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Never Underestimate Great Sportsmen

24 June 2011.

Rahul Dravid has struck a mighty blow for the old-timers. His hundred in the Caribbean served two purposes, putting his team in a powerful position and reminding all and sundry that batsmen are better judged from their performances than from their birth certificates.

Apparently his place had been in jeopardy. All sorts of gilded youngsters had emerged in the recent T20 campaign. One or two of them had even passed 50 a couple of times. In some eyes the veteran had become surplus to requirements. Never mind that T20 is a trifling matter besides Test cricket.

Dravid responded by constructing a resourceful and decisive hundred. With every deft shot thrust and every crafty parry he confirmed that there is life in this aged canine.

Rahul Dravid

Rahul Dravid
Photo © Hash Milhan /

Dravid looks fit

Significantly he has not put on any weight, looks as fit as the proverbial fiddle. Bulging bellies slow down the feet and brain, and suggest that motivation is lacking. Yuvraj’s prospects can be gleaned from his girth.

Dravid’s hundred told another tale. Never underestimate great sportsmen. No matter how polite they may appear, they are fuelled by desire, driven by pride and sustained by skill. Don’t expect them to go quietly into the night.

Yet, supposed veterans are often treated like second hand cars, thrown away as soon as a bright new model appears on the scene. Never mind the quality, feel the sheen.

It’s the same in tennis. During the week a splendid Japanese woman of some 40 summers was pitted against Venus Williams, the older of the distinguished sisters. It might have been expected that the contest be portrayed as a fascinating tussle between two sophisticated and accomplished players.

Not a bit of it – the papers described it as the Zimmer frame match! Happily the veterans produced a wonderful exhibition of tennis and held a huge crowd in thrall.

At least these wily professionals can determine their own fate, for their place in the rankings. Subjectivity does not imprison them.

Katich unlucky

Simon Katich has enjoyed no such luck. Australia ditched him not because he cannot score runs but because he is 35. Apparently his lawyers told him that he had a cast iron case for wrongful dismissal but he desisted. Instead he vowed to keep captaining his State.

Ordinarily the dumping of a middle-aged opener from a losing team would have been accepted. The ensuing rumpus confirmed that confidence in the selectors and administrators has collapsed. Nor did Katich spare them at his press conference.

Not that seasoned campaigners can be allowed to overstay their welcome. Sentiment has no place in top class sport. Sanath Jayasuriya’s recall to the Sri Lankan ODI team ignored his long slump in form. All the evidence indicates that he is past it. At best his selection was a step back, at worst it told of political interference – the sturdy left-hander is an MP in the governing party.

In this case, Jayasuriya’s critics may have served him better than his allies. Reputations are better protected by going a little too early not considerably too late. Unlike Dravid, his game depends on eye and reflex, and they can quickly deteriorate.

Certainly youth ought to be cherished. Nothing is more thrilling than to see a brilliant young player rise to challenge the old masters. Indeed sport depends on the emergence of newcomers capable of exciting a new generation of followers.

Rory McIlroy’s stunning victory at the US Open heralded the arrival of a genuinely gifted golfer. Just that it’s not sensible to go gaga every time a gifted youngster impresses or glum every time an old timer has a bad spell.

This article was written for The Hindu.
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