“Please sit,” he said gesturing to one of the armchairs in the sitting room. There was a Persian slipper in the corner. Lots and lots of books, some stacked, some lying about. A human skull on a stand. And more papers strewn than there were books.
“Thank you Mr Holmes,” I said, taking my place after having climbed the 17 steps to 221B Baker Street to consult with the world’s foremost mind about a problem that had been vexing me. Dr Watson was there too of course, silently welcoming and less austere than Sherlock Holmes.
“So what is it about the India-Australia series that you need solving? The Reviewgate issue? The shoulder clutching celebrations? The fact that Steven Smith will know when he logs into Facebook next that Virat Kohli is not his friend?”
I was flabbergasted. “But, but Mr Holmes,” I sputtered. “How did you know my problem dealt with that? I hadn’t mentioned a thing, I’ve just got here….”
He cut me off impatiently. “It is simplicity itself. Your accent marks you out as Indian. You have the slightly worn and bent fingers of a creature who spends half his time typing furiously. Your eyes were first drawn to my Wisden collection among the many books I have. You’re interested in cricket but your shoulders’ determined efforts to reach your stomach, and your stomach’s determined efforts to reach your knees mark you out as someone who couldn’t possibly have played the game at any level. Therefore you are a cricket journalist. What could a cricket journalist from India want with me at this particular moment? Why obviously the unsolved mysteries around Australia’s tour of India.”
I was stunned.
“Fantastic,” cried Watson.
“Elementary,” shrugged Sherlock, then added turning to me. “Also, you have worn your journalist accreditation right in front, forgetting – like all of your tribe do – that it is not Kohli or Smith’s bat that gives you super powers, and you don’t really need to take it wherever you go.”
I put the accreditation away. “You’re right Mr Holmes. So let me explain why I’m here.”
He leaned forward, tapped his fingers together and said, “Please state the facts of the case. Omit no detail, howsoever slight.”
So I got to it. “Well it was pretty evident that Smith tried to seek help from the dressing room on a DRS review in Bangalore when he was out. He came for the press conference first that day and admitted his error straight up, calling it a ‘brain fade’. The headline hunters among us journalists were a bit disappointed since it seemed like a straight up admission and a statement to put out fires. Then Kohli came with a truck full of flammable hydrogen and set off a few bombs. Even the headline hunters were wondering which one to pick.
“Now my problem is – what exactly did happen? Was Smith right in claiming it was only a one-time incident? Or was Kohli right in saying that it was systematic and not just once? We’re never going to find out because both boards called a truce and ICC said they wouldn’t be doing anything.”
“Do you have a recording of the match available for me?”
“No, I’m sorry, Mr. Holmes, I don’t have access to that….”
“Data, data, data. I cannot build bricks without clay. Apart from the obvious facts that there must have been no overt evidence of the Australians seeking help from the dressing room in any other instances, that Kohli could have exaggerated his claim to make his point, that Smith and Australia were lucky to escape sanction and that you had bacon for breakfast, I have formed no other conclusions.
Q: Did you watch the third Test in Ranchi Mr Holmes?
A: What sort of fool question is that? I’m an Englishman. I always watch cricket when my trained senses tell me there’s a chance the Aussies might get thumped.
Q: Was Glenn Maxwell holding his shoulder really that serious a breach of etiquette or sporting spirit?
A: I said I was an Englishman. I didn’t say I was an Englishman trying to play Ravindra Jadeja in Chennai. I’m not clueless.
“Your completely baffled look indicates a mind slower than Watson even and in need of elaboration. Very well, if there was any evidence that could be dug up from ball-by-ball data, it would have been front page news that very day. Hence there wasn’t. It is possible to think of teams evolving subtle cues to get illegal help with DRS and the Indians could have picked up on that. Kohli was not out in the middle long enough, the balance of probability says that even if it happened, it might have been when he wasn’t batting. Absent any direct evidence and a public ‘mea culpa’ by Smith for that one act, the path of least resistance is the one chosen. In the furore over Kohli’s words, Smith’s act got subdued, hence he got lucky.
“Is it possible that Kohli was correct in his essentials and that detailed examination of the match footage would bear out his allegations – regardless of whether he happened to be batting at the time or no? Of course. Is it possible that he’s correct even if match footage doesn’t reveal it? Of course. The 20-odd cameras on the ground don’t capture the entire reality. They capture slices of it. Is it also possible that Smith was right and it was a one-off? Equally. But leaving possibilities aside, the only surety is that neither side has been able to conclusively prove it. Because if they had, you wouldn’t be asking me to conjecture. You would have presented arguments one way or the other.”
The amazement didn’t leave my features, but I went on to the next topic: ‘Shouldergate’.
“Did you watch the third Test in Ranchi Mr Holmes?”
“What sort of fool question is that? I’m an Englishman. I always watch cricket when my trained senses tell me there’s a chance the Aussies might get thumped.”
“Was Glenn Maxwell holding his shoulder really that serious a breach of etiquette or sporting spirit?”
“I said I was an Englishman. I didn’t say I was an Englishman trying to play Ravindra Jadeja in Chennai. I’m not clueless. Aren’t you omitting the fact that Kohli came out on the balcony to sarcastically applaud Australia burning up their DRS reviews? This is India v Australia, not Gandhian diplomacy. Here you don’t turn the other cheek, you turn the other cheeky. And to my forensically trained mind, both incidents came under the heading of ‘cheeky banter’. Kohli too held his shoulder mocking the original mocking when India got David Warner out. I’m only thankful Australia didn’t field again and we were spared a mocking of the mocking of the mocking, or a Mock-ception.”
I marvelled. But before I could ask about the consequences of Kohli unfriending the Australians, Dr Watson, until then silent, butted in.
“Hold on a moment. I can see you are going to form a question, so I’ll ask you one. Did you enjoy the series?”
My face lit up. “It was among the best. I honestly thought 4-0 was a possibility before the Australians came. Pune was a surprising result, but Australia were clearly the better team. Test cricket’s glorious uncertainties at their finest.
“Halfway through the Bangalore Test, you would have thought the trophy was there for the taking and they would go 2-0 up. The fightback by India made it one of the most memorable Tests I have ever seen, twisting and turning till the end. Test cricket at its finest.
“Ranchi was one of those draws that are sometimes better than many result matches. What grit, what character by both teams. Test cricket attrition at its finest.
“Dharamsala was a corker of a finish. Australia on top, India fighting back. Australia’s bowlers doing a Bangalore with a day where there was no let-up of intensity but Jadeja giving India an unexpected lead. Then Umesh. And Bhuvneshwar. And Ashwin. And Jadeja again. Test series conclusion at its finest.”
Dr Watson looked at me as if I was a strange specimen encountered in the medical lab. “So then, when you have so much to savour for each match of the series, when each match was a classic in its own right and the sum was even greater than the parts – why do you care if somebody held their shoulder, or somebody looked at the dressing room more than twice? Or if one team didn’t have a beer with another? Especially when it’s all done with now. Don’t you want to take the time to savour this?”
Holmes gave Watson a look then me. There was a marked difference in the two looks. “I’ll show myself out,” I stuttered. Before I was down the last of the 17 steps, I had messaged friends to gather at the nearest pub for a celebratory night. We truly had seen one of the great series, and in that moment, that’s all that mattered.