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NFL opt-out deadline takeaways after 67 players pull out of 2020 season during COVID-19 pandemic

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NFL opt-out deadline takeaways after 67 players pull out of 2020 season during COVID-19 pandemic

On Thursday, we officially learned who was in and who was out for the 2020 NFL season. The NFL and NFLPA finalized a firm deadline of 4 p.m. ET for all players to give their teams written notice if they wanted to opt out of the season due to concerns regarding the coronavirus. Players will only have the opportunity to opt out after the deadline if “a close family member gets seriously sick with COVID or if they themselves are newly diagnosed with a high-risk condition.”

The deadline came and went without any big names such as Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes choosing to sit out, but several teams did lose important players for this upcoming season. There were a few clubs that finished Thursday unscathed, however, as the Los Angeles Chargers, the Atlanta Falcons, the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers saw zero of their players submit paperwork to forgo the 2020 season. You can see the entire list of opt-outs here.

Some teams saw more opt-outs than others, and there is plenty to examine when it comes to this unprecedented offseason event. Let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from the NFL’s opt-out period.

Patriots’ eight-pack of opt-outs

If there was one team that was hit hard by opt-outs, it was the Patriots. A grand total of eight players opted out before the deadline: Brandon Bolden, Marcus Cannon, Patrick Chung, Dont’a Hightower, Matt LaCosse, Marqise Lee, Najee Toran and Danny Vitale. As you can see, there are plenty of notable names that will not be suiting up for New England this season, but head coach Bill Belichick is apparently OK with their decisions.

“Well, I respect all of them. I respect all of the players on our team,” he said of his players opting out. “We all have to make decisions and I talked to those guys and they explained their situations. They had to make a decision that was best for them and I totally respect and support it 100%.”

The Patriots are entering a season of transition on offense after Tom Brady took his talents to Tampa, and now they’ll have to also overcome multiple key losses on defense while also being the team dealing with the most overall opt-outs in the league.

Chiefs lose two key offensive pieces

The reigning Super Bowl champions took former TCU offensive lineman Lucas Niang with their third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he announced on Thursday that he would forgo his rookie season due to the coronavirus. He joins starting guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who was the first player to opt out when the window opened. Both Duvernay-Tardif and a rookie who could have helped weather his loss give the Chiefs questions to answer on the offensive line.

The Chiefs lost an even bigger piece last week, however, when running back Damien Williams said he would pass on playing. Williams explained that his mother was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. (The CDC lists cancer as a factor for increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness.) Williams also has a wife and young daughter at home.

Williams’ absence has big implications on the Chiefs’ offense, not to mention in fantasy football. Without Williams on the RB depth chart, first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire is likely to see his stock rise, possibly into the first round of drafts. CBS Sports’ Dave Richard, in fact, believes Edwards-Helaire compares favorably to former Chiefs standout Kareem Hunt and could be considered a top-10 PPR target, making him a potential lock for the first round of most fantasy drafts.

Bills lose Star but not star

The Bills knew early on they were losing defensive lineman Star Lotulelei to the opt-out option, but they were in danger of losing another star on the defensive side of the ball as well. Cornerback Tre’Davious White was considering opting out, and opened up about his process in making his decision on social media. He also replied to some of the blowback he received from fans, revealing that his girlfriend’s grandfather died due to COVID-19. Fortunately for the team’s hopes in 2020, he did not inform the Bills that he would opt out, and will indeed suit up for Buffalo.

The Pro Bowl corner recorded 58 combined tackles, 17 passes defensed, six interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2019, and was a big reason the Bills had one of the top defenses in the league. With Tom Brady no longer in the AFC East, the division appears to be Buffalo’s, but they will certainly need White if they want to make a postseason run.

While Lotulelei is a big loss for Buffalo, the team has done a lot to build out their depth on the defensive line this offseason, and can still feature a quality defensive tackle rotation headlined by second-year player Ed Oliver.

Jets D again without Mosley

C.J. Mosley was arguably the biggest name to opt out of the 2020 season. The four-time Pro Bowler left the Ravens last offseason to sign with the Jets on a five-year, $85 million deal, but his first season in New York did not go smoothly.

During the season opener against the Bills, Mosley injured his groin. It was an injury that he struggled to get over, as he played in just two games and recorded nine combined tackles, two passes defensed and one interception which he returned for a touchdown before being placed on injured reserve. The Jets had hoped he would be ready to rebound in a big way during the second year of his deal, but he is passing on that chance due to the coronavirus.

Mosley’s absence will mean the Jets have to rely on the health of Avery Williamson, who is almost a year removed from a torn ACL, as the centerpiece of their defense, which also lost All-Pro safety Jamal Adams in a trade with the Seahawks. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams certainly has his work cut out for him.

Giants again dealing with questions at OL, CB

The Giants are counting on growth from young quarterback Daniel Jones in 2020 under new coach Joe Judge, but he will now have to do so without his blind-side protector. Left tackle Nate Solder, who was arguably entering a make-or-break year on a big contract, announced via social media that he’s decided to opt out of the upcoming NFL season over family health concerns.

The absence of their Plan A at left tackle means the team is relying more than expected on No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas, who will slot right in at left tackle in place of Solder. Not only will he need to hold down that spot to give Jones a chance to thrive in Year 2, but the right tackle spot now becomes a competition between players like Cameron Fleming, Nick Gates and 2020 third-round pick Matt Peart.

Solder’s decision was followed by cornerback Sam Beal’s, who announced just a week later he would be opting out as well. Beal looked to have a real shot at kicking off the season as a starter with Deandre Baker having been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, but the third-year cornerback has now decided to stay away from the team until 2021. He appeared in six games for the Giants last year, and recorded 26 tackles and one pass breakup.

With Beal and possibly Baker out of the picture for 2020, the Giants will look for answers on the corner depth chart underneath James Bradberrry with a group that currently includes Grant Haley, Montre Hartage, Corey Ballentine and 2020 fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes. It’s also possible the team could use Julian Love as a slot corner option if 2020 second-round pick Xavier McKinney establishes himself as a starting-caliber safety in a hurry.

Eagles’ receiver depth takes a hit

One of the Eagles’ main objectives this offseason was to beef up their wide receiving corps, and one of the more underrated moves they made was trading for former 49ers wideout Marquise Goodwin during the draft. The speedy wideout was going to be a nice addition to Philly’s depth out wide, but he announced last week that he decided to opt out to remain with his family in the coming months.

With Goodwin out for 2020 and oft-injured Alshon Jeffery starting the summer on the PUP list, the Eagles again find themselves behind the 8-ball at the receiver position one year after being forced to sign receivers off the street just to field a team. The good news is that the team attacked that deficiency in the draft, bringing aboard three intriguing prospects in Jalen Reagor, John Hightower and Quez Watkins. Expect to hear two or maybe even all three of those names plenty this year.

There’s still plenty to be excited about when it comes to the Eagles’ new receivers, but the offensive would have been better served to have Goodwin be a part of this team in 2020.

Dolphins lose two wideouts

Tua Tagovailoa will have to do without two of his top wideouts in his rookie season, as both Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson have opted out. Hurns caught 32 passes for 416 yards and two touchdowns during his first season in Miami, and inked a two-year extension with the Dolphins last November. Wilson caught 43 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown last year as well. Wilson is a great slot receiver for the Dolphins, but he has struggled with injuries over his two seasons in Miami.

With this news, the door to start opposite of DeVante Parker is wide open for second-year wideout Preston Williams. Other players remaining on the depth chart for Miami include Gary Jennings, Jakeem Grant, Isaiah Ford, Mack Hollins and 2020 seventh-round pick Malcolm Perry. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Dolphins in the mix to add more help at the position ahead of Week 1.

Two competitors in the NFC North suffered hits to their defensive lines, as two star defensive tackles opted out for the 2020 NFL season.

Eddie Goldman of the Bears will pass on this season due to health concerns related to COVID-19. The 26-year-old nose tackle started 46 regular-season games over the past three years and averaged 37.7 tackles and 1.8 sacks per season. Veteran John Jenkins may get the first crack at filling Goldman’s role, but we should expect to see several players get more snaps in the rotation as a result of Goldman’s decision.

As for the Vikings, they lost Michael Pierce — who they just signed to a three-year deal this offseason. They were hoping that he could come in and replace some of the production Linval Joseph brought to Minnesota over the past few seasons. The team already made a move to help get past the Pierce decision when they traded for Raiders defensive tackle P.J. Hall — but that addition was also wiped away due to a failed physical.

So now the Vikings are once again looking for answers on the interior of the line, where they currently have a rotation that includes Jaleel Johnson, Shamar Stephen, Armon Watts and Jalyn Holmes.

Two teams out west will have to hit the field this upcoming season without their starting right tackles. While there’s plenty of optimism surrounding the Broncos entering 2020, they suffered a blow when Ja’Wuan James decided to opt out. James explained his reasoning on Twitter, saying that “it is a tough, but the right decision.” The offensive tackle said that there is just too much we don’t know about this virus and that he has a newborn son that has become his priority. Additionally, one of his family members was hospitalized with COVID-19, and he feels as though risking the health of his loved ones just isn’t enough to suit up this season.

Many expected the Broncos would address the tackle position in the draft after Garett Bolles has largely struggled since being taken in the first round in 2017, but they instead spent several premium picks adding receiving weapons for second-year quarterback Drew Lock. Now they need to come up with a plan to keep him off his backside.

The Cardinals saw starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert decide to opt out as well. He had been working his way back from an ACL tear that he suffered last September, and will take some extra time to do so. The Cardinals did select Josh Jones out of Houston with their third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, so he may be someone who can come in and start for Kyler Murray and Co. right away. While third-round picks aren’t typically players you expect to count on right away, many felt Jones would be taken in the back half of the first round, so he has the upside to outperform his draft slot considerably.

Browns OL depth takes a big hit

The Browns spent this offseason beefing up the offensive front, as they signed former Titans right tackle Jack Conklin in free agency and drafted former Alabama tackle Jedrick Wills with the No. 10 overall pick. Still, this COVID-19 deadline hit the offensive line pretty hard. Drake Dorbeck, Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Malcolm Pridgeon all opted out for the Browns.

Yes, these aren’t the biggest names along the Cleveland’s offensive line, but they provided good depth and the Browns could have a problem if a couple of their starters go down with injury in 2020. Unless they find more talent to replenish the depth behind their starting five, the Browns will largely be counting on Chris Hubbard, Kendall Lamm and 2020 fifth-round pick Nick Harris as their next men up.

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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