Vishwanathan Anand recently won the World Chess Championship for an unprecedented fifth time and in India, where sporting success is few and far in between, it certainly was an occasion to rejoice. Even though there aren’t many enthusiastic chess followers in the country, Anand’s achievements rarely go unnoticed.
However, this time, while celebrations were on, the sports followers in the country were tangled in another debate. After all the success in chess, has Anand earned enough credentials to be ranked at par with or possibly above cricketing demi-god Sachin Tendulkar as India’s greatest sportsperson of this generation. Now with even sportspersons allowed to be shortlisted for the Bharat Ratna, the race for the highest civilian award is a keenly contested one.
With just 10 test playing nations as opposed to over 150 countries affiliated to FIDE, Anand certainly scores over Tendulkar in global appeal. Such has been his aura in last two decades that Vishy is the only Indian sportsperson to have been given the citizenship of another country (Spain). When he began his career, the Russians had a vice like grip on the game but Anand, with his determination and self belief, broke the monopoly and slowly made his way to the top.
But on the other hand, the pressure under which Tendulkar has lived his whole adult life is almost unparalleled. Despite being treated as a virtual god by over a billion people, the master blaster never let the adulation go to his head and kept doing his job on the field. With a hundred centuries and over 30,000 runs in 23 years of international cricket, the sheer magnitude of his achievements cannot be overlooked.
The are also many similarities in the career graph of Anand and Tendulkar. Anand was still in his teens when he became India’s first Grandmaster in 1988. In the following year, Tendulkar, all of 16, played his first test match against Pakistan. After rising to great heights in the 90s, both the champion players had to bring in some necessary changes in their playing style. While one, whose career seemed to have come to an halt after an endless trail of injuries, adopted a more risk free style of batting towards the later part of his career, the other had to re-invent his moves on the chequered board as the younger lot seemed to catch up.
Off the field too, both Tendulkar and Anand have been absolute role models for the youngsters. For most of their career they have managed to stay clear of any controversies and their focus has solely been on their game. Their down to earth nature and humble approach has also won them many admirers and made them the greatest ambassadors of their respective games.
After all the above arguments, I think its only fair that it still remains unclear about which of the two stalwarts is the numero uno. Both the sportsmen dabble in different sets of disciplines and have reached the very top of their game. In a nation like India which is starved of success on field, instead of comparing the achievements of the two legends, they should be celebrated.