The Hero never fails. Not in the eyes of their fans, at least. In movies or in other stories, heroes are scripted to rise above the ordinary, and succeed eventually. The Hero hardly fails, even if they do, failure either dramatically broadens their image, or it is scripted such that it aides them in gaining the sympathy of the viewer or the reader.
But in Sport, it isn’t the case. Heroes can fail and they do fail, and I’m not speaking of Lance Armstrong or Salman Butt.
Past performances only count as long as one continues to perform. Sourav Ganguly – known for his attacking abilities in the shorter version of the game – had a forgettable IPL stint, and he looked past his prime on numerous occasions after his retirement. So too was the story of another attacking batsman of our era, Ricky Ponting, in IPL.
Success isn’t guaranteed, even if you were once a hero.
Even the great Pete Sampras, who was so long the master of Wimbledon, lost to an unknown George Bastl in the 2nd round of Wimbledon in 2002 when he was nearing his end, though it is altogether a different story that the genius in him didn’t let him down as he won the U.S. open the same year. And there is Rafael Nadal, who, despite a few shocking losses in the last couple of years, continues to march on brushing aside talk of retirement.
It would be a mistake to question the hunger of a sportsperson in an individual sport. But cricket, unlike tennis, is a team game; hence an individual’s hunger isn’t the sole criteria for their selection in the team. The intent to continue is the player’s choice, but providing him with an opportunity to contribute is the selectors’ choice.
Last week, cricket witnessed two such instances of fallen heroes who refused to die. As in life, one met with success and one didn’t.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul isn’t a rock star; he doesn’t attract the attention of the glamour world, but he is a champion, the epitome of hard work and grit. But there’s no denying the fact that his returns in the last few series were far below his standards. For Shiv, runs were never easy to come by, but in the last few matches scoring runs looked almost impossible.
The selectors and the West Indies Cricket Board could have sorted out the things in a more dignified way, had they foreseen the problem, if they had to call an abrupt end to his career. But they didn’t. Shiv was still hungry to play the game he loved, and in hindsight it seems that the West Indies cricket team could have gained more than it has lost with his continued presence.
A year has passed since he was dropped, and now Chanderpaul has announced his retirement. Neither was his hunger sated nor his farewell planned. In the case of Chanderpaul, there is no fairy-tale ending. The story ends abruptly, the hero has to leave the stage, and the fans are left stranded. Where is the hero’s ending?
Then there is that passage of play in which a celebrated hero is seen, sadly, not only struggling to find his feet, but trying to polish his tarnished image. And then in the space of two balls, he is celebrated again. He guides one past fine leg and skies one past mid-wicket ropes, and he is a hero again!
Yuvraj Singh, during his short stay at the crease in Sydney, evoked emotions of extreme sympathy and glee. I doubt any writer could have scripted it better. He steeped in to prove that he is the same force as before, but then only reminded us of his last failure before displaying the class he is known for. It was indeed a hero’s ending.
But what troubled me in that passage of play is this – Is it right on our part, as fans, to sympathize with a player, in a team sport? If we do sympathize – as in case of Yuvraj, which we most of us did – then aren’t we questioning his ability and his selection? Rather than trusting that Yuvraj would clear the ropes, most of us just hoped for it. When we did believe that his selection was the right decision given his first-class performance, then wasn’t it wrong to sympathize with his pre-determined failure? In doing so weren’t we doubting his credentials and devaluing his first class performance?
Well, it’s just a thought, and to sympathize isn’t a crime.
But what if he had been caught just inches off the ropes? Would it then have granted us the right to chastise him? Would he then be branded as a fallen hero, for very little to no fault of his own?
Sport produces heroes and they do fail at times. It is important to realize that in sport, heroes do fail, for the script isn’t scripted.