Unsung Sporting Heroes: They Too Are Champions
In every sport and game, there have been some players who did not get the recognition they deserved just because their careers coincided with some of the greatest in the history of the respective fields.
Roger Federer is undoubtedly one of the greatest players ever to step on to the tennis court but then the achievements of Rafael Nadal are not to be understated. There was a time when Federer with his sublime touch and great skills dominated the game and everyone was in awe.There were debates about the titles and the records that the Swiss maestro would gather in the coming years. But then came the Spaniard called Nadal and the tennis world was not a one man show any longer. Nadal and Federer were as different as chalk from cheese. While Federer relied more on touch, Nadal was all power.
Federer won all the three majors with the exception of the one on the red clay of Paris at Roland Garros. Nadal, on the other hand, coming from the land of such baseline hitters as Bruguera, Ferrer and Ferroro and Moya seemed to be a natural on the slow surfaces. His game took him all the way to top in Paris where Nadal successfully overcame the challenge posed by everyone including Federer. The French Open was the one trophy missing from the impressive collection and Federer was not ashamed to express his desire in public a number of times. It was only when Robin Soderling upset Nadal, that Roger Federer could finally nail the French.
Meanwhile, Nadal confounded everyone to put it past Federer even on the grass turf at SW 19.Suddenly, Nadal was no longer a clay court expert but a genuine all-rounder.
But the stupendous achievements of Nadal could not detract some commentators calling him ‘a freak’. Even during the just completed 125th edition of the Wimbledon, there was a talk of Nadal pulling out of the tournament due to an injury. Suddenly, the commentators felt an opportunity for Federer. But unfortunately, Federer could not go past the quarter-finals thanks to the sterling display put up by Tsonga.
Why does Nadal not get the recognition that he surely deserves? Does it have something to do with his apparel on court or his style of play or his looks?
Coming to the Indian cricket team, one man has by virtue of his sheer genius managed to overshadow not only his famed opponents but also the stupendous achievements of his own teammates.
Sourav Ganguly, for a great part of his career, could get the respect of everyone more so in case of the one-dayers where he formed a great partnership with Sachin at the top of the batting order.The century on his first outing at Lords’ is the stuff of legends. What Sourav lost out as a player vis-a-vis Sachin was more than made up by his exploits as a captain.
Anil Kumble is recognised as one of the greatest spinners in the history of cricket sharing the podium with the likes of Shane Warne. His career coincided again with the career of Sachin. In another era, Kumble would have been as great a superstar as Sachin.
Next is the case of the player who manages to justify the tag ‘Very Very Special’ time and again when most of his teammates falter. I am talking about V V S Laxman who has not looked back since the epic innings of 281 at Kolkata versus the Australians. The recent victories of India in the test matches and the ascent of the team to the top of the test rankings is due to some telling contributions from the bat of Laxman.
But my heart goes out to Rahul Dravid who has not got the recognition that he richly deserves. His style of batting has earned him the nickname “The Wall” which I feel is rather derogatory. It is this style of play that has resulted in many great wins for India and at the same time brought more than 10,000 runs and 34 centuries in test cricket. Dravid is also the record holder as far as catches by a non-wicketkeeper is concerned. Let us also not forget that Dravid made a significant contribution to the one-day team in the run-up to the finals of the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup.
One headline during the ongoing test series in the West Indies made me sit up. Dravid made a hundred in the first test which contributed to a great win. The next morning one news channel screamed ‘oldest man in test cricket currently scores a century’.The headlines would surely have been different if a Sachin or a Dhoni scored a hundred. Why this discrimination against Dravid?
I am once again forced to ask: Is it because Dravid plays differently or is there any other reason that I do not know about? There were some commentators in the past who even blamed the physiological characteristics of Dravid as the cause of his style of play. They pointed out that Dravid tended to lose his stamina quickly on account of his profuse sweating.
It is true that sometimes Rahul Dravid seems to fall into a rut while batting which makes viewing cricket extremely painful. It appears that Dravid has to bear the burden of the entire world on his frail shoulders much like the mythical figure of Atlas. But to his credit, Dravid has time and again come up with something that helped his team immensely.
Dravid was removed from the one-day team many times and his removal as the captain of the India team needs a lot of explaining. But these incidents have only seemed to strengthen the will and the resolve of Dravid to do more for his team as was the case in the first test at Jamaica.
Make no mistake, I am as big fan as anyone when it comes to Sachin or Federer but Nadal and Dravid are also champions in their own right.