Sachin Tendulkar has plenty of runs and a warehouse full of awards, but what he values most is the affection of fans. Given his sustained excellence and outstanding conduct as a champion celebrity, he is India's hero No. 1.
No surprise, there is a loud chorus that he should get the Bharat Ratna. Every sportsman wants attention and respect but only a few receive such unadulterated love.
Indians are quick to put achievers on a pedestal but also lose no time to denounce. Instead of celebrating their skills, we often focus on negatives and derive vicious pleasure in knocking them down.
Sunil Gavaskar is an all-time great not merely for scoring 10,000 Test runs or being the first to get past Don Bradman's 29 hundreds but for standing up to pace. With a straight bat and spine he proved the best way to handle express speed was to move back and across the off-stump instead of retreating to the square-leg umpire.
Bishan Bedi's place in cricket is based on spinning webs in the air and raising left-arm spin to an art form. Yet, he hardly gets the recognition that he so richly deserves.
Kapil Dev energised the nation with his boundless enthusiasm, that he surpassed Richard Hadlee's 433 is incidental, what matters is he made cricket a mass sport. Kapil, and the magic of one-day games, got the masses interested in cricket, and because of this breakthrough, TV audiences soared and cricket became a money-creating enterprise.
Most times, top cricketers in India are given the status of national heroes and fast-tracked into the dazzling world of celebrities. But occasionally, there is reverse swing when icons are stripped of their privileged status and kings become commoners.
Nobody knows this better than Mohd Azharuddin, who has gone through the painful hero-to-zero cycle. Disgraced after the match-fixing scandal, Azhar is now rehabilitated owing to his second innings as an MP. But no such luck for Kapil.
In his case the stain remains as the BCCI refuses to condone his role in the rebel ICL. We should celebrate the splendid talent of the cricket stars and give them credit for their accomplishments. Anil Kumble is a cricket giant, as is Rahul Dravid, a standout role model for young kids.
Not to forget Virender Sehwag, a brutally destructive batsman who is a worthy successor to Viv Richards. All stumble from time to time but that isn't reason to ignore their contributions.