No boundaries Nirmal Shekar

A sports writer’s Top Ten

After over three-and-a-half decades of watching sport and writing on sport, it is almost impossible to list your Top 10 favourite players. But lists are good fun — even if they are far from objective, and this one is especially subjective. And here goes mine.

Remember, these are the 10 athletes who have given me the greatest satisfaction from many different perspectives, both when it came to seeing them in action and then writing about their many great attributes. They are not necessarily the best of the last 35 years. The sports included are only those that, by and large, interest Indian sports lovers, and the sportspersons are ones I have watched and commented on frequently.

10. BRIAN LARA: I might consider taking a quick break to visit the wash room when Sachin Tendulkar is at his very best; yet, might think twice about doing so when Lara is on song. “The only guy by whom I didn’t mind getting murdered,” was what one well known international bowler said to me about the Trinidadian genius. Flamboyant, flawed, charismatic, moody, gifted, he turned the greatest of bowlers into nervous wrecks.

9. STEFFI GRAF: There has never been anybody quite like Graf in women’s tennis — not even Serena Williams. To see her practice was to imagine The Buddha under the Bodhi tree – deep in meditation although with all the limbs moving in unison. She was driven by a desire that went far beyond the mundane act of winning titles. People talk about her strokes but her greatest attributes were her footwork, athleticism and focus.

8. MICHAEL SCHUMACHER: It is hard now to talk about the most successful Formula One champion of all time without tears in your eyes. It is hard not to deeply ponder the role that chance, cruel chance, plays in the lives of some of the greatest achievers. But to go too far in that direction and stare down the abyss is to consider again Albert Camus’s observation about how suicide is the first, and perhaps only, question in philosophy. Anybody for a debate on the meaning of life and the great Schumacher’s part in the whole damn charade!

7. PETE SAMPRAS: I was not even wrong…much worse. When the seven-time Wimbledon champion was insulted and whisked away to the old No. 2 court, the graveyard of the seeds, and lost a second round match to a Swiss qualifier named George Bastl in 2002, it seemed impossible that he would ever again embrace Grand Slam glory. I had so much respect for the great man that I pleaded in print for his retirement. Two months later, Sampras outplayed Andre Agassi to win the 14 and last of his Grand Slam titles. He never played again. What a man, what a champion!

6. DIEGO MARADONA: If there is one man in the entire history of football who might get to be credited for almost single-handedly winning the World Cup for his country, it is Maradona. The team he played with in 1986 in the high altitude of Mexico will never go down as one of the finest, yet Maradona conjured up two remarkable games in which his genius stood out magnificently — against England and Belgium. His second goal against England, which followed the infamous Hand of God goal, has widely been hailed as the Goal of the Century.

5. SHANE WARNE: Strangely enough, no matter all the celebration regarding the ‘Ball of the Century’ that left Mike Gatting look like a man who had just been outfoxed by a member of a super-species from another planet, no matter his place in Wisden’s Top Five cricketers of the 20th century, I was charmed by Warne when his shoulder was pretty much gone and he was playing in the Indian Premier League. It was the first season of the cash-rich event and with his wily leg spin and great captaincy Warne lifted a lightweight Rajasthan Royals team to great heights. If someone can do this well past his prime, he must be a superman.

4. LIONEL MESSI: The man’s legacy, if you were to believe football experts, is still a work in progress. And that is bloody scary. But what a work in progress! Whenever he ends his club career, he will definitely go down as the greatest club player of all time. The things he can do with the ball, the way he can tiptoe through the tulips — read opponents’ legs — is something that is jaw-droppingly awesome. Who cares if he has not won a World Cup for Argentina.

3. SACHIN TENDULKAR: The identities of tens of millions of my countrymen as my fellow citizens — Indians — have been, for a long time, inextricably tied up with the achievements on the cricket field of a little, baby-faced, curly haired willow-wielder from Mumbai. A famous statistician once said that Don Bradman was so much better than other cricketers that he was s statistical impossibility. Tendulkar may not quite be there. But given his longevity and accomplishments in both forms of the game in vastly different conditions around the globe, he may be less than a distant second to Sir Don. Nobody in Indian sport has stepped beyond the impassable boundaries of athletic excellence as often as has the little genius.

2. AYRTON SENNA: Most of the time, when you think of sportsmen, when you meet them or write about them, you think only of sportsmen — which is to say, the context is rather limited. It was not so with Senna. Rooms hushed when he entered. You were often entranced in his presence; his personality was a singularity in the field of sport. And, on the Formula One track, his intensity was so searing that you wondered why the whole world around was not on fire. Right up until his death — believe it or not, I had always suspected he might die young — he occupied a place high above the banal and the quotidian.

1. ROGER FEDERER: The best of sport makes a monument of life’s transience. And, to my mind, nobody has erected as many monuments on a sporting field as has Federer in the last quarter of a century. A Federer master-class fed the soul — or whatever else your replacement for that elusive entity is — as nothing else did. It had a time-evading quality to it. His genius made for heightened moments of life. You almost always had to attend to Federer on the court — not just watch him.

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Printable version | Jan 12, 2022 8:43:13 PM |

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