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TikTok’s fate was shaped by a ‘knockdown, drag-out’ Oval Office brawl

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TikTok’s fate was shaped by a ‘knockdown, drag-out’ Oval Office brawl

Navarro pushed back, demanding an outright ban of TikTok, while accusing Mnuchin of being soft on China, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions freely. The treasury secretary appeared taken aback, they said.

The ensuing argument — which was described by one of the people as a “knockdown, drag-out” brawl — was preceded by months of backroom dealings among investors, lobbyists and executives. Many of these stakeholders long understood the critical nature of establishing close connections with key figures in the Trump administration.

But over the past few weeks, they also were reminded of the unpredictable and precarious nature of business dealings under a Trump-led government — and how the winner of a heated debate in front of the president could help decide the fate of a multibillion-dollar deal that may reshape the technology business landscape for years to come.

Over the past two weeks, TikTok’s future has been publicly tossed about, first as it appeared the president would agree to a sale, then that he would ban it outright, then that he would allow a sale again — but only if a fee were paid to the U.S. Treasury.

Behind the scenes, an enormous amount of scrambling has happened in response to each twist and turn. And an executive order signed by the president Thursday night while on Air Force One — which would essentially shutter the U.S. operation of TikTok in 45 days unless it was sold — has sown more confusion about the future of one of the fastest-growing social media start-ups in the world. Few on the East or West coasts knew the order was coming.

The chaotic approach dates back to Trump’s days as a business executive, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a nonprofit, conservative issue advocacy group.

“It’s only effective in the moment, and it wears off in the long term,” said the former director of the Congressional Budget Office and former economic policy adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign. “It’s hard for the business community to figure out the direction of our policies.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that the administration “is committed to protecting the American people from all cyber related threats to critical infrastructure, public health and safety, and our economic and national security.”

Treasury Department spokeswoman Monica Crowley said in a statement that the department does not comment on the specifics of meetings with the president, although she confirmed that the secretary did participate in a meeting with the president to update him on national security recommendations.

“One of the great strengths of the Trump administration is the president’s reliance on strong, often opposing views, to reach decisions which are invariably in the best interests of the American people,” Navarro said in a statement. “Because this is true, it is critical for a strong America that ‘what happens in the Oval Office, should stay in the Oval Office’ so I have no comment on what is clearly a malicious leak riddled with hyperbole and misinformation.”

A tech finance giant shudders

TikTok is considered one of the biggest technological success stories to come out of China. People around the world use the app to make short videos about their lives, pets and dance moves. Parent company ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming calls it a “window” into the world.

TikTok has 100 million U.S. users, many of whom are under 25 years old. Its success has drawn interest from prominent investors, including Sequoia Capital, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm. In 2014, its China arm made a prescient $35 million investment in TikTok’s parent company, giving it a stake that today is reportedly valued at more than $800 million. TikTok’s owner also acquired Musical.ly in 2017 for $1 billion, making it even more attractive to young users.

But with that success came scrutiny. TikTok was first identified as a potential national security threat in summer 2019, when U.S. officials approached ByteDance about concerns regarding its acquisition.

That turned into a formal national security investigation this year. It was led by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency body that screens foreign investment transactions for national security risks and recommends to the president on security grounds whether certain proposed acquisitions should be rejected or completed acquisitions reversed.

In TikTok’s case, the app has been downloaded more than 175 million times in the United States and, like other apps, accesses copious amounts of sensitive personal data, including Internet and browsing activity, location data and search histories. That information is potentially available to the Chinese government under a national intelligence law that requires any Chinese company to “support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work.”

The news of the investigation sent shudders through the halls of Sequoia Capital. Global managing partner Doug Leone took the lead on advocating for TikTok with the Trump administration, telling people he could use his influence with Trump to help the company, according to a person familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation. Leone and his wife have given $100,000 to Trump’s reelection bid, and Leone sits on the president’s task force for reopening the economy, according to public records.

Leone also cultivated his relationship with Mnuchin and the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the person said. Sequoia is a co-investor in a health-care company with Kushner’s brother Josh.

Sequoia spokesperson Natalie Miyake said in a statement it remains supportive of TikTok and the service it provides for millions of people, and looks forward to the company reaching “a win-win solution for all parties” involved that is acceptable to the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, TikTok hired roughly a dozen lobbyists this year, one of whom ran Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania and has been described by the president as a good friend, according to a person familiar with the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss company matters. The lobbyist was a U.S. Military Academy classmate of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is also seen as a China hawk.

Publicly, TikTok started a campaign to convince the U.S. government that it was not a threat. The company has said that its app is mostly used for entertainment and that the app’s software code does not contain a back door that could be used for government surveillance. It began issuing transparency reports showing law enforcement requests for data and published the company’s source code. In May, Zhang hired Disney streaming chief Kevin Mayer as TikTok’s new CEO.

Zhang also began trying to decouple the company’s technology from China, and has pointed out that all the data on U.S. TikTok users is stored in the United States and backed up in Singapore. He has worked to separate TikTok’s software code and algorithms from the larger ByteDance conglomerate, which owns several apps in China.

Throughout this year, Zhang and his investors were confident that the concerns of the U.S. federal government could be resolved without ByteDance having to spin off TikTok. But things changed quickly after India outright banned the app at the end of June. At that point, the company and investors started hearing a different message from the White House, and it seemed increasingly possible that the anti-China members of the administration would prevail in breaking up the company.

Throughout July, investors and TikTok’s lobbyists, working privately with the administration, scrambled to come up with other plans, and numerous ideas were floated in what one person familiar with the discussions called an “iterative process.”

One plan involved bringing in a third-party U.S. company with knowledge of technology as a contractor to assure the security of TikTok. In another plan, investors proposed spinning off TikTok from ByteDance, with the investors buying a large share of the new independent company but allowing Zhang to maintain control through a minority stake. That plan involved bringing in another technology company as an investor to ensure security, the people said.

Zhang at one point considered relocating ByteDance’s headquarters to London, and moving there personally, to showcase ByteDance as a global company that was not controlled by Beijing, according to another person.

But this summer, as it became increasingly possible that administration hard-liners could prevail in breaking up the company, Zhang grew disappointed with how the process was playing out and approached Microsoft about a sale, according to the people. Zhang had previously worked at Microsoft’s offices in China in 2008 for six months, and maintained an admiration for the company. Earlier this year, he hired 24-year Microsoft veteran Erich Andersen to be ByteDance’s general counsel.

Other tech giants that have the financial wherewithal to buy the company have regulatory challenges that could make an acquisition more complex. The chief executives of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple all appeared last week before a House subcommittee investigating tech giants’ abuse of their power.

That gives Microsoft significant leverage. TikTok could help the 45-year-old software giant expand into social media, as well as bolster its ambitions to develop artificial intelligence systems, but the company has thrived financially in recent years on the strength of its business selling cloud computing services. That strengthens its hand as it negotiates to acquire TikTok.

Feeling increasingly boxed in, Zhang offered to sell to Microsoft.

A ‘vicious’ Oval Office fight

As the election approaches, Trump has increasingly lashed out at China, blaming it for the novel coronavirus and national security issues. Over the past few months, he has deployed a rarely used order to require the divestment of acquisitions by Chinese firms, as well as issuing executive orders to limit business dealings.

“I think Trump’s instincts are to be aggressive toward China,” said one former U.S. official. “Navarro’s like the devil on his shoulder, saying, ‘Do it, do it.’ Mnuchin is more like a governor, trying to slow everything down — ‘What about Wall Street? What about Phase 2 [of the trade deal]?’”

During the Oval Office meeting, the debate turned into a “vicious” fight, with Trump looking on, one of the people said. They noted that the two advisers have a contentious history: They got into an expletive-filled shouting match during a May 2018 trip to Beijing.

As of last week, the CFIUS agencies were unanimous that TikTok needed an American partner, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal negotiations. TikTok lawyers were working with the administration team on an orderly transition, according to the person. “The expectation at Microsoft and at TikTok was the president was going to sign off on what CFIUS said, and off we go,” the person said. “Instead, it’s just been this roller coaster.”

As Trump went to board the helicopter before flying to Tampa just over a week ago on July 31, he sounded unsure of his plans. “We may be banning TikTok,” Trump told reporters before leaving for Florida. “We may be doing some other things. There are a couple of options. But a lot of things are happening, so we’ll see what happens. But we are looking at a lot of alternatives with respect to TikTok.”

Later that evening, as he flew back aboard Air Force One to Washington, he told reporters he had made a decision to ban it, and that he was not in favor of a deal. By Sunday, Microsoft announced it had persuaded the president and would continue talks with a deadline of Sept. 15.

On Monday, Trump reiterated while speaking to reporters at the White House that he wants TikTok to be forced to cease operations in the United States by around Sept. 15 if it is not sold to Microsoft or another U.S.-based company. If that sale goes through, the president said, part of the proceeds should be paid to U.S. taxpayers as compensation for operating in America.

“A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the treasury of the United States,” Trump said of the potential TikTok sale. “The United States should be reimbursed or paid because without the United States they don’t have anything.”

Tax experts say there is no legal way to take “a substantial portion” for the treasury. But the vague threat allowed him to appear to be imposing a punitive measure on China and TikTok — which some of his aides have pushed for fervently — without taking action so dramatic that it would cause a dangerous escalation.

Lawyers familiar with CFIUS reviews said the treasury does typically collect money during the process, because companies are required to pay modest fees to cover the cost of the review. The fees are based on the size of the proposed transaction and cannot exceed $300,000.

After Trump changed his mind to support a sale to Microsoft, Navarro on Monday accused the tech giant in a CNN interview of being too close to China, citing its prior cooperation with the government and the use of Bing and Skype in the country. He suggested Microsoft could divest its Chinese holdings.

“The question is, is Microsoft going to be compromised?” he asked.

With the clock ticking, analysts expect the purchase price to run into the tens of billions of dollars, a price tag only a handful of companies can afford. Microsoft had $136.5 billion in cash and easy-to-access funds at the end of June.

But those involved in a potential deal were thrown off balance again late Thursday, left in the dark about the president’s plans.

While flying on Air Force One, Trump issued two executive orders effectively banning U.S. transactions for TikTok parent ByteDance, citing national security concerns. An acquisition by Microsoft of TikTok during that period would still be allowed.

“We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process,” the company said. “For nearly a year, we have sought to engage with the U.S. government in good faith to provide a constructive solution to the concerns that have been expressed. What we encountered instead was that the administration paid no attention to facts, dictated terms of an agreement without going through standard legal processes, and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses.”

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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