No Boundaries Sport

Leave Virat alone for now, and Sachin, forever

However much we try, we can’t leave them alone, can we? The moment a player, specially one rather young, comes up with an awe-inspiring display or three, or goes through a magical season or two, we are seldom content with saying that he or she is a phenomenal talent who has the potential to join a handful on the pantheon some day.

To say he or she is the next megastar is fine; but to turn trigger-happy or keyboard happy and install him or her in the place of the finest in the pantheon, just so he is in good company — or perhaps because we think that the young man would feel lonely in his present role — is a touch immature, to say the least.

Not only does this place an enormous burden on a young man’s shoulders and make him imagine he is the equal of the finest to have ever played the game but it also reveals poor journalistic form.

For much of 2016, we have read quite a bit about how Virat Kolhi is the next Sachin Tendulkar. It looks as if that it was only the other day that Sachin started his famous, even legendary, farewell speech — the-half-an-hour-plus tour de force amidst never before seen emotional outpouring in front of over 30,000 spectators and millions watching on television — and now we want to find someone his equal.

Poor Kohli. He has not even had the time to establish his own identity and come to terms with what is — and will be — demanded of him as a batsman and as a captain.

And now he has to aspire to be the equal of the country’s cricketing god, who made his Test debut in Pakistan at the age of 16, about the time Kohli was a year old — all this because a few of us already think we know what the new Indian Test captain’s preordained destiny is, or what it ought to be.

When it comes to sports, hyperbole may be excused because we are a nation that wants more and more heroes in sport — forget politics, science and many other fields that really matter — and our heroes wake up in the morning thinking of bat and ball and the 22 yards where the battle would be won or lost.

Unfair comparisons

Now, let us be fair. Comparisons can be unfair to both parties and counter-productive too. While neither Tendulkar nor Kohli is going to lose sleep over the latest new-god-in-the-horizon nonsense, we must admit that such comparisons can hurt the young man more than it can help him, beyond a moment’s high.

There have been several dozen Dons since the incomparable Bradman walked back to the pavilion at The Oval, out second ball for a duck in his last Test innings, and leaving behind a mind-boggling batting average of 99.94; and every young spinner who comes up with a special ball or two is immediately compared to the debonair Australian Shane Warne, now retired, but still the owner of the Ball of the Century (Mike Gatting was the unfortunate victim).

And Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee and Ian Botham, contemporaries all, were compared to the one and only Garry Sobers. And they won’t be the last either. The point is, when someone stands alone, peerless, and seemingly unapproachable, there is always the temptation to find him a match, a Bradman and Sobers in cricket, or a Roger Federer or Pete Sampras in tennis.

This urge is ancient, going even beyond written history, and is the reason that from the very beginning of organised sport, the lonely immortals in every game have been compared to contemporary stars.

Doing your best and winning, and yet remaining in the long shadow of a predecessor can be a terrible experience, or a moment of great joy, for the young man, depending on how he looks at it.

But the need for individual identity has never been more significant than it is today in the world of sport. While it is very important for us to celebrate the achievements of the greats of the past, it is also equally necessary to treat talented young men as special individuals themselves and not photo copies of a retired great.

Some individuals, or should we call them institutions, are sacred and it is important for us to keep them that way.

Of course, cricket is not the only game in which meaningless and needless comparisons are a pet hobby of many people.

Football, boxing, tennis, athletics and almost every other major sport has had several instances when critics and lay fans have fallen into the comparison trap. Quite often, I take a deep breath and exclaim, ‘Ah, here comes another (baseless) comparison.’

Since the greatest footballer of the 20th century said goodbye to the international game, sitting on the shoulders of his teammates, after Brazil won the World Cup in Mexico in 1970, there have been hundreds of Peles, White, Black and Brown, in Europe, South America and elsewhere. But the footballer who would surpass the magical amalgam of Pele’s speed, ball skills, stamina and striking power has perhaps not been delivered into this world yet. An under-the-breath ‘sorry’ into the ears of Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi may not hurt though.

In the world of boxing, where the facts of life are stranger than fiction and hype is inseparable from truth, you never know whether it is someone’s honest opinion or is a sort of motivated falsehood when the person says, “Hey, this kid is as good as Ali.”

But you don’t get to be another Ali by merely mouthing puerile profanities and mediocre ringside poetry. Ali transcended boxing. If ridiculous and ludicrous comparisons are the bane of sport, then they are unfair to the young talents. They are not only singled out to carry a huge psychological burden but the comparisons also have the dangerous potential to lead to a crippling identity crisis.

Let’s face it. There will be one Ali, one Pele, one Federer, and most of all in the Indian context, one Tendulkar.

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 6:43:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/Leave-Virat-alone-for-now-and-Sachin-forever/article15605384.ece

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