Nigel Henderson talks to the Indian woman who is applying an ancient technique to predicting the results of cricket matches.
In his mystical best-selling work The Alchemist, written in a frenzy of inspiration over a fortnight in 1987, the author Paulo Coelho has one character tell Santiago, his hero: "When you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire so that your wish comes true."
It's a question that those of cricketing bent might ponder in relation to Adil Rashid. How badly does Rashid want his first Test match on English soil after ten on the road – none of which was enough to convince previous selection regimes of his long-term value, and indeed hastened his retirement from the red-ball game – to define a new era in his international career? When he is handed the ball at Edgbaston this week by captain Joe Root, how easy will he find it to block out those critical voices that have so stridently condemned him since he was called back from the wilderness last Thursday by Ed Smith?
According to one interested observer – no ordinary pundit with axes to grind and scores to settle – he's likely to want it very badly indeed. And she is predicting that after a slightly cautious start to his second coming as a long-form bowler, and as the furore starts to die down, he will go from strength to strength.
Perhaps because she is not strictly an England fan – although having been born here and then returned later to study art, she considers them her second team – Shruti Chopra can turn off the noise around his inclusion and take a more detached view on the subject. That said, she believes she has a way of getting an insight into his mentality going into the first Test match.
For Chopra, from Mumbai, is a tarot-card reader, having turned what began as a hobby into a profession in recent years. And, having been steeped in cricket since a tender age – "There isn't anyone in my home who is not in love with the game; aunts, uncles, cousins, parents and brothers were always in tune with what was happening," she admits – she has managed to combine the two interests and is making a name for herself in her home country, where she runs a tarot counselling practice.
Her view was consolidated when, at the request of Guerilla Cricket, she turned her attention to the issue of how Rashid would respond to the controversy swirling around him. Picking first the King of Swords and Three of Cups, two of the 56 cards in the suit referred to as the Minor Arcana – there are 22 further cards in the related Major Arcana – she concluded that the uproar does seem to have disturbed the leg spinner and this initially could result in him being ultra-defensive. However, she argues, as he warms up these cards reflect that he has what it takes to justify his selection. "These cards explain that in the first Test, he calms himself well and reminds himself of what his role is as well as being supported by those around him," she says. "He is being encouraged to focus on the job at hand rather than what is being spoken around him."
What's more, Chopra believes that he will gradually start to thrive on the pressure. "The Ten of Wands, which is the card of burden, does reiterate the sort of feeling Rashid will be fighting, but this pressure will do him good. This desire to push through, display a quiet aggression and prove his worth through his bowling is what he will work towards. Looking at his cards, I believe that Rashid will know how to channel things positively – so, yes, he has the personality to deal with pressure regardless of whether he actually does well."
Other forecasts that Shruti makes in her exclusive consultation, include:
- That Virat Kohli will not be undercooked despite his failure to fulfil his contract in county cricket with Surrey.
- That Joe Root must maintain his commitment to his attacking batting style despite criticism of his failure to convert fifties to hundreds
- That Kuldeep Yadav could wilt under the pressure
- That neither spin nor pace will dominate but both will have a say in the outcome of the match
- That the match may be won by the team that takes the most risks
"Kohli? Undercooked?" she responds almost incredulously when the question is put to her. "It doesn't appear to be so. In fact, cards like the Wheel of Fortune and The Chariot are pretty strong indicators that he has the right balance of aggression and sensibility. His hand-eye co-ordination appears to be in top form and his command over his game seems to be up there as well." However, while aware that such statements may raise expectations, she does offer one note of caution for his admirers, suggesting that he must take care not to allow his fabled intensity to push him towards burnout. "The Knight of Cups is a card that advises Kohli to [allow himself] regular mental pauses to help see the match situation more objectively, otherwise it could be easy as captain for him to be swayed by the emotion of it all."
Of Root, Kohli's English counterpart, she says that his opportunity to build on the hundreds he scored in successive ODIs against India recently is very much in his own hands. "He looks to be most troubled if he goes defensive. Cards such as the Two and Five of Swords explain a natural flair against an expectation to be defensive – he would probably do best when he doesn't hold back. If he can stick to what he absolutely feels comfortable doing then the floodgates will remain open – otherwise he'll probably blow hot and cold in this series."
Kuldeep Yadav, of course, may be the joker in the pack over the next six weeks, having mesmerised England at times in the white-ball hors d'oeuvres. But Chopra sees a "contradiction" in the cards drawn for him: the Three of Cups, the Ten of Wands and the King of Pentacles. "The Three of Cups denotes success and celebration [but the others] tell us about the pressure and responsibility he will be feeling, which could lead to him being expensive in patches."
On the question of whether pace or spin will hold sway and what will prove critical to the result of the opening match, she says: "Both styles will show their importance in the first Test. As the match progresses, it's the changing conditions that will be the larger deciding factor. The Ace of Pentacles, which is about taking risks, tells us that it's quite possible the team which tries a couple of unconventional changes that could create match-changing moments. Who will take those risks?"
It remains to be seen, but on her website Chopra has her own quote from The Alchemist that works for her. "When people consult me, it's not that I'm reading the future, I am guessing at the future," says one character. "How do I guess the future? Based on the omens of the present."
The omens of the present for Adil Rashid might just be a lot more positive than the naysayers hope.
A quick Q and A with Shruti Chopra
How did you get started with tarot-reading?
I always enjoyed understanding personalities of people through their sun signs and just checking how they matched up, plus numerology fascinated me too. So, tarot cards are numbered – that brings in the numerology, and all sun signs are represented in tarot as well, which is why learning tarot felt like a natural progression. This natural progression turned into my profession that I've enjoyed for over eight years now.
What made you think of applying your understanding of tarot to cricket?
In 2010, I learnt tarot, eight months later was the 2011 World Cup, and everyone at home wanted to know what was going to happen. That's when I first took out tarot cards to predict a cricket match. Seeing India win in the cards and then live on TV just got me excited to continue this merger. In 2016 I got in touch with another cricket fan [freelance journalist Suneer Chowdhary] and together we kick-started our podcast, World Cricket Chat. We share a common love for the game – well, I love Indian cricket & Mumbai Indians and he's relatively an impartial and impassioned observer of the game. WCC started out as an outlet to our cricket rants (and opinions for him) and a different medium for me to explore predictions. It's been a couple of years since we began, converting it into a YouTube channel and a website recently and hope to grow it even further with time.
What are the difficulties in doing that?
Tarot for a cricket match is far far tougher than a normal one-on-one reading with a client because we're not just dealing with one individual – there are 22 players, coaches, umpires, the pitch and weather conditions, all intense factors that play a role over a short span of time. It means that the possibility of getting it wrong increases, but that's the challenge I enjoy.
Can you explain the mechanics of a reading?
Tarot has 78 cards and, yes, that's also 78 different meanings. I don't use all of them in a reading but I do shuffle them together as I think about the question I wish to ask. For a cricket match reading, I will focus and ask about each team, i.e. will England beat India and vice-versa. After shuffling, I will pull out seven cards for each team, which should give me an insight into how the team is feeling, thinking, what challenges they could face, what sort of strategies they could have and whether they'll be able to execute it all. Then, I'll look at the batting, bowling and fielding of each team as well (and each innings if it's a Test match). After all these cards are out, I compare them, interpret them and hopefully figure out how the match will go.
Have you had significant success with your cricket predictions?
I forecast that West Indies would win the 2012 T20 World Cup, South Africa's successful 2016 Test series in Australia and the result of the India-England series in 2016-17. Plus, I have an accuracy level of around 80% over the past seven seasons of the IPL. [Ed's note: some of these are checkable on videos on Chopra's websites and while there are inaccuracies the predictions for players seem generally close to the mark. Curiously, of the West Indies victory over England in the T20I final of 2016, which she predicted, she wrote: "Batting will begin with a certain carefree attitude, a little slow to get started, moving into some shaky middle overs but ending very strongly." Carlos Brathwaite won the game with four successive sixes off Stokes after West Indies had been 11 for three…]
What convinces you about tarot-reading's benefits?
I think it's important I clarify one thing about tarot. More than being a tool to predict, it's about guidance and indicating how things are looking for someone. What's also important to remember is that tarot will present you with options and choices to your query – what you do with the advice is always in your own hands. It's not definitive and signing you off to a fate that can't be changed.
On one YouTube video of your predictions a commentator rails at you to "get a proper job instead of scamming with dark age mythology". What do you say to the sceptics?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, so it personally doesn't bother me. But I think it's best to experience something before pulling it down. Otherwise, why not be neutral to it?
SPOOKY! GC's guide to the links between cricket and the cards
The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards – the exact number of players in a Test match
The Minor Arcana consists of four suits: two of the Big Four batsmen in the world will take part in this series
The two decks consist of 78 cards – Guerilla Cricket's resident betting expert Paul Howarth's twitter handle is @Grubby 78
Jean-Baptiste Pitois, the father of predictive tarot, also invented French cricket
Disclaimer: Tarot is for entertainment purposes only