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A learning curve for the 'Punter' this IPL

Every sport abounds with greats and is studded with stars whose pure unadulterated talent keeps the fans in awe. Men have come and men have gone, yet, a few remain etched in our hearts forever. They are the heroes, the sporting heroes every budding sportsman dreams to be. Their clout is immense and immeasurable. They are the role models for every lad in every nook and corner of the country. Every mother aspires her child to become like them. Every marketer is after them, and when they decide to endorse, they set the sales figures tumbling. They knock over the TRP ratings and keep the cash registers ringing. Last but not least, they are the ambassadors of the sport and the face of it. Hence, there have been stars, but superstars have been scant. The road from a star to the superstar has been less tread on. To tread on that road, would talent alone suffice?

Australia v India - Fourth Test: Day 4

Enter Ricky Ponting. His talent or his caliber as a batsman is unquestionable. His batting prowess is immaculate. With a willow in his hand, he dictates terms to every bowler and on his day, he can dismantle any attack. When in full flow, he sounds the death knell for the bowlers. His customary shuffle and the intensity of his strokes have drawn admiration from every corner of the cricketing globe. His mutilating knock against India in the finals of the 2003 World Cup that ripped apart the Indian attack and kicked India out of the game is certainly one of the best knocks ever played. It takes astonishing skill to script such a free flowing innings under pressure in a World Cup final. At his peak, he threatened to break Tendulkar’s records and as a school kid I was just praying for Ponting to lose his form. Yet, even with such spectacular plaudits under his kitty, he isn’t the most respected cricketer in the world. An Australian kid would aspire to become a Steve Waugh, a Shane Warne, an Adam Gilchrist or Ricky Ponting the batsman. Ricky Ponting the cricketer is certainly not the dream for every kid. There is something beyond talent and attributes that transcend you to the next level.

When Ponting retired, every former cricketer lauded him for his exploits on the field as a batsman, yet none of them were able to vouch for him as a sportsman. Every Indian had his own share of bottled anger and that inhibited the accolades that would have flowed when he called it a day. The Sydney Test was still fresh in every Indian’s mind. When he feigned a catch that he had grassed, he lost the most important attribute for a human being – credibility. That moment, he buried the sportsman that he was. The word ‘sport’ had lost its sheen. All his achievements as a batsman flew out in a jiffy that moment. His character was sullied. Early in his career, he was involved in a brawl in India and controversies weren’t alien to him. Every time he showed dissent to an umpire’s decision or every time he sledged, he was murdering the sporting spirit. The first lesson for every sportsman is to keep up the spirit of the game and he had foundered in that area. He might have aced every other lesson of the game, yet, he goofed up the paramount lesson. He was a star and remains a star. Superstar and role model are too far fetched for him and the price tags attached to those terms are seldom affordable.

There enters another sportsman, the pinnacle of greatness and the ambassador of the game – Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. A lot has been spoken and written about his greatness on the field. If he was a master on the field, his stature was only better off the field. His conduct always set an example, just the way his batting did. He has seen the vicissitudes of two and a half decades and his career remains unblemished. Of all the laurels he’s won, one stands out. A bookie went on record saying that match fixing would begin only after Sachin had got out. That speaks volumes of this man. Amid all the muddle and turmoil, he stayed silent, he let his bat do the talking and that too in style. When news of match fixing reached him on the eve of the Sharjah match, he vowed to win the match for the nation and so he did. After mounting such heights, he still remains rooted to his culture and every time he’s back from a tour, he makes it a point to meet his coach Ramakant Achrekar. On the morning of a surgery, he fought with the doctors to postpone the surgery by a few hours as he wanted to watch an India match on TV. After every IPL victory, when the entire team partied, he would drive home to his hotel room. Partying to him was meant to be on the field at the expense of the bowler. He distanced himself from flamboyance, glitz and glamour. On the field too, he walked his talk. If he was at the receiving end of a harsh umpiring decision, he showed no sort of dissent or disgruntlement. He respected everyone associated with the game and so did everyone in return. He might not have walked, but never did he stay after the umpire ruled. If being unfazed by sledging is one thing, not sledging in return is another thing. He remained stoic when the bowlers mouthed. For all the flak and scorn aimed at him, he let the bat do the talking. His character and conduct speak louder than his records do. When he retired from ODIs, a billion cried. Not only did we lose a great batsman, we lost a great benevolent human being.

Australia v India - 2011 ICC World Cup Quarter-Final

Now, doing justice to the topic, Ponting has got a chance to redeem his misdoings. In the IPL that is going to unfold in a couple of months, Ponting will play alongside Tendulkar. This would, for sure, be a treat for the fans, to witness two batting greats sharing the crease. Beyond that, it would prove to be a learning curve for Ponting. Ponting will share the dressing room with Tendulkar. Tendulkar’s aura would be infectious and I’m sure Ponting would benefit from it on the whole. Of all the things Ponting needs to learn, simplicity comes first. After breaking every record in the book and after having redefined batting, Tendulkar still remains the shy sixteen-year-old at heart. The pompous Ponting needs to learn from the modest master in terms of humility and simplicity. Next in line is the spirit of the game every sportsman is committed to keep up. While Ponting fakes dismissals on the field, Tendulkar reinstates batsmen who have fallen prey to wrong decisions. Ponting needs to imbibe such spirits from the master. Ponting needs to draw a leaf out of Tendulkar’s conduct on the field and atone for the “hooliganism” he has practised over the years. Last but not least, he needs to learn the art of respecting the opposition. The moment you bow down to your opponent, you’re in for a fair trade and you’ll benefit from it. The moment you stay high-headed, you’ve lost it all. These are just a glaring few areas; there is more in store for Ponting to learn from the master.

When you walk into the sunset, the world needs to respect you for your character as well as your talent. Jettisoning the former could prove to be egregious. Tendulkar is an epitome of benevolence on and off the field. He is an icon, a role model and a superstar indeed. He took the road, galloped through it and the wheels are still in motion. He had something more than talent that set him apart, on a whole new plane. One side of the learning is certain. Given the keen learner he is, Tendulkar would also learn a thing or two from Ponting.

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