Sports and greatness: some are more equal than others
Ravichandran Ashwin needs no introduction. The top rated Indian cricketer has been in the news for a few days now. That is, ever since he bagged his 250th Test wicket in his 45th Test which cricket records say, is the fastest to the landmark by a bowler. Cricket being so much a sport of statistics this is one more jewel added to the glittering records of Indians in, undoubtedly the most popular sport in the country. Indeed, with the kind of space that media gives for cricket performances, every effort that deserves commendation gets magnified several times more as compared to other sports. Thereafter anything surrounding the player is news. Ashwin that way is enjoying a phase of high-dimension visibility, so to say!
This is not to belittle Ashwin's brilliance but just to state how fortunate that he is in a sport which is virtually the opium of the vast legion of fans. Ashwin in fact has not only shown his mastery with his off spin bowling but has also been exquisite with the bat as well and if one may add, popular with his honest statements too which at times seem perilously close to being arrogant. But the Cricketer of the Year award winner from the ICC deserves every bit of his time under the sun for so total has been his dedication.
But whether every other sportsperson of excellence, who have come through years of dedication and diligence, gets a similar visibility as a cricketer is a moot point. Just for a moment let’s consider the exploits of Pankaj Advani. It is possible that even his name may not bring immediate recognition in the minds of sports lovers at large. Nothing wrong really for he represents a sport (billiards and snooker) which is often described as an elitist one, a club preserve and so not quite accessible to all and sundry.
But India has some of the finest practitioners of cue sports and in keeping with that rich tradition is this Bangalorean, who has been piling on greatness aplenty in his illustrious career thus far. How many will know that this young man, just pushing 32, is 16 times World champion (12 times in billiards and 4 in snooker) and he continues to show the same enthusiasm to do well as when he was 8 years when he had first blurted out, quite innocently though, that he wanted to be a world champion! The point is, does Advani's grand effort appear any way less comparable to a cricketer? And yet how much of media attention has he hogged in his exceptional career wherein he has already won the Arjuna Award, Rajiv Khel Ratna and last, the Padma Shri in 2009? Debatable.
Comparing sporting moments of course can be invidious for, all said and done, it is the sport which decides the magnitude of an achievement or so it would seem. Years ago when another legendary cricketer Sunil Gavaskar was making waves enroute his richly rewarding career there was another great sportsperson who was also already crying for recognition. Coincidentally, he also happened to be a Cueing expert, Michael Ferreira, a multiple world billiards champion. In a sport played in around 150 countries, Ferreira had dared the best to emulate his predecessor Wilson Jones in winning the world title, an achievement that was of the highest order. Being a Mumbaite like Gavaskar, he was miffed that despite his deed he was not getting the due recognition in comparison to the young cricketer. The last straw was when he was named for the Padma Shri where Gavaskar was to get Padma Bhushan. Ferreira, rejected the award, it is said, because he thought his deeds deserved a similar honour. It is a different matter that Ferreira later was conferred with the Padma Bhushan, when he won his third world title but such was the way sports achievements were viewed.
A similar piquant situation did arise this time around too when the latest batch of Padma awards were announced. No, Pankaj was not competing with Ashwin. But the man who had won the national title 29 times aside from six Asian titles, two in Asian Games aside from clutch of World titles, had only a wry smile when he realised he had not been considered for the Padma Bhushan for the second year running. Anyone who has seen him in action will be convinced what a special player he is. His confident gait, the calm approach and the calculating ways he goes about at the table not to speak of his style with the cue, all make him an irresistible sight even for those who are uninitiated to billiards and snooker. There is an air of supremacy about him and his records prove that. Yet, he was left to wonder, which he is never lost in while on work with the cue, what more he had to do to get the coveted national award. He did not go big with his disappointment, as badminton star Jwala Gutta did, but still reportedly responded to Union Sports Minister Vijay Goel congratulations to him on winning the national title with a tweet, as though seeking to know what more he had to do to win recognition!
Every sportsperson has his/her quota of trials and tribulations before reaching a level of excellence. Some soar to exceptional levels and earn the deserved laurels but only a few get to that enviable kind of visibility and acceptance. Among non-cricketers perhaps V. Anand was a grand exception. Here was a champion who not only conquered the world of chess but revolutionised the sport in India. The boost that chess got after his advent has been nothing less than spectacular. Not surprisingly, Anand was the first sportsperson to have been bestowed with the Padma Vibhushan. But otherwise most other top performers have all mostly been in the genre of Advani, who has in all a collection so far of 54 international gold medals. Yes, he is great....but! Like in life so in sports, some are more equal than others!