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NBA Power Rankings: Lakers, Bucks struggling; Nuggets, Rockets surging; Suns, Pacers turning heads

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NBA Power Rankings: Lakers, Bucks struggling; Nuggets, Rockets surging; Suns, Pacers turning heads

1


Raptors
The Raptors picked up three more wins this week, but the blowout loss to the Celtics is somewhat concerning given their potential second-round playoff matchup. Toronto continues its spread attack on offense with five players averaging double-figure points this week, and the defense has been relentless outside of a couple of quarters against Boston. The Raptors have looked the best out of any of the league’s top teams in the restart. — 51-19
2


Celtics
The Celtics started off the week by losing to the Jimmy Butler-less Heat, but followed that up with three straight wins, including a dominant performance against the Raptors. Kemba Walker still doesn’t look quite right and Marcus Smart had a rough shooting week, but Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward have been good. Boston is locked into the No. 3 seed, and will now wait to find out its opponent. 4 47-23
3


Rockets
With their convincing win over the Lakers this week, the Rockets have now beaten the NBA’s two best teams in the bubble, and are looking like a formidable playoff matchup. The defense has been great in the seeding games, which bodes well for the Rockets’ postseason hopes, especially if Russell Westbrook is able to come back strong and healthy. Houston is the first-round matchup nobody wants to see among the No. 3 through No. 6 teams. 2 44-25
4


Suns
Phoenix decided to save its longest winning streak since 2014 for its first five games in the bubble — simply remarkable. Devin Booker has been sensational, but it’s been a full team effort on both ends that has the surprising Suns right in the thick of the playoff race. We all thought the bubble environment might yield some unexpected results, and so far the Suns are shocking the world. 8 32-39
5


Clippers
The Clippers tried their hand at some gamesmanship by sitting Kawhi Leonard (and Paul George in crunch time) against the Blazers, but it didn’t work and they got the win anyway. It’s all about getting healthy for the Clippers, and they hope Montrezl Harrell will be ready to go when he returns to the team after leaving the bubble for a family emergency. Expect plenty of rest for the Clippers’ stars this week as they prepare for what they hope is a long playoff run. 1 47-23
6


Bucks
The Bucks suffered one of the worst upsets in NBA history against a depleted Nets roster to start the week, but they sat Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in the second half so we’ll give them a pass. More concerning was how Luka Doncic absolutely ripped apart their league-best defense on Saturday. Even their win over the Heat wasn’t too encouraging, as they gave up 73 first-half points before clamping down in the second half. The Bucks, like the Lakers, haven’t looked sharp in the bubble, but they’re still the favorite in the East until proven otherwise. 4 55-16
7


Trail Blazers
The only game the Blazers lost this week was the one the Clippers were seemingly trying to lose on purpose, but we quickly found out what happens when you make Damian Lillard mad. Patrick Beverley mocked Lillard for missing two clutch free throws, and the very next night Lillard dropped 51 points in a win over the Sixers. Portland now trails the Grizzlies by a half-game, with the ability to get the No. 8 seed and therefore only need to beat the No. 9 seed once to get into the playoffs. 7 33-39
8


Nuggets
Still without Gary Harris and Will Barton, the Nuggets managed to go 3-1 this week, including the most exciting seeding game thus far — a double-overtime win over the Jazz on Saturday. Jamal Murray returned in a huge way in that win, putting up 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes, though he looked like he needed an oxygen tank to make it to the end. Nikola Jokic has been his normal, spectacular self and with the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. (29.3 points, 12.5 rebounds this week), the Nuggets could be dangerous if they get back to full strength. 9 46-25
9


Pacers
So how many of you predicted the Pacers to start 4-1 in the bubble with T.J. Warren averaging 35 points per game? Don’t all raise your hands at once. Warren has been utterly breathtaking, punctuating the week with a dagger 3-pointer over Anthony Davis to cap off a 39-point performance in a win over the Lakers on Saturday. Lost in the Warrensanity is the fact that Victor Oladipo has looked pretty darn good in the restart, priming him to be an impact player come playoff time. One thing’s for sure, despite being down Domantas Sabonis and Jeremy Lamb, Indiana certainly doesn’t look like the playoff pushover some expected it to be. — 43-28
10


Thunder
The Thunder lost to the Nuggets and were blown out by the Grizzlies this week, but looked great in a convincing win over the Lakers (they also beat the Wizards, but … you know). They’re still battling for seeding, but should feel comfortable with any of their potential opponents as long as they don’t slide down to the No. 7 spot. OKC received strong contributions from supporting cast members like Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley and Hamidou Diallo this week, and the Thunder are going to need at least something from them offensively if they’re going to have a shot to advance in the playoffs. 2 43-27
11


Lakers
Maybe none of it matters. Maybe the Lakers are the best team in the West and they’ll be all systems go when the playoffs start next week, but they have looked dreadful in the seeding games, particularly on offense. They have by far the lowest offensive rating in the bubble at 97.9 points per 100 possessions, and Anthony Davis has been great in the two wins, but awful in the four losses. Frank Vogel is trying out different pieces and lineups so again, we might just laugh at this when the Lakers steamroll their way to the conference finals, but it’s hard not to be at least slightly concerned with what we’ve seen during the restart. 8 52-18
12


Mavericks
Luka Doncic may have played the best game of his career as he picked apart the Bucks in an overtime win on Saturday, going for 36 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high 19 assists. They’re going to have trouble defending the Clippers, if that’s the matchup they end up with, but when the Mavs are clicking they can outscore anyone in the league. It’ll be fun to watch Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in their first playoff action. 4 43-30
13


76ers
The Sixers went 3-1 this week, but things went from bad to worse as they learned Ben Simmons will likely miss the rest of the season after a knee injury and Joel Embiid was forced to miss the majority of the team’s loss to the Trail Blazers on Sunday with an ankle injury. Josh Richardson and Alec Burks stepped up and kept things close on Sunday, but needless to say they’ll need Embiid to be healthy and in top form if they’re going to make any noise in the playoffs. 2 42-28
14


Heat
Miami lost three games this week, two without the services of Jimmy Butler. The Heat were also missing both Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic for Saturday’s loss to Phoenix, but the silver lining is that Tyler Herro played well in extended minutes. Andre Iguodala also seems to be integrating himself into the team with his Swiss Army knife skills. At full strength, the Heat are still a dangerous Eastern Conference contender. 7 44-27
15


Spurs
The Spurs kept their playoff hopes alive by taking down the Pelicans on Sunday in what amounted to a must-win game for New Orleans. Derrick White has been a revelation in the bubble, and they’ll hope that the leg injury he suffered in that game isn’t serious. Without LaMarcus Aldridge they’ve opened up their offense, starting essentially four guards and playing at a much faster pace. They still don’t shoot a lot of 3-pointers, but they’ve hit 41 percent of them in seeding games. Keeping the 22-season playoff streak alive is still a real possibility. 4 31-38
16


Jazz
The Jazz went 1-3 this week, including a game in which they rested most of their starters and a heartbreaking double-OT loss to the Nuggets. They’re still struggling to fill the gap left by Bojan Bogdanovic, but Mike Conley has played well in the bubble in addition to Donovan Mitchell’s consistent production. As they work to find their offense, they’re going to need to be elite defensively, and they simply haven’t been thus far in Orlando. 3 43-28
17


Nets
Coming in with one of the least powerful rosters in the bubble, the Nets managed to go 3-1 this week, including a monumental upset over the Bucks, bringing their record in seeding games to a surprising 4-2. Caris LeVert looks dynamic as the lead scorer and playmaker, while Joe Harris has proved he’s much more than just a spot-up shooter. The Nets might not upset their first-round opponent, but they certainly won’t go down easy. 3 34-36
18


Pelicans
Despite a promising win over the Grizzlies to start the week, the Pelicans were eliminated from playoff contention with Sunday’s loss to the Spurs and the Blazers’ win over the 76ers. After a slow start to the game, Zion Williamson picked things up and looked great in the second half of the Spurs game, and we’ll have to wait and see how New Orleans decides to handle him for the remaining seeding games. Many expected the Pels to get into the play-in series out West, but their future is incredibly bright nonetheless. 1 30-40
19


Grizzlies
The talk before the bubble was about which team the Grizzlies would draw in the play-in series. Now they might not even make the play-in series. Memphis has lost five of six seeding games, opening the door for teams like the Blazers, Suns and Spurs to unseat it from playoff position. The season-ending injury to Jaren Jackson Jr. is brutal, and now you have to think that even if the Grizz make the play-in, it’s going to be tough for them to advance. 1 33-38
20


Magic
It was a rough week for the Magic with four straight losses plus a hamstring injury to Aaron Gordon — this after losing Jonathan Isaac for the foreseeable future due to knee surgery. The offense regressed after a torrid start to the seeding games, which was expected, particularly given their injuries. Orlando can still move into the No. 7 spot with a good final week, but either way it’s likely looking at an early playoff exit. 10 32-39
21


Kings
The Kings were officially eliminated from playoff contention for the 14th consecutive season, ending a disappointing attempt at a postseason run in the bubble after building some momentum before the hiatus. De’Aaron Fox looks like a true star and they have solid pieces around him. They’ll hope with a potentially healthy Marvin Bagley III will help Sacramento end the drought next season. — 29-41
22


Wizards
The Wiz are the only winless team in the bubble after dropping all four games this week. They probably don’t have much of a chance against the Bucks and Celtics in their final two seeding games, but their trip to Orlando hasn’t been a total loss. Thomas Bryant has averaged 18.3 points, nine rebounds and 2.2 blocks on 37 percent 3-point shooting, while Troy Brown Jr. has put up 16 points, 7.3 rebounds and five assists per game. They both look like solid rotation pieces moving forward, and Jerome Robinson has also done well for himself in the bubble, scoring 15.5 points per game on 38 percent 3-point shooting. — 24-46
23


Hornets
The Hornets’ season is over, but they can take solace in the fact that they outperformed expectations and developed three players — Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington — who could be legitimate franchise cornerstones moving forward. They’ll hope for lottery luck and continued growth this offseason, but the rebuild in Charlotte has just commenced. — 23-42
24


Bulls
It was a disappointing season for the Bulls, who finally gave in and revamped the front office after years of speculation. Chicago has talent — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. — but it has yet to find a way to translate it to wins. We’ll see if the new brass opts to shuffle the deck this offseason. — 22-43
25


Hawks
The Hawks were really bad this year, just behind Cleveland for the third-worst net rating in the NBA, but there’s reason to be hopeful with the development of Trae Young and John Collins, plus the addition of Clint Capela to potentially shore up their defensive woes. They have a promising young crop of wings with Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, and will likely get another high draft pick this offseason. Sooner or later, though, you have to actually start winning games. — 20-47
26


Timberwolves
D’Angelo Russell averaged nearly 22 points per game after coming over from the Warriors, but shot just 41 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range. He’ll obviously benefit from the presence of Karl-Anthony Towns, and the franchise hinges on the duo’s success. Now it’s time to start putting quality pieces around them. — 19-45
27


Knicks
We didn’t learn much about the future of the Knicks this season — we’re still not sure how good RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson are, and we don’t know whether Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina will be part of the team’s plans. After a front office overhaul, the highest priority this offseason was finding a coach, and they finally zeroed in on Tom Thibodeau after interviewing several candidates. We’ll see how he does with a rebuilding Knicks roster. — 21-45
28


Cavaliers
The Cavs would have loved to have gotten a better look at Andre Drummond, but only got eight games out of him after trading for him at the deadline. Given the financial landscape of the league, he’ll almost certainly exercise his $29 million option for next season, so the decision wasn’t really in Cleveland’s hands anyway. Collin Sexton made a huge leap toward the end of the season, so the Cavs will hope he can build off of that while they continue to try to find a trade destination for Kevin Love. — 19-46
29


Warriors
The long, strange trip is finally over, as one of the most bizarre seasons in NBA history comes to an end. The Warriors gained valuable knowledge this year, namely that D’Angelo Russell didn’t fit and that Eric Paschall is pretty good, but all eyes immediately shift to next season, when a healthy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins, plus whatever they get out of their high draft pick, should make Golden State a title contender once again. — 15-50
30


Pistons
In terms of NBA futures, it doesn’t get much bleaker than the Detroit Pistons. Blake Griffin’s monster contract will run through 2022 when he picks up the option, and the most promising young players on the roster are Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. Christian Wood probably did enough to get the Pistons to make him a good offer this summer (who else are they going to spend money on?), but Detroit may be the leader in the clubhouse to enter next season with the league’s lowest win total projection. — 20-46

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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