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The Sports God of All Things

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Sir_Garfield_Sobers_West_Indies_cricket_legendSport has a special way with heroes. This isn’t all. The delightful, but difficult, vocation also has a refined, uncanny knack of throwing up great, legendary sportspersons with every generation — to excel and also revamp ‘impossible’ records. Like the runs of Sachin Tendulkar; the wickets of Sir Richard Hadlee, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan; the golf titles of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus; the Wimbledon victories of Bjorn Borg, and Roger Federer; the goals of ‘King’ Pele; the limitlessness of Sergei Bubka; the magic of ‘His Airness’ Michael Jordan; and, the bulky triumphs of ‘man-mountain-like’ sumo wrestlers in Japan, to name but just a select few.

The world of athletics too has had, for long, its own share of heroes, no less: a list, which maybe the most exhaustive, perforce, and also the longest in all-sport. Of skills handed down through history; of immortal sportsmen and women, who took it upon themselves to drape their professed activity, exquisitely and also resplendently, with all their abundant talents. From the first known champion of the Greek Olympiad — a cook named Coroebus — who won the sprint in 776 BC, to the gold medals of Jesse Owens, the halcyon days of Nadia, the Olympics’ ‘Perfect-10’ girl, the magic of Carl Lewis, the zooming leap of Mike Powell, the aquatic goldmine of Kristin Otto, the sheer grace and voila of Florence Joyner… the statistical roll-call at athletics’ Hall of Fame seems endless. Add to this the rakish swagger of the Italian skiing ace Alberto Tomba and the artistic symphony of Kristi Yamaguchi, not to speak of the phenomenal exploits of several ‘marathon’ men and women. You now have a grand gallery of human excellence — a spectacle as grand as the Olympics themselves.

Upsets, triumphs and defeats, have all been part of sport’s folklore too. Men and women of outstanding diversity have come and gone. From the jaws of defeat, teams and individuals have rallied to win, thanks to ‘that’ one great human quality: sheer brilliance, or never-say-die spirit. On the other hand, there have been several instances when sportspersons have lost their nerve, only to lose events, or matches, which were, at one stage, firmly secured in their grasp. A case of ‘touch-and-go,’ or sporting ‘disaster’ — by ‘wafer-thin’ margins. But, that’s the name of the game: you win some, you lose some. Else, where would the law of averages fit in, or relate to human fallibility? Well, in the lexicon of sport, there ought to be that one big word called failure too — a statement that is as dreaded as the big ‘C’ alphabet for a nerve-wracking deadly disease.

Yet, what has made sport such a gloriously predictable, yet unpredictable, vocation is its penchant for ‘hurling’ innate surprises, in element and spirit. Natural ability, for instance. Just look at the way the ‘coloured’ race has been able to conjure a host of astounding sports heroes, one after another, as if the community had an assembly-line for it. Nevertheless, the fact remains: no individual, howsoever great, is greater than the sport itself. Sport is, quite simply, enduring, also ever-lasting.

This holds good for records that matter too. However, if you go down memory lane, you’d certainly come across some great names immortalized till kingdom come. Among them, a select band has also become greater than the rest. The likes of Sir Don Bradman, Sir Frank Worrell, Owens, Sir Roger Bannister, Mark Spitz, Sebastian Coe, Said Aouita, Ed Moses, Daley Thompson, Marita Koch, Ingrid Kristiansen, Chen Cuiting, Katrin Dorre, Mary Decker, Serena Williams et al. The star-list parade is in no way comprehensive again.

Now to delve into the specifics, the theme of this piece: the search for the ‘Perfect Sportstar.’ Common knowledge propels us to place the name of Sir Garfield Sobers in cricket and Owens, among athletes, as being the closest to fit the description. Because, they were the finest-ever, all-round performers one saw — as far as exemplary abilities in a single individual were concerned. Sobers, or Owens, was a natural; not ‘made-to-order,’ or ‘hi-tech generated’ persona. They were thoroughly gifted, also talented; they were athletic marvels. Their athleticism was divine, chiselled to perfection by nurture and natural training. There was nothing robotic about them. Their anato-physiology and/or somatic and mental athletic chemistry were no less instinctual. It was not programmed on sophisticated, scientific training, state-of-the-art technology, or equipment, or biomechanics — it only celebrated natural dexterity. Of mind, body, and spirit.

Judging by their capabilities, in a different age, the awesome twosome, perhaps, has had no peer. Their background was anything, but advantageous. Yet, they could just do anything one wanted them to do on the field. Sobers was just Sobers, a player like no other. Owens was a paradigm of every Olympian ideal, a Martin Luther King Jr of the athletic world. However, with all their near-impossible qualities, the two, like all human beings, were not infallible. So, who, then, is the Perfect Sportstar? Michelangelo expressed it best and with supreme élan, “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”

The next best thing is — what about the near-perfect sportsman?  The idea is practical — to the extent possible. Well, we have had only a few that could fit the bill. Each of them in their own way, Sobers being the foremost individual in this elite group of cricketers, to drive home the point. A man whose super-duper abilities were often linked to cosmic consciousness and ability. To cull a famous quote. “The more a person can preserve his being and seek what is useful to him, the greater is his virtue.” For Sobers, cricket was a psychological need. His sense of healthy competition; of fair play, candour and achievement. Of creativity too — a characteristic of thought and problem solving, original, novel and appropriate. A model of divergent thinking — for the production of new information from known frontiers of physical and mental endurance, or logical possibilities, serving as the touchstone, or the basis of his ingenuity.

Sobers was too special. Why? For especial reasons. This brings us again to a cricketing allegory, which Sobers displayed by coalescing all the grand qualities of a host of great players in their truly intrinsic manner within oneself — including the order of their conscious evolution and totality, even if the objective and essence of their essentiality would be the unlikely exemplar. More so, by way of precise ‘appraisal.’

Sobers had everything, and, more, in him — a ‘three-in-one’ cricketing splendour.

1.    The reliability of Bradman
2.    The artistry of Frank Woolley
3.    The power of Viv Richards
4.    The resolve and intensity of Rahul Dravid
5.    The versatility of Keith Miller
6.    The instinctive, radiant finesse of Richard Hadlee
7.    The sportive spirit of Worrell
8.    The quicksilver reflexes of Colin Bland
9.    The guiles of Erapalli Prasanna
10.  The dynamism of Sachin Tendulkar.

Result? A ‘Perfect-10.’ Well almost — because, Sobers had the overall qualification under his belt. A feather in his cricket cap. A cap, which he wore lightly, because, he was ethereal. Yet, he was also real. A humanist-sportsman, who believed in the Old Testament. This was his greatest appeal — an attribute that has stood the test of time. He was great. He was a legend. Great players are born, not made. What comes first is their ability to win; and, what is labelled as ‘maturity’ emerges only later. When the two unite to make a perfect marriage, one would not need additional grey cells to predicting their career-graph, with any degree of accuracy, even if, in our technological age, that good, old ‘Chariots of Fire’ nobility, in sport or life, is almost extinct.

Yet, one thing is certain; also unsurpassable. Because, what endures and inspires generations is human excellence, whatever the odds. Like the legendary, ‘impossible’ talent of a phenomenon with the magical name, Sobers, in the willow sport — in our exemplar and context.

In simple terms, Sobers’ perfection was what perfection does, or is, and will always be.

 

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Rajgopal Nidamboor, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, columnist, ...

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