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Belichick-isms: A new go-to phrase, still bad with technology

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Friday marked Bill Belichick’s second press conference of what’s been a unique start to the NFL season. Practices are closed, rosters are limited and training camp as a whole has been pretty weird as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But even with all that going on, Belichick is in midseason form in stonewalling questions about quarterbacks and anything he doesn’t want to divulge.

Through two press conferences, Belichick has mentioned a quarterback by name just once. (Last week when he said “We spent quite a bit of time with Cam, and he spent quite a bit of time with us.”) This week, Belichick was all too ready to stiff arm any questions about Cam Newton’s status into the netherworld and focus on describing how to the team has been conducting meetings via zoom.

For anything else, it’s “Yeah, we’re in Phase 1.”

Welcome to Belichick-isms: An apparently recurring feature looking at the fine art that is a Bill Belichick press conference, where we look beyond the grumpiness and take a look at how and why the Patriots coach (usually) won’t answer our questions.

Opening Statement

Belichick: “We’re you know on the fifth day here of what is really Phase 1 for us, so meetings and total of an hour walkthrough on the field today goes to an hour 15 minutes and then the players are running and lifting and doing things like that — not on their own but with the strength coaches, not with the football coaches. A lot of meeting time, time to get back into some physical activity and training, which is good. But really we’re still another four days of this before we start to move into Phase 2 and then a couple days of Phase 2 and then couple days of Phase 3 and then as Stacey (James) said then we get to the 17th. Moving along phases, what’s been set up. I think it’s good. The players are transitioning to a higher gear and higher volume and more intensity on basis that’s probably good for training. We’re following that and we’re kind of halfway through this first process.”

Notes: Belichick has talked a lot about the team being in “Phase 1″ of training camp so far. By that, he means the team is doing the sort of conditioning, training and fundamentals work they’d normally do in OTAs and minicamps. What that means for us is that he’s not going to really talk about how any player looks or how he’s progressed. Expect him to lean on this phrase for a while during games.

Biggest Belichick-ism: “This is really Phase 1 for us.”

Question 1: What is it like working during the pandemic? How much flexibility does it demand? How much does your experience come into play?

Belichick: “We will this take it as it comes each step of the way. I think it’s maybe a little bit different and requires a little bit of thought and possibly creativity but again for right now we’re basically in the Phase 1 situation or environment and that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing basically what we do in Phase 1 with as I said a few modifications. It’s fine. We’re being productive. We’re using the time that we have to definitely make strides but there’s some things we can’t do. But we’re not gonna focus on those we’re gonna look at the things that we can do and try to make the most out of those. I think the players, coaches and the entire organization’s done a good job with that.”

Notes: So, it’s a little different. But also the same. But a little different. We’re on to Phase 1.

Biggest Belichick-ism: “We’re basically in the Phase 1 situation”

Question 2a: For you was there any decision on your part about potentially not coaching this year or were you always determined to coach through this?

Belichick: “I feel very good about the environment that we’re in. I feel fine.”

Question 2b: Did anyone on your staff opt-out?

Belichick: “Anyone on our staff? No.”

Question 2c: Are you considering keeping a quarterback or any player in quarantine this year?

Belichick: “I’d say as always, we’ll try to look at our options and do what we feel is best for the football team. That’s what we’ll continue to do.

Question 2d: So you haven’t decided yet if you would do that?

Belichick: “As I said, we’re in Phase 1. We’re proceeding in Phase 1. I can’t speak for everybody but I think my impression is that, as an organization, as a coaching staff, support people, the players, that there’s a comfort level with what we’re doing and who’s doing it, how we’re doing it and we’re being productive. So if concerns or problems come up, we’ll address those. But right now, I think it’s a good working environment. We’re getting a lot done and the organization’s taking a lot of steps to ensure everyone’s safety and an opportunity to do their job and do it safely and do a productively work certainly there’s a lot of responsibility on each one of us to do things in a way that don’t affect others negatively, that we take the precautions that we can and should. So that’s where we’re doing.”

Notes: This was a four-part exchange between Belichick and one reporter about specific elements of opt-outs — most of which haven’t been revealed. It starts with a pretty quick back-and-forth before the reporter presses on one particular issue. Then Belichick rips off a long response, which is an effective way to break the flow and end this line of questioning in a rapid-fire sense. It’s also loaded with classic Belichick-isms.

Biggest Belichick-isms: “We’re in Phase 1.” “Do what we feel is best for the football team.” “Do their job.”

Question 3: How has Cam Newton come to grasp the playbook so far? How is that process been going for him?

Belichick: “Yeah, well, as I said, We’re in Phase 1. We’re presenting a lot of information, going through phones. We have a daily walkthrough and that’s about it. So, again, as I said, the restart of football is going at a slow pace. Right now, the training’s ahead of the football. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Notes: Have fun trying to get Belichick to acknowledge that the team signed a former MVP to potentially replace the greatest player in franchise history. Sure. Yeah. We’re onto Phase 1.

Biggest Belichick-ism: “We’re in Phase 1.”

Question 4: How is Newton looking physically so far? Has he been able to participate in everything so far?

Belichick: Yeah, well again the coaches aren’t on the field for the training part of the program. So I couldn’t really comment on that. Our strength coaches supervise them. The walkthroughs are the walkthroughs. They’re walkthroughs.”

Notes: This answer really hammers home how clever it is that Belichick opens the press conference by hammering home an emphasis on the team’s schedule and the logistics of the walkthrough. It allows him to say this with an air that implies he’s already answered a question. Also, referring to the restrictive nature of the team’s activities also lends authority to the idea that he doesn’t know how Cam Newton is looking physically. If you think Bill Belichick has no knowledge of Cam Newton’s current physical condition, I have some timeshares I’d like to sell you.

Biggest Belichick-ism: “The walkthroughs are the walkthroughs. They’re walkthroughs.”

Question 5: Have you had to narrow the scope of what you focus on this preseason because of the lack of preseason games and different practice schedule?

Belichick: “Again, I wouldn’t characterize our preparations as there are things that we can’t do. Again, pretty much everything that we’re doing is what we do do. Setups a little bit different, but we do Phase 1, we do Phase 2, we do Phase 3, we do training camp, we padded practices, we do practice in shells, we do walkthroughs in training camp. We’ll be doing all those things as we normally do. We won’t be playing preseason games. So that will definitely be one thing that we’ll need to prepare for differently than we’ve prepared for in the past. We won’t be able to have those same kind of game experiences that preseason games provide. But everything else is the same. It’s a modified pace or schedule. But the drills themselves and sequence of those are essentially what they’ve been. It’s just done in a different time frame and it’s done over a six-to-seven week period instead of the three days a week in the spring and then four days a week at the end and then a training camp here. Again, this is what every college team does. Every college team goes to training camp, whatever it is, three weeks, three-and-a-half weeks before their first game. Essentially after we get past, start on the 17th, that puts us about it in that four-week period until the first regular-season game. One of those weeks would be preparation the opener, so it’s very similar to what the college programs have always done and what they’re doing now. We’ve got to modify what we do to be more similar or try to replicate, to a degree, what college teams do every single year.”

Notes: Belichick is actually finding a lot of different ways to say that the team’s approach to training camp is pretty much the same, just with a delayed schedule and some minor logistical differences.

Biggest Belichick-ism: “Again, pretty much everything that we’re doing is what we do do,” whatever that means.

Question 6: Have you had restrict yourself, be less hands-on with players?

Belichick: “I guess we’ll see. Yesterday was the first day that we had a walkthrough with both the offense and defense on the field at the same time. Prior to yesterday, we were defense against defense, offense against offense. Yesterday was our first chance to do that. I would say it looked to me like all the coaches coached and players played pretty much like we always do other than you know masks and some other modifications, things like that. I didn’t see any substantial difference, no.”

Notes: It’s different. But also there are no substantial differences. Next.

Biggest Belichick-ism: “The coaches coached and players played.”

Question 7: How do you keep players engaged over virtual meetings? Is that a challenge?

Belichick: “Oh yeah definitely. We talked about that a lot. After about two meetings, we could see that that was gonna be the new way of the world. A decent amount of the staff meetings was dedicated to that, especially early. We had a lot of individual meetings. Our team meetings were more limited. The quality of having a meeting with 60 or 90 people as opposed to having it with four or five, the engagement’s a lot higher, the interaction’s a lot better. The mute button doesn’t have to be off like it does when you have a hundred people on the meeting and so forth. We learned a lot about those virtual meetings and we definitely did a lot of things to try to heighten the engagement, set up some competitive things, set up a variety of things. Then the coaches exchanged ideas. One coach would say, ‘Hey we did this’ and then maybe another coach would pick up on that idea and do it in a way that fit his room or his position. We might have a competition between the two rooms on a certain thing, let them compete against each other and see who’s better at whatever the activity was that was structured. I talked to a number of college coaches. They were, in a lot of cases, ahead of us on this because of spring ball. So they had their spring practice virtual meetings prior to the start of our offseason program, which I want to say was like, mid-April. A lot of those teams were doing the same thing that we were doing in terms of virtual meetings as early as the first of March. Some of those people had great suggestions, you know, ‘This really worked well for our team.’ ‘Our guys loved this.’ ‘We tried this and it didn’t work so well. Here’s the problems with it.’ ‘It sounds good but it didn’t go over that well.‘ There was a lot of that. Our coaches talked to several other college coaches and programs. Then we exchanged ideas. It’s always very educational for all of us to try to do. Some activities work better than others. Each coach kind of had to get a feel for his players. Their level of excitement to do certain things might not have matched a similar concept or game or whatever it was. We modified our teaching and the interactions, some of the games, some of the competitions, things like that we did over the course of the spring. Followed up a little bit on those in the first week when we came back. It was the 28th or whatever it was when everybody was still quarantined on the testing, so we were able to continue that from the spring. So, yeah, long answer to a short question there. But yes we did it on a number of different levels. We learned a lot as we went along. I think the players are responsive, productive. They certainly gave us a lot of good feedback too. A lot of those guys are a lot more tech-savvy and had some good ideas, way ahead of some of the people on the coaching staff, particularly myself. I’d probably be at the bottom of that tech list. We use some of their ideas as well. Collectively, I thought things went better than I thought they were going to, to tell you the truth. I thought they went pretty good. We followed up on it. Going forward, it might be something that I probably would have never even considered a year ago. Now after having a pretty significant amount of experience with it, I could see where there might be a place for it in the future. That’s kind of where we are, but thank you for the question.”

Notes: One of the big points Belichick has stressed about the lack of preseason is how college teams deal with it all the time. It can sound like a non-answer, but it does lend some insight into how Belichick operates. He has a long history of looking at college programs and identifying programs that are ahead of the curve and adopting those principles. In the past, it’s been schemes. This season, it looks like logistics. Also, it’s always fun to see Belichick acknowledge his well-established struggles with technology.

Biggest Belichick-ism: “I’d probably be at the bottom of that tech list.”

Question 8: How did it feel to be on a different calendar? Has it impacted you at all?

Belichick: “I think we’ve spoken about this before but in a lot of respects, this is similar to 2011. In many respects it’s different. But in terms of not seeing the players until training camp, it’s similar. We certainly had a lot more interaction with the players this year than we did during the lockout season and then we had the preseason games in that season that we’re not gonna have in this season. So there are definitely differences but there’s some similarities and some of the players and coaches that were here at that time, we’ve reflected on that. I think there are some things that we learned from that year that have application. Again, there’s other things that don’t. Each year’s different. This year, the ramp-up pace — instead of being during the spring and then taking a break and coming back to training camp — is all taking place in one sequence without a break, essentially, That’s a little bit different. But I think it’ll work. I think the players will be prepared physically and mentally to play football, assuming the conditions stay similar to what they are now. I think we’ve seen that. It’s been almost two weeks that we’ve been virtual to Phase 1 to now we’re starting to ease into a little bit of a higher Phase 1, which leads into Phase 2 and so I think the progression is logical. I think it’s working. We’ve got a long way to go and we have quite a bit of time before the opening game. So hopefully we’ll be in a competitive position at that point and I’m sure that we’ll continue to improve as a team like we always do in the first several weeks of the season. But again, that’s the way it always is. Eighty-man roster we’ve dealt with that before, although not recently. I think when you put it all together, we have and we will find a way to make it work and we’ll try to make it as effective as we can.”

Notes: The comparisons to the 2011 season, when there was a lockout over the summer haven’t been common. Belichick’s point about the similarities here are pretty notable and represent some good points.

Biggest Belichick-ism: “A little bit of a higher Phase 1.”

Question 9: Now that you and the players are back in the building, what’s been the biggest adjustment that you and your staff have had to make due to COVID regulations and the stadium’s new setup?

Belichick: “Biggest adjustment? Honestly I wouldn’t say any of it has just been overwhelming. We wear masks. There’s not a buffet line for food. The food’s ordered. It’s boxed and packaged. The dining staff has done a great job. The meetings are in bigger rooms. We’re more spread out. But essentially it’s the same meeting. We’re just distanced and wearing masks. I think everybody is just a little more conscious of the hand washing, the sanitizing, the distancing. We wear monitors and all that. There’s just a higher awareness of it. Fundamentally we’re still going over the same material. We have walkthroughs. We have meetings. We have training and conditioning. We’re gonna eventually have individual drills when we get to Phase 2. Then we’re going to get to Phase 3 and have 11-on-11 drills. So I don’t think it’s monumental, but certainly there are adjustments, none of which I would say are particularly inhibiting. It’s a little bit different, maybe a little bit more time consuming and just precautionary, but I think we’ve tried to address everything. And we’ve asked the players — and they’ve been great — we’ve asked the players for their input. If they see something that looks a little like it needs to be adjusted or corrected or whatever, they’re good to bring it up and then we take a look at it and do what we can to — whatever the situation is — try to improve it. We’re very fortunate here. We have a stadium. We have a big facility. I know there are other teams that are dealing with it in a much smaller training facility. We have a lot of big spaces and open space that we can work with. That’s very helpful in the environment that we’re in. We have great food service and a big training room, weight room and so forth. We’re able to accommodate with the visitors locker room. When you add that in, we’re able to accommodate I think 80 people I would say pretty comfortable. Of course we have some plexiglass and things like that up to take things a step further, but we’re able to handle the number of people and what we would normally do. It’s been pretty effective. Again, we’re not walking across the hall to a meeting. We’re walking maybe down the end of the tunnel to it, but again, to me those are relatively minor things. I’d say overall we’re doing things pretty close to the way we normally do them with, as I said, more masks, more plexiglass for sure. I don’t know what the plexiglass bill is around here, but it’s gotta be pretty high.”

Notes: This is classic Belichick ramble, the first big one of the season. It’s full of little tangents, but chock full of actual insightful information about the safety procedures put in place this season and how the team has had to make adjustments.

Not a Belichick-ism, but his best line of the presser: “I don’t know what the plexiglass bill is around here, but it’s gotta be pretty high.”

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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