All good things come to an end, including great sports careers
Ravi Shastri, the professional that he is was clear in his mind that Indian cricket's road to the future is for those who are fit. The Head Coach summed it up without any ambiguity in an interview with an English newspaper that fitness is there right at the top of the priorities when deciding on the shape of the side. What is true of cricket is also true of sports in general.
A sports career, particularly where there is intensive physical activity, is never a long one barring exceptions. Some make the best of it, carve a name and make an effort to leave in grace, some drag on and a few face the ignominy of being told that time was up. Age and fitness are linked and only the fittest survive. Yes, one can still count a few greats like Roger Federer or Serena Williams or even the much maligned athlete Justin Gatlin as exceptions for the way they have been carrying themselves in such winsome way defying age and in the face of all odds that a sports career confronts with. But in general, notwithstanding the impressions one makes in his or her career, there is this dictum that is perhaps true that 'you are only good as your last success or performance'. For, all said and done, the arena is only for those who perform and perform with distinction.
Some such thoughts cross the mind when we open up on the recent happenings in sports. And that includes the way athletics legend from Jamaica, Usain Bolt had to leave the track in pain and tears. Or the way questions are being asked on the future of established performers like Yuvraj Singh and M.S. Dhoni in Indian cricket. For all that he had done for athletics with his amazing talent and feat did this world champion athlete deserve the final act he came up with?! Call it plain ill-luck or fate, but Bolt, turning 31, must have only wished a graceful (read winning) end to his career after having been the king of the short sprint right from the time he blazed the Olympic track in the 100 m run in Beijing 2008. But London 2017 World championship turned a heart breaker for this genial giant and as he ended literally on all fours, tumbling out in the final 4x100m relay after surrendering his premier place in the 100m earlier it was an agonising sight. It could have been a fitness issue or perhaps plainly the inability to carry any further the burden of expectations of a legion of fans the world around. He cannot be blamed if the pressure was painfully high for everybody wanted to see him only win always and come out with that famous archer pose! That was his reputation: Bolt, the invincible! Sometimes the genius in a talent can itself become an undoing.
Our own Sachin Tendulkar had triggered a world of dreams for fans and even given the sport's popularity a new dimension. When he came to Indian cricket as a spunky 16-year-old, making waves with the way he wielded the willow against some of the finest bowling attack in the world, fans watched him in awe. Invariably he never failed in providing entertainment. Indeed, his cricket became a spectacle to behold before long. So much so, each time Tendulkar walked into the middle, he was expected to pile up a huge score and in style blended with aggression. That aspect had come to stay. Nobody could even think of a Tendulkar struggle with the bat. Not that he had many such disappointing moments in an illustrious career that few sportspersons can even dream of. He had the best of cricket life, conquered everything that he surveyed and in the end timed his exit the way he wanted just when pushing 40.
Tendulkar was fortunate that way. He did not get to hear even in a whisper the questions that Yuvraj and Dhoni seem to face as approach the evening of their career, not just from the men who decide their destiny but even the fans. True cricket since Tendulkar's days has further evolved in India. It has become lot more competitive with an enlarged talent pool. The pressure is all the more now on players to keep clicking and the constant statements attributed to the Selectors that 'performance and fitness' are paramount factors that cannot be ignored, do not make things any easier. Imagine players like Yuvraj and Dhoni having to confront such queries! Once heralded the most destructive batsman after the way he annihilated England pacer Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over in the T20 World cup in 2007, Yuvraj was expected from then on to be in such explosive form each time he pads up and that is the problem.
Similarly, Dhoni considered the finest finishers in the limited version of the sport, aside from his prowess behind the wickets, cannot be expected to play a sedate innings as he did in West Indies where he made 50 odd in double the number of deliveries! Instantly forgotten are the value they had given to the side. But age is catching up. Both are in the mid-thirties and for the 2019 ODI world cup will their presence be as valuable is the big question suddenly.
All good things come to an end. There is no exception there. When it comes to a sports career the interest is on how long this phase can be stretched. See how Gatlin, no matter the accusations he had faced, proved exceptional by winning a world championship title when over 35 years of age where five years his junior the legendary Bolt thought of retiring and fell into a mess. Federer at 35 years continues to be fit and hungry for more where younger players are struggling to keep the momentum going. The list can go on but in the end what will remain are abiding memories of their glorious contributions. Every era brings with it its joy and enchantment. That in the end is the only consolation!