I am still reeling from watching the news about Lance Armstrong being docked his Tour de France titles for drug abuse. Have you ever seen a Tour De France race? It is wincingly painful experience even while watching on TV. To win that kind of grueling race and to do it after coming back after a life threatening illness meant that anyone who did that was a superhuman, a hero. Or at least I thought so. Alas Lance has opted not to defend the charges against him. Was he simply fed up of the constant carping? Or did he really have feet of clay? I don’t know, but I really felt sad at hearing the news. And I remembered the last days of all those other sporting heroes I remember from my childhood days. Diego Maradona. What a footballer. For those who have only seen highlights of his greatest moments, the pleasure of watching him over a full 90 minute match can never be explained. The man was sheer magic on the field.
The other great sporting hero I will always remember with pleasure for the sheer magic moments he produced was Andre Agassi. Never the most talented of players, he never had Sampras’s mastery for instance, but boy could he run and retrieve. You could never assume that it was a winner down the line when Agassi was playing, he could chase down anything, from any angle and return it back. Watching him chase down ball after ball which the other player, Goran Ivanisevic for instance, assumed would be an ace and simply relaxed while Agassi managed to get it back, jaw-droppingly at the very last minute – a moment of pure sporting joy. The kind of sporting memory which stands out even after years and years.
But Agassi was also attacked by critics all through his playing days. They didn’t just attack his playing skills (or lack of it) they attacked his personal life- which is way over the line. There was so much criticism that at one instance he dropped out of tennis altogether before he met the wonderful Ms.Graf who brought him back from the brink- a fairytale romance if ever there was one. I used to idolize Agassi, a bit, because as a kid I used to prefer (the bad boy in me) the devil may care attitude of wild boy Andre compared to the goody-good Mr. Pete Sampras, who was faultless both professionally and personally. And that brings me to the point of this post.
What pleasure we mortal men feel in hacking down heroes? Do we do it out of envy? Or do we do it because it is the way of the world, the universe working through us, the gods punishing mere mortals for their hubris, in assuming even for an instant a role larger than that which humanity was destined for? Prometheus was chained, Atlas bowed and Sachin Tendulkar is asked after every match why he has not retired yet. Not that I am referring to Sachin as a Demi-god but you have to admit that the man has strode like a colossus over the cricket field for the past two decades. And if he feels that he still has one last song to sing, we should wait for his swansong rather than demand he cease singing.
I personally would prefer that Sachin stay on, to show the young ones how to do it, till they get the hang of it at least, despite whatever dope the bilious Australian Critics pass off as expert opinion to a nation of fawning fools who give more credence to a Dean Jones than a Sunil Gavaskar. The man has earned a little indulgence, hasn’t he? For over the years, he has stepped up to the crease, again and again and again and delivered when all others failed around him. People who point out his stats and its deficiencies can never understand the fact that you cannot bat for your averages when the innings might collapse with every other over. To absorb that kind of pressure and to still bat as freely as he did, shows Sachin’s class.
More often than not, the fall of Sachin’s wicket was also the end of the innings, for the others – the Azhars and the Jadejas would often run a race to the comforts of the pavilion. It was only after that steely hearted warrior Sourav Ganguly came into the team, when the match fixers had destroyed the image completely, that Sachin found someone he could rely on to fight till the end. These two batsmen were the two most large hearted cricketers I have ever seen, fighting to the last end, while the others would still fold at the first sign of a throat ball climbing up on them. Sourav made the mistake of listening to his critics at the end of his career and allowed them to dictate his retirement but I hope Sachin Tendulkar will not. And he will go out there and make tons of runs and show them that the little genius may not be little anymore, but still stays a genius.
Here’s to you Sachin, may you bat long and freely and make those runs in the manner you know best.