make sense to have those games during a shortened season.

With those out of the way, here’s what the rest of the regular season will look like:

Week 1 thru Week 7: Division games only. Every team will play each divisional opponent twice for a total of six games. For instance, the Chiefs will play home-and-away games with the Raiders, Broncos and Chargers over the first seven weeks of the season. Although this can be done in six weeks, there are seven weeks here for contingency purposes. Each team will get a bye week with every corresponding division taking their bye week together (For example, the AFC North and NFC North would take a bye together in Week 3 followed by the NFC/AFC East in Week 4 and so on). More importantly, the bye week could also be used to make up any games that were postponed due to coronavirus.

Bubble option: Although I’m not necessarily proposing a bubble — because the NFL seems to be against it due to the complicated logistics — I do have a bubble proposal. For the first seven weeks of the season, eight bubbles could be created with one team from each division serving as host. For instance, the Chiefs could host the three other AFC West teams over the first seven weeks of the season.

Weeks 8-14: One advantage of being a bad team is that you get a last place schedule, and although my proposed season will only be 12 games long, I think it makes sense to keep the integrity of the last place schedule intact. With that in mind, the second set of six games will look like this: All first and second place teams from 2019 will play all other first and second place teams in their conference while all third and fourth place teams will play all the other third and fourth place teams.

For instance, under this scenario, the Chiefs would play the Ravens, Steelers, Patriots, Bills, Texans and Titans. On the other hand, a team like the Bengals — who finished in last place in 2019 — would play the Raiders, Chargers, Colts, Jaguars, Jets and Dolphins, who all finished in third or fourth place last year. The Bengals schedule would then be their six division games plus the six aforementioned opponents.

One key part here is that all AFC teams would get a bye in Week 12 while all NFC teams would all get a bye in Week 13. The bye can obviously be used as a bye, but more importantly, it can also be used to make up any games that were postponed after Week 8.

Bubble option: Since the divisional bubble would no longer work for Weeks 8-14, we’d switch the bubble over to the team with the best record from 2019. For instance, the Chiefs — as defending Super Bowl champs — would host the bubble that includes the Ravens, Steelers, Patriots, Bills, Texans and Titans. The AFC’s third and fourth place bubble would be hosted in Vegas by the Raiders, and that bubble would include the Bengals, Browns, Chargers, Colts, Jaguars, Jets and Dolphins. In the NFC, the 49ers and Rams would host the bubbles (the 49ers get hosting duties because they had the best record in the NFC last season while the Rams would be hosting because they had the best record of any third or fourth-place team in the NFC.

Ladies and gentlemen — that would be your 12-game regular season.

Just for reference, here’s what the Cowboys schedule would look like: Eagles x 2, Giants x 2, Redskins x 2, Saints, Falcons, Packers, Vikings, 49ers, Seahawks. In the AFC, the Patriots schedule would look like this: Bills x 2, Dolphins x 2, Jets x 2, Ravens, Chiefs, Steelers, Titans, Texans, Broncos. I’m only mentioning those two teams because everyone always asks me about those two teams.

Alright, now that we’ve covered the regular season, let’s move on to the playoffs, where things are going to get a little wild.

Postseason

This is going to sound crazy, but in this revamped format, TWENTY-FOUR teams are going to make the playoffs. The NHL is having a 24-team playoff and it makes sense. If you’re taking away regular season games, teams don’t have a full season to prove themselves, so you should open up the playoffs to more teams. Also, this number isn’t completely unprecedented: During the NFL’s strike-shortened season of 1982, the NFL allowed 16 of 28 teams into the playoffs (57.1%).

If 24 teams make the playoffs, that means eight teams won’t, and this is where things get fun: Instead of having their season end, those eight teams will take part in the first-ever NFL Draft Tournament (I probably should go ahead and get that trademarked now). Basically, this will be an eight-team playoff and the winner of the playoff will get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The draft tournament would almost certainly get huge ratings compared to a normal regular season game, so networks would likely be on board. The eight-team playoff field would be made up of the teams with the four worst records in the AFC and the teams with the four worst record in the NFC.

Using last year’s standings, here’s what the first round of the draft tournament would have looked like:
8. Bengals at 1. Browns
7. Washington at 2. Chargers
6. Lions at 3. Panthers
5. Giants at 4. Dolphins

For the draft tournament, conference affiliation would be thrown out the window and all eight teams would be seeded by record.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on with the schedule.

Week 15: During Week 15, the only games on the schedule would be the first four games of the draft playoff. This would serve two purposes: For one, it would allow the draft playoff games to pull in monstrous ratings. Also, with the other 24 teams off, it means that any postponed games that still need to be rescheduled can be played this week. If there aren’t any games that need to be rescheduled, this week would give every team a bye, which would allow them a chance to be COVID-free heading into playoffs.

Week 16: This is the week where the fun will truly begin. Under the 24-team playoff format, all division winners in both conferences will be given a bye, so four NFC teams and four AFC teams will be off this week. The other 16 teams will play in a format that looks like this: 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, 8 vs. 9.

Using last year’s standings, here’s what the first round of the NFC playoffs would have looked like:
12. Cardinals at 5. Seahawks
11. Buccaneers at 6. Vikings
10. Falcons at 7. Rams
9. Cowboys at 8. Bears
BYE: 49ers, Packers, Saints, Eagles

All AFC games would be on Saturday and all NFC games would be on Sunday. The reason for this is because I’m adding a crazy wrinkle: The top three teams in each conference would get to PICK THEIR OPPONENT for the next round of the playoffs. MLB proposed a similar rule for their playoffs this year, but they didn’t go through with it.

Under this format, after the AFC games are played on Saturday, the four AFC teams that received a bye would get to pick their opponent on Sunday morning in a TV special. The ratings for this would likely be huge and it would give networks a chance to make up for lost games. In the NFC, the playoff picking special would take place on Monday night.

In the scenario above, if all the home teams won, that would leave the Seahawks, Vikings, Rams and Bears. The 49ers would then get to pick their opponent out of those four teams. The Packers would then pick from the three teams leftover, followed by the Saints, who would have two choices. The Eagles would then be stuck playing the team that didn’t get picked.

Week 17 (Jan. 2-4): Welcome to the second round of playoffs. The top four seeds in each conference will play in this round after getting two weeks off. There would be a total of eight playoff games with the four AFC games played on Jan. 2 and the four NFC games played on Jan. 3. This week will also feature the semifinals of the draft playoff, with both games being played in a double-header on Monday night.

Week 18 (Jan. 9-10): This would usually be wild-card weekend, but this year it’s basically the divisional round, because there are eight teams left with four AFC teams still alive and four NFC teams still in it. The two AFC games would be played on Saturday while the two NFC games would be played on Sunday.

Week 19 (Jan. 16-17): This would be a huge day on the calendar and that’s because it would be the draft playoff championship. The winner of this game would get the No. 1 overall pick with the loser getting the second pick. This game could have been played in Week 18, but both teams were given a bye so they would have ample time to recover from any potential COVID cases.

Also, as part of the baked-in contingency plan, any playoff game from Week 18 that had to be postponed due to COVID can be rescheduled for Week 19.

Week 20 (Jan. 24): AFC and NFC Championship. This one is self-explanatory. The four winning teams from Week 18 will play each other on Championship Sunday. One thing to note is that all four teams will have had a bye in Week 19 going into this game, which will give them time to recover from any positive COVID-19 tests.

Super Bowl (Feb. 7): After the wildest regular season in NFL history, the Super Bowl will finally be played on Feb. 7 in a game that will be televised on CBS.

And there you have it: The NFL season ends with 222 games being played, a draft tournament that ends with someone winning the top overall pick and a primetime TV special where eight teams get to pick their playoff opponent. It’s the NFL season you never knew you wanted.

Emergency plan

If the NFL decides that it does need a bubble for the entire season, they could set one up for each conference. The NFC would be sent to Southern California, where the 16 teams in the conference would have access to multiple NFL-caliber stadiums. Within 300 miles of Los Angeles, you conceivably have six stadiums to use, including SoFi Stadium, Allegiant Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum, Dignity Healthy Sports Park (the soccer stadium the Chargers played in) and the Chargers old stadium in San Diego.

As for the AFC, that conference would be sent to Indianapolis. Indy has proven year after year at the combine that it has the structure to create a bubble containing thousands of people. The other advantage of Indy is that it has seven NFL-caliber stadiums within a 300-mile bus ride (Indianapolis, Nashville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit).

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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