This appeared in Asian Age yesterday...
The Dreaded ‘R’- Word….
Why is it that super successful individuals cannot but cannot call it quits when the time is right? Formula One had just one God on the tracks for the longest time – and that was Michael Schumacher. My husband was his ardent devotee. Perhaps, devotee is an understatement. Race days were sacred, regardless of any other commitments or compulsions. I shan’t mention the compulsions of a rather intimate nature – but, yes – those too. Everything was put on hold till Schumi (of course, we had our very own pet name for his hero) was on the podium spraying magnums of premium champagne on his hysterical fans.It’s an unforgettable image… mainly because of how cold it really was. There’s the great F1 champion, a tight little smile on his face. In his hour of triumph and glory there’s no real exuberance on show. Just Germanic smugness at his own unbeatable competence. I always found Schumacher robotic , mechanical and distant. “That’s what you women don’t seem to understand…” explained my husband, using that annoying tone men adopt when they are about to reveal a deeply cherished all-male trait. “ To be a world class winner – which Schumi is, you need to be focused and unemotional. Schumi does not need to jump up and down on that podium after claiming the championship. That sort of a display is for amateurs – excitable kids. ”
I was thinking of all those comments when Schumi bid his (I hope) final farewell to the sport on Sunday at Sao Paolo. Of course, he didn’t shed tears. Of course, he remained gracious but determinedly robotic. That’s him. Compare the sigh of relief that greeted his over delayed goodbye, from the sobs that had marked his original ‘last lap’. Even that adieu was a bit late in the day, considering he had not been at his best for a while. But there was still some dignity left. And when he waved to his devastated fans, there was genuine regret to watch him leave the very tracks he had burned up while driving those killer cars.This time round there was jubilation. Hota hai….fans are the same all over the world - heartless. Especially sports’ fans. They tend to get fanatical about their heroes when those heroes are on top of the game. The same fans become scarily unforgiving when the hero quits the sport.For those ruling the roost right now,one can see it coming for a few…. starting with David Beckham. He continues to have a great butt. But! His days as a top level footballer are clearly numbered. Today, he’s being bought and sold across clubs like so much chana. What a comedown!
Which brings me to our Cricketing God, Shri Tendulkar. Nobody but nobody in the sports’ history of India has enjoyed the staggering level of mass adulation as Aapla Sachin. Alas,those same admirers are getting nervous today. The question on everybody’s mind is the same : When will Sachin retire? Cruel. But there it is. This is a question India has been asking for a while now. Things have finally come to a head with his abysmal performance during the recently concluded Test match in Mumbai against England, provoking Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar sufficiently to issue unambiguous statements that left no room for interpretation. Sachin has to go. Whether Sachin himself takes his cue and quits instantly, remains to be seen. As is his style, he has thrown the challenge at selectors, making it really difficult for everybody. In effect, he is asking to be dropped ( fired, sounds horrible, but that’s the more accurate word). It’s now a contest of who blinks first. Will Sandeep Patil and gang have the guts to say, “ Thanks bro. But guess what? It’s time to walk.” Sachin has shrewdly lobbed the ball into their court, insisting the decision has to come from them. This is really not cricket, his many admirers are admitting reluctantly. Gavaskar, the smartest player of all time in every sense of the term, is saying Sachin will not go quietly, but go with a roar. How many more roars does Sachin need? The first big roar was the World Cup. Sachin didn’t go after that historic win. Then came his milestone century( which took ages). He stuck on. Now comes this embarrassing public debate. Kapil, as always, has been more blunt – “The problem is Sachin does not speak about it ( retirement) openly….” Of course, Sachin doesn’t… and won’t. His line has been consistent (and tedious). “ I play for India. So long as I can contribute to my country, I see no reason to stop…” Excuse us, but don’t the other cricketers also play for India? Is Sachin the only patriotic player we have? But it’s a statement that has reinforced his image as a committed player India cannot do without. Never mind the track record (153 runs in 10 innings – the lowest by any Indian top player during the same time frame).Never mind the age factor Sachin turns 40 next year. This is one call Sachin will have to make himself, difficult as it is. Being a living legend cannot be all that easy. Along with the considerable perks (and let’s not forget staggering monetary ones), there is the larger-than –life existence that dominates every waking moment. Legends never have it easy, particularly sports’ legends, whose shelf life is determined by the level of fitness. Once the peak physical form passes, rapid decline follows. It happens to everyone – from prize fighters, footballers, racing car drivers, swimmers, track athletes, basketball players. How can it spare cricketers, no matter how gifted?
Sorry, Sachin…India will love you forever and ever. Promise. But for now… for your sake and ours …quit while you are ahead. Ricky Ponting se kuch seekhlo…..that’s how it’s done, bro!
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Spent an enchanted evening hosted by Dom Perignon at the magnificent Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur. I have some great pics which will tell their own story... let it be said, there was magic in the desert air, as sixty lucky guests were transported to another zone, while Bapji Jodhpur ( the erstwhile Maharajah) played the gracious host in a salon built by his grand mother, and rarely opened to the public... and what a grand salon it is - the only portion of the superbly maintained palace that borrows heavily from the Art Deco era.