Monday, November 3, 2008

A Tribute to the Gentle Giant

6th Jan 2008, Clarke bowls, Ishant nicks, Hussey completes the catch and Australia rejoice. At the other end – after 5 acrimonious days, innumerable bad decisions, 111 deliveries and a few hours at the crease he waits for Ishant to come over and gives a small pat on the back as if saying – never mind…. Leadership is as much about grace and honor as it is about winning….. For many Antigua 2002 or Kotla 1999, but to me Sydney 2008 was the pinnacle for the 18 year old untiring shoulder carrying the hopes of a nation. The words I write will be lost in the millions of testimonials which will be written in the next 24 hours or so but what will not be lost are the words, “Only one team played in the sprit of the game”.

“It does not spin”, they said when he started- it never did, but when the cap came off it had spun a different tale – “619”, it said. Not with spin or pace but with a nip off the pitch and a zip on the lip, a legend was made. A broken Jaw, sliced fingers and a determined hand scripted a fairytale, ‘Dignity’ it was called. Arrogance was dispelled and discipline befriended as a student of the game taught himself the subtle art of playing the game beyond the 22 yards within the realms of his heart.

Destiny did not give him the prodigious turn that spinners stake a claim to but it did turn around at the Oval in 2007 by giving him a Test Century – the most romantic moment in the history of cricket as Harsha Bhogle put it. It bowed again in November 2007 to a man’s will and could not deny him that which it had staunchly denied his contemporaries – The test captaincy.

What does it take to raise the bar of achievement continuously for around 2 decades?
How does it feel to fall short of performance just because you have raised the bar too high?
Do the shoulders tire or the does the chest swell after having carried the burden of expectations of a million people for about half of your life?
And how does it feel when a rival captain says, “Every member of my team is delighted to have played against you?

It took the man who romanced the game to kill my reason and make me believe that legends never die, to expect, to hope and wait over the last 5 days for the bar to be raised again and again…

Kotla watched with moist eyes today as its favorite kid played for one last time in its lap, and then it smiled silently as one of the finest competitors that India has ever produced was being applauded for one last time. The applause was not for a performance, it was for a Man.

From Alan Lamb in 1990 to Mitchell Johnson in 2008 there has been a sprint in the step, a spit in the delivery and a spirit behind it.