Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Great WALL of India

They say cricket is a gentleman's game. But given a task, it would be a really difficult proposition to find some among the current era of cricketers. In the age of IPL and other cash rich leagues, the gentlemanship is put to the toughest of the tests. There is distraction at each corner and shortcuts to success are plenty. So what it takes to maintain the dignity of the sport we love so much and grew up watching to. The answer lies with one of the stalwarts to have played the game who sadly hung his boots recently.

My earliest memory of this guy goes back to the time when he was criticised for being a slow run getter. I even found myself cursing him a number of times when he was on the crease. Of course, the only thing which is still persistent since then is, he is still one of the favourite sportsperson among gals, thanks to his looks and personality. But to rise above those criticisms and score more than 10000 runs in ODIs at a brisk average speaks volumes about his commitment and hardwork.His record in tests, both in batting as well as catches, have few parallels in the history of the game.

Now the question that arises is why there are so many tributes flowing in from all quarters after his retirement. This guy was never in the limelight, be it celebrating the success of a stupendous victory or the blame game of a crushing defeat. So off late what made everyone realize the true value of this individual. Perhaps the answer lies in his conduct on and off the field. Be it his ability to rise to the demand of the situation and accept any role given to him in the interest of the team, his performance in the most difficult of all situations when everybody else crumbles around him or his eloquence which has won the hearts of many fans all around the world, there is a mark of dignity and respect.

In a cricket frenzy nation like India, where cricketers are given a stature similar to Gods, it is hard to avoid the media glare on and off the field. But this true gentleman of the game was never the talk of the town, apart from some exceptional occasions when the critics had no choice than to give a standing ovation to this champion of the game. But as the talk about his retirement grew louder and louder with each passing year getting added to his age, there was a sense of grit in his performance on the field. The century at lord after 15 years of international career followed by a couple more in England and WI under the most difficult of circumstances against some spirited attacks, are the testimony of his indomitable spirit.

Personally, my view about this person has gone through a sea of change in the last couple of years. He was never a part of my all-time greats in cricket or a poster boy to be cherished in my living room. But in the recent times, this man has proved me wrong time and again with his true character, attitude and not forgetting, his performance on the field. While a century of Sachin gave a sense of achievement, his century provided a sense of satisfaction and solace. His love for the game reflected my own views. But the emotion was quite short-lived as he had to bid good bye to the game he loved so much. It might not have been an overnight decision to hang-in his boots. Perhaps the recent Australian tour was a turning point in his career where the Indian team suffered one of their worst series defeats after being named as the favourites to dominate Australian summer. The Wall which was once considered as invincible suddenly looked quite vulnerable. This combined with the pressure mounting from all corners for the retirement of the senior players may have been the reason for this tough decision.

It has been little more than three weeks since he bid farewell to cricket. A lot of felicitation functions have been arranged for this great ambassador of the game, both by BCCI as well as State Associations. A lot of kind and encouraging words have been said by the past and present greats of the game. But the question which is very difficult to answer is whether this is the swansong he had planned or rather deserved for himself. As rightly put by him, living the dream of his father for sixteen long years, he could not have asked for more. Perhaps that’s why there is a sense of sadness but pride.

Salute to the WALL...

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