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The lack of Black leaders in New England college sports is ‘what institutional and systemic racism look like’ – The Boston Globe

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The lack of Black leaders in New England college sports is ‘what institutional and systemic racism look like’ - The Boston Globe

“It amazes me that these barriers have not been broken down by now,” Titus said. “It’s a prime example of what institutional and systemic racism look like.”

A Globe survey of 112 colleges and universities in New England found that only five, or 4.5 percent, employ a Black athletic director. Just one of the region’s 15 Division 1 athletic departments has a Black leader: Marcus Blossom at Holy Cross.

“It amazes me that these barriers have not been broken down by now. It’s a prime example of what institutional and systemic racism look like.”

On Aug. 17, Division 2 Bentley University named Vaughn Williams, a senior administrator at Boston College, as its first Black AD. The other Black athletic directors in New England manage lower-budget operations at Division 3 schools: Anthony Grant at MIT, Lauren Haynie at Brandeis, and Darlene Gordon, Titus’s interim replacement at UMass Boston.

The diversity deficit is brought into sharper relief by the current reckoning with racial injustice across American culture. Not one public college or university in New England other than UMass Boston employs a Black athletic director, and scores of public and private institutions do not have a single Black head coach in any intercollegiate sport.

The razor-thin ranks of Black head football coaches in the region are similarly striking. Of the 23 Division 1 and Division 2 football teams in New England, none is led by a Black coach, despite Black players representing majorities on some rosters. In all, there are 58 collegiate football programs in the region and only two are led by Black head coaches: Division 3 Bates College in Maine and the US Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.

Diversity specialists expressed deep frustration.

“There are too many qualified people to count who have been passed over,” said Peter Roby, Northeastern University’s first Black AD, who led the department from 2007 until he retired in 2018. He has since helped to build the NCAA’s Pathway leadership development program for athletic administrators.

Roby has advocated for diversity in athletic leadership since he cocaptained the Dartmouth basketball team in the 1970s, coached Harvard’s men’s basketball team in the 1980s and early ’90s, and directed Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society in the early 2000s.

“We’re at the point where the Black community is saying, ‘We’ve been talking about this for generations and the needle has hardly moved,’ ” Roby said. “People have had enough.”

Glacial pace of progress

Athletic directors play central roles in the big business of intercollegiate sports. They control budgets that can exceed $80 million at highly competitive schools such as BC and oversee staffs that range from 50 employees at smaller schools to more than 250 at the largest. They are responsible for marketing, fund-raising, facility operations, and compliance with NCAA and government regulations, among other duties.

In New England, the scarcity of Black athletic directors is more pronounced than elsewhere in the nation. According to NCAA data, in 2019 there were Black athletic directors at 115, or 10.3 percent, of the NCAA’s 1,113 member schools — more than double the rate of New England schools.

Even if 45 Historically Black Colleges and Universities are removed from the equation, the national rate of Black athletic directors at NCAA schools is 6.6 percent — nearly 50 percent higher than the rate in New England.

“The percentages tell the true story,” said former Patriots player Garin Veris, who became Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s first Black athletic director in 2015, and served until 2018. “What’s going on in New England is really sad.”

Peter Roby is a rarity in that he was Northeastern's athletic director from 2007-18.
Peter Roby is a rarity in that he was Northeastern’s athletic director from 2007-18.The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

The NCAA does not break down the racial composition of collegiate teams by region. Nationally, 21 percent of Division 1 student-athletes last year were Black. Overall, they made up 16 percent of intercollegiate rosters, from football and basketball to sailing and equestrian teams.

Particularly troubling to diversity specialists has been the glacial pace of progress in hiring Black ADs and head coaches. While other minorities, such as Hispanics and Asians, and women have made gains, Blacks have made far fewer.

“I look back over the years, and I pretty much see now what I saw then,” said Stan Johnson, executive director of the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association.

Openings at BC, UMass

BC took a major step in 2017 by hiring Martin Jarmond as its first Black AD. A former deputy athletic director at Ohio State, Jarmond, at 37, became the youngest AD at any of the 65 schools in the NCAA’s Power Five conferences.

Martin Jarmond left BC for the AD job at UCLA earlier this year.
Martin Jarmond left BC for the AD job at UCLA earlier this year.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Jarmond excelled at BC before he departed in May for a more prestigious position as the athletic director at UCLA. But because Jarmond replaced another minority at UCLA and BC hired a white male to replace him, the moves were seen by diversity advocates as a step backward.

“It was a great move for Martin, but a loss for diversity,” Johnson said. “When minorities move into bigger roles and they aren’t replaced with minorities, that’s a problem.”

BC declined to identify its finalists for the job, but the college chose Patrick Kraft from Temple over two Black prospects Jarmond had recruited to its athletic department — Vaughn Williams and another senior associate AD, Jocelyn Fisher Gates — and considered other minority candidates.

Vaughn Williams was recently hired as the AD at Bentley. He was passed over for the top job at Boston College when Martin Jarmond left.
Vaughn Williams was recently hired as the AD at Bentley. He was passed over for the top job at Boston College when Martin Jarmond left.Bentley University athletics

Jack Dunn, BC’s associate vice president for communications, said, “Black candidates were interviewed for the AD position and the finalist pool was very diverse. Ultimately, we hired Pat Kraft because he was the best candidate.”

BC has 23 head coaches on its staff, only one of whom is Black: women’s soccer coach Jason Lowe.

“As with many colleges in the Greater Boston area, we continue to struggle to find diverse candidates [for our teams],” Dunn said.

In 2015, UMass Amherst had a chance to join BC in breaking a color barrier when its athletic director’s position opened. The school settled on three finalists: Ryan Bamford, a senior associate AD at Georgia Tech; Jim Fiore, a former AD at Stony Brook University; and Allen Greene, an associate AD at the University of Buffalo, the only Black finalist.

Bamford was the most familiar candidate, with deep roots in New England collegiate sports. His father, Steve Bamford, served as athletic director at Plymouth State for 13 years, then spent more than a decade as an administrator for the ECAC.

Ryan Bamford followed his father by serving in the athletic administrations at Plymouth State and the ECAC. He also worked in athletic departments at Springfield College, the University of New Hampshire, Yale, and Georgia Tech, building a solid résumé.

Fiore’s stock dropped on news that he had been fired at Stony Brook in 2013 after a female subordinate’s harassment complaint. He denied the allegation.

Of the candidates, Greene was seen as the most charismatic. A former baseball star at Notre Dame, he had played several minor league seasons in the New York Yankees organization before beginning his administrative career in Notre Dame’s athletic department. He also worked as an assistant AD at the University of Mississippi before moving to Buffalo.

Ultimately, UMass hired Bamford, disappointing diversity advocates.

“It’s not that Bamford wasn’t qualified or well-prepared, but when you stack him up against Greene and you have a chance to make a minority hire, especially in a place where you haven’t done it, that was an interesting choice to me,“ Titus said.

Greene was named AD at the University of Buffalo soon after missing out on the UMass job. In 2018, he became the first Black AD at Auburn University, where he manages a Power Five program with a $152 million budget, more than triple the $40 million UMass budget. Greene declined to comment for this story.

In Amherst, Bamford has had five years to diversify the UMass coaching staff. But with several high-profiles positions open, he chose white candidates for the football and men’s and women’s basketball positions.

In all, Bamford has hired 12 head coaches, only one of whom is Black: David Jackson, the track and field and cross-country coach. He is the only Black coach among UMass Amherst’s 16 head coaches.

“Over the last five years, we have been very intentional in building diverse candidate pools when hiring for coaching, administrative, and staff positions,” Bamford said. “We’ve had some success hiring, growing, and retaining minority staff members, but it has been a challenge to do this consistently well across our organization, including in head coaching positions.”

Mass. is not alone

The scarcity of Black head coaches is rife throughout the UMass system. Of the four public universities in the system with athletic programs — UMass Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell — only UMass Boston has more than one Black head coach.

The shortage is even more acute at five of the state’s other four-year public institutions with athletic programs. There are no Black head coaches in any intercollegiate sport at Salem State, Fitchburg State, Westfield State, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Diversity specialists said university leaders are responsible for creating a culture of diversity and inclusion in their athletic programs.

“If there is a commitment to diversity, it has to come from the top down,” Titus said. “It’s hard to make it happen from the bottom up.”

“We need to get out of the mentality that it’s a grand experiment” to hire Black people in athletic leadership positions, Roby said. “Don’t wait until there’s a crisis before you decide, well, we really should have more Black people on our staff.”

“We need to get out of the mentality that it’s a grand experiment. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis before you decide, well, we really should have more Black people on our staff.”

Public colleges and universities in Massachusetts are far from alone among New England institutions where diversity lags. There are no Black ADs or Black head coaches in any sport at the flagship state universities of Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont.

Moreover, there are no Black athletic directors or black head coaches at 66, or 59 percent, of the 112 colleges and universities in New England.

“In a lot of ways, it’s still an old boys network,” Titus said. “At the end of the day, they hire people they have a level of comfort with, people who look like them or are in a network they’re comfortable with.”

‘We need action now’

The NCAA was long seen as part of the problem. But the organization in the last decade has increasingly focused on developing a pipeline of qualified minority candidates for athletic leadership positions, especially through its Pathway program, which Roby has helped to build.

Titus said the pool of Black candidates who were qualified for athletic leadership positions 40 years ago was all but empty. But now, by nearly all accounts, the pool is full of choices.

“That excuse is gone,‘’ Roby said. “The fact that we’re still discussing why there aren’t more Black ADs and coaches in the major sports speaks to the fact that you have very few Black and brown chancellors and presidents of universities.”

Nationwide, universities had long shown little interest in adopting a version of the Rooney Rule in the National Football League, which requires teams to interview qualified minority candidates for head coaching and senior operations positions. However, in early August the West Coast Conference became the first Division 1 conference to adopt a version of the Rooney Rule, naming it the Russell Rule after Boston Celtics legend and civil rights leader Bill Russell.

Lawmakers in Oregon also took matters into their own hands, passing a version of the rule in 2009. The results have pleased diversity advocates: The University of Oregon hired its first Black head football coach, and two public universities — Portland State and Western Oregon — hired their first Black athletic directors.

Yet Oregon remains the only state to have enacted such a law. Roby said diversity specialists are weighing other measures to hold institutions accountable for racial equity in hiring for top athletic administrative and coaching jobs. One proposal would make the hiring process subject to an independent review, with the results published in a public report. Schools that failed to adhere to minority hiring protocols would be sanctioned.

“We need action now, because people are thinking, if not now, when?” Roby said.

When the Globe last conducted a survey, in 2006, only two of the 54 athletic directors at New England colleges with football programs were Black: Sean Frazier at Merrimack and Charles Jones at Central Connecticut State. Fourteen years later, there are 58 schools in the region with football programs but only three employ Black athletic directors: Holy Cross, MIT, and now Bentley.

MORE: Read the Globe’s 2006 story about the lack of Black coaches in New England college football

Frazier, who has since become the AD at Northern Illinois University, said he finds it increasingly difficult to encourage Black students who yearn to become collegiate head coaches or athletic directors. Not only is there a “critical mass of highly qualified candidates already waiting in the wings,” he said, but job cuts may loom as athletic departments across the country suspend or in some cases eliminate sports programs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My big concern is that a lot of our young talent is feeling more and more frustrated and disenfranchised,” Frazier said.

Darlene Gordon has worked for nearly a decade to become a full-fledged collegiate athletic director, her obstacles including not only that she is Black but a woman. She has been a finalist for other positions and come tantalizingly close. Now her chance at UMass Boston draws near as the school prepares to launch a formal search for Titus’s successor.

Titus hired Gordon as a special assistant in 2018 after he discovered her talent in the NCAA’s Pathway program.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity Charlie gave me,’’ Gordon said. “Hopefully, I’ll have proven myself worthy to sit in the seat permanently.‘‘

Titus said Gordon is ready, if UMass Boston is.

“Having conversations about institutional racism is one thing,” Titus said. “But the conversations won’t do any good without action

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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wwe crown jewel results

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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