Two inspiring happenings in the sports arena over the week must have warmed the cockles of many sports fans’ hearts in India. Indeed, the reference is to the now famous javelin exponent Neeraj Chopra and who else but cricketer Virat Kohli, the former India skipper but lately a struggling batsman. The two have been in the news for everything positive and for fresh dreams to take origin! Indeed, consistency is what comes to mind when these two giants of their respective sports come to the world stage. If Neeraj has been an epitome of consistency, then until this week and for over three years, Kohli had been wondering where and how this key characteristic of his gifted career had gone astray. Suddenly all seems well, and the future looks bright and beautiful.
Neeraj has been phenomenal. Ever since he came to the scene as a new sensation in Indian athletics, this Haryana giant has been keeping up his promises with a touch of elan. He had always believed in the virtues of being consistent. Even if reaching 90 m was his aim for the year, Neeraj believed that being consistently close to that was what would do him good. And surely it proved just that. Overall, Neeraj had breached the 85m mark on 35 occasions with his best of 89.94 m coming in June in the Stockholm Diamond League in Sweden. The Olympic gold medallist, World silver medallist, the list kept extending and this year in a space of three months, he had a podium finish in all six events he took part culminating with the latest, Diamond League title, the first Indian again to achieve this distinction.
Underline the word consistent! Neeraj has been an example of just that. He has given the nation a sporting example of where sheer consistency with skill can take one. And it is not easy in a discipline like his. Heaving the spear is one thing but to be striking a distance which fetches him rewards just quite another. Look at his rivals, most of them had drifted between 85 and 87 metres, whereas our man had always found 88 and around the mark in one of his throws. It is doubtful if there had been any other Indian sportsman to date who had found the highs with just this level of perfection. True, he does suffer injuries, but that is human just as making a mistake is natural. What Neeraj has shown is his ability to take adversity in stride even as he plots for the next big win. He missed the Commonwealth Games with a groin strain after the World Championship gruel but has he not bounced back to where he has proved he belonged?
One is tempted to quote from that famous poem of yore ‘Stopping by Woods on a snowy evening by that one and only Robert Frost “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” Former Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru used to be particularly fond of these words and took them, dear, to his heart, and for Neeraj, this must be the motto as he rises in stature. Surely, there has to be much more unfinished work for him. Age is on his side, and for one, he still has the dream to realise of breaching the 90m mark. There is more. Who knows what destiny has ordained for him?
One could talk in the same vein of Kohli, the champion batter who wielded the bat like a magic wand. Big scores from his bat seemed natural, and he revelled in all conditions and all formats of cricket. A few years ago, many critics even believed that this would be the man who would surpass or reach the records of that maestro, the legendary Sachin Tendulkar. Kohli’s pace in getting runs and centuries seemed in line for that until around three years ago suddenly, the runs dried up, and his appetite for centuries too. The 2019 Test century against Bangladesh in Kolkata was the last time when a big knock had come from his bat. Critics took over to have a field day. Experts too joined, but to throw in positive suggestions. Remember the top batsman of his time, Sunil Gavaskar seeking “ twenty minutes” of Kohli’s time for providing corrective tips!
The great player lived through all this with admirable equipoise, firmly believing in his strengths. Until the Asia Cup in Dubai provided him with the kind of mental relief that should only do him a world of good. True India had lost the path in the Asia Cup, exiting even before the event got over, but Kohli’s 71st century, his first in the T20 format, became the talk of the town. There was even a snide suggestion that Kohli’s effort had come in an inconsequential match (against Afghanistan), and thus without any pressure! But then a century is a century! A comparison with Tendulkar even at this stage makes an interesting observation. Both these greats have been more or less on a level plane in terms of total runs scored at the 71st first-class century stage! Tendulkar then stretched it to 100 centuries before he bowed out. Where will Kohli go? At age 33 years, time may not be in his favour but resolve yes. Can the regained consistency liven up Kohli’s hunger? Time will tell!