There is magic in following any kind of sport. And there is the passion of supporting your favorite player. Nail biting times, when he is struggling, pleas to God that he scores the century, or wins the tournament, have higher priority than your exams. The exhilaration when he looks up at the sun after hitting the four, and redeeming himself. You are there. You feel that joy. And when the comeback bid fails, the fifth set is lost by tired shots, it hurts you. When he takes pain shots, and fights through players 10 years younger to him, and reaches the finals, it inspires you.
There is a magic in maniacal support for your favorite player. There is hard work, of following him everywhere, keeping track of the scores and percentages, of the statistics, of defending him, of debating who is greater, of fetching obscure statistics about a forgotten match played in Nairobi to buttress your claims.
Couple of weeks ago, as FedEx was stopped in his tracks by Del-Potro, as Dravid fought back his way into the ODI side, and Sachin “GOD” Tendulkar reminded the world about the art of cover-drives, I thought about writing this post about all the passionate stars that I have followed. Somethings led to other, and I am writing it two weeks later, more out of boredom, of trying to postpone doing the Game Theory homework, and less out of the passion, that I found flowing through me again for the stars that I love two weeks ago.
The earliest sport memory that I have, is not exactly a memory, in the sense that I distinctly remember seeing it. It is more of a feeling of having seen the Football WC final of 1990, between Argentina and Germany. Amma, piqued my interest by teaching me the basics of the game, and Calcutta never made me forget it. Football, however has never captured my attention for long spans, and I end up watching it every 2 years, once for the Euro cup and once for the World cup. Argentina has been my favorite team for a long time, and if they are kicked out, I support Germany, probably because these are the first two teams that I learned about. And even though, I am a casual football viewer, Argentina facts were on my fingertips, I swore by Maradona and Cannigia, and indulged in numerous debates with Brazil crazy bongs.
Our genes are designed to like and love cricket. And those who don’t are special mutations. I just remember (rather, I feel I remember) the India-Pakistan match. India scored 216 in the match and the Pakistanis failed to chase it. The match remains special, as I watched parts of it in Kutush’s house, and felt the passion and tension of all the grown-ups watching it, seeped in to me. Appa, later in the year taught me how to read the score-card and interpret it, went through the nuances of overs-maidens-runs-wickets, c A b B, fow and extras, and I was hooked to Cricket. I still am. The day begins by reading the headlines on Cricinfo. The third thing I do after waking up (and if I am in India, the day begins by flipping to the last page of the newspaper and reading every bit of cricket related news)
In the mid-90’s, Sachin was India’s only saving grace, and it was hard not to become a die-hard fan of Sachin. It became a habit, to stop watching the match (because nothing remained to be watched) after Sachin got out. It used to be, get out and play, or start the HW kind of thing. Sachin is out. Amma would be happy that I will not stay awake till late in the night. And the habit still resides, even during the time when Sachin is not in a great form, and even when, India is a much stronger team to win despite Sachin’s non-performance. It takes a while to mourn Sachin’s dismissal, and to rue upon another lost opportunity to watch him bat. I know, for sure, that it will be hard to fight tears on the day the God decides to retire.
But my first real passionate support for a cricketing great was for Rahul Dravid. Much before he made his debut, I read about him from some “expert-column”, which back then, really had some meaningful analysis, which enhanced your knowledge about the game. The boy from Karnataka was doing great in Ranji trophy, had a technically strong game, and was supposed to succeed in the swing and seam bowling conditions for England. Dravid and Ganguly both made their debuts in 1996, in a new look Indian team, which featured 6 debuts in a single test. Ganguly stole the limelight. I was in Calcutta then, I was in Behala, and my house was stones throw away from the ground where Dada learned the game, and a short walk away from Dada’s huge mansion ( I have played with the man himself once). Imagine, as a 14 year old, sticking to your conviction then that, although Dada scored all those centuries, Dravid, who was unlucky to be out for 95 in his first innings was the better player.
It was hostile conditions to be supporting Dravid, but for 13 years now, I have been a staunch Dravid supporter, quickly jumping to his defense in any debate, quietly collecting memories of his brilliant innings. As I have learned more about him, I am more in awe of him, and consider him to be a role-model for me. Humbleness, hard work, conviction in your beliefs and leading by hard work are some of the Dravid-learnings that I will not forget for quite a long time. Here is hoping that he has a great couple of years in ODIs and ends up scoring 9 more centuries to pass Gavaskar on the century scorer list for India. He deserves it.
Among other cricketers that I have grown up liking and supporting are Wasim Akram (I was a young budding left armed fast bowler). The first time I saw him and remember him was when he troubled India in Toronto. And despite being a Pakistani, who tormented Indians, his skills have left me mesmerized for a long time. Bowling was my favorite for a long time, and I loved to bowl, which left a lot of my friends amused and happy, because I never fought to get the bat. Walsh and Warne were favorites. I remember Warne entertaining the crowd in Eden Gardens, and his brilliant bowling, which was overshadowed by the God himself in that tour. Gilchrist captured attention with the brilliant debut 2nd innings century, under pressure in Hobart, and I have always enjoyed watch him bat. And there are some greats that I just don’t like. Jayasuriya and Murali come to mind, so does Steve Waugh (Mark Waugh was a favorite, his cover drives and slip catching were just jaw dropping Wows!) and Ricky Ponting. No particular reason for not liking them, but such it goes.
My generation of Cricket stars, players I grew up idolizing, following and relating too are retiring now, and the new crop of players are just player for me. Apart from Dhoni to some extent, not many of them are kindling the kind of passion for stars that I had in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Cricket watching now is just a different experience because of it. I am watching less and less of the games, relying more on Cricinfo, don’t remember any statistics (when at one time, I could rattle the century list, wicket taker list, could recall exact bowling performances from any match etc etc), and the relationship with the game has completely changed.
As much as I am scared about T-20 stealing awesome Test match experiences, I am thankful for the IPL to bring all these players back to the ground, even if it is just for 20 overs. It makes me feel like a teenager again, to watch Warney bowl to Sachin!
*Here, I had planned another trip down memory lanes for more cricket related memories, but Tennis is important too. More cricket can wait for a different post*
Thoughts about Doordarshan will make any 90’s generation nostalgic about their programming. DD showed the grand-slams, and Amma had picked up the habit of watching it from Delhi-Thatha (ya, Amma’s appa/amma are Delhi thatha/patti and Appa’s appa/amma are Madras Thatha/Patti). I would stick around while she would watch the tennis, and explain the sets, games and deuces to me. The game grew on me slowly, and is always in the mix of the sports that I watch regularly. As with Football, the earliest players that I saw were the ones who endeared me. Stefan Edberg, Sergi Bruguera, Micheal Chang, Jim Courier are some of the players I have feverently supported over time.
But the player who has captured my attention and who is still my favorite player (even ahead of FedEx) has been Andre Agassi. I remember (the weird kind of remember), Agassi, long haired, rebel and prodigy, sweeping the ’92 Wimbledon. Since then, it has been a bumpy ride for me, surrounded by Pistol Pete fans, and having had to bear their ridicules when Agassi was going through the worst slump of his life. I have spent watching game after game, willing anyone to go past Pete, just so that all the Pete fans feel the pain that the Agassi fans were feeling. It did not happen, but Agassi scripted the most fairy-taleish comebacks in history, and late 90’s and early 00’s have been the best time for Agassi fans. I still miss him on the courts, and wish that someone take a movie about his life, which can be such an inspiration. My early post on the man says it all. My favorite-est tennis player ever!. Ah! Agassi reminds me of Steffi. I stopped caring about who won the ladies grand-slam after Steffi retired, and more so in the Williams power years (if I absolutely hate someone, it has to be Serena)…and now, with all the russian players with similar sounding names and even more similar playing styles, Women’s tennis needs a prodigy, and badly.
In 2001, Sampras was shooting for a record in London. In the 4th round, he faced the magician. Years of hating Sampras had me, by default supporting the 19 year old, long haired, ponytailed Swiss-man. They produced an amazing match, which makes for quite good viewing, and by the time Sampras was finally defeated in the 5th set, by the wizard FedEx, I had decided that I will be Federer’s fan for life. Now, no matter what statistics say or don’t say, no matter what Rafa fans claim, there has not been a better player in the courts than FedEX. Period. FedEx is one love-affair that is still continuing, and even if, as critics and fans view that FedEx is going down, it is going to be a passionate, nail baiting support for the man, till he hangs up his racket.
And here is the match up between the legends.
Yes, I raised my hands in celebration at the end of the video!