Global Village Idiot: Glory, performance, retirement, inspiration, glory
Following women cricketers in India is a difficult if not impossible task even today, mainly because broadcast media has generally neglected women’s sports (not just cricket)
June was a sad month for me because one of India’s all-time great cricketers, Mithali Raj, retired from all forms of international cricket. The retirement per se was not what was sad about the news, and I will get to the point in a roundabout way as usual.
In 1984, I was at an all-time low as a high school athlete. Being five feet nothing but with big aspirations, I was sick and tired of yet another defeat in the finals of school sprints and high jump. I was in Delhi at the time, and classmates dragged me to an international film festival where I watched “Chariots of Fire”, based on the life of British athletes Eric Lidell and Harold Abrahams. It would be 15 years before I saw the movie again, but that one viewing was enough to take me to silver in inter school and later gold in inter college athletics - it inspired me to shift to the 400, 800 and long jump.
In 2012, when I was struggling to find a way to pursue my childhood dream of writing and publishing books, I found inspiration from “The Rookie”, based on the story of an American high school science teacher and baseball coach (married with three kids) who for the umpteenth time pursues and finally realises his lifelong dream to play in Major League Baseball - at age 35.
In June 1999, I was working as a senior sub-editor with a national newspaper in Pune, sometimes editing the local sports page, when Mithali Raj made her international debut against Ireland, along with Reshma Gandhi. Both hit a century on debut. I had grown up devouring news about Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Diana Edulji, Shanta Rangaswamy, Anita Sood, Prakash Padukone, among many others. Just as Steffi Graf and Bjorn Borg are my all-time favourite tennis players in that order for how they set benchmarks in performance. Like many others around me I followed the sport, not the gender, and took inspiration from all quarters. That’s where the media and the entertainment industries play a huge role.
Following women cricketers in India is a difficult if not impossible task even today, mainly because broadcast media has generally neglected women’s sports (not just cricket).
If you read the few media reports and columns since India’s exit in the Women’s World Cup last year, it would be easy to recall the incessant calls and suggestions for Mithali to retire and for women’s cricket to move beyond her. It would be so easy to overlook what she has done for women’s cricket in general and Indian cricket in particular. Mithali still has a lot of active cricket left in her. Performance wise, she’s right up there even now. And that’s where BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) and MS Dhoni’s approach in men’s cricket come to mind - the manner in which he relinquished authority in phases but stayed on as a player playing under the new captain and finally retiring before the situation arose where his personal performance did not necessarily merit a slot in the playing 11. I hope the BCCI launches women’s IPL soon and we see her in an active role continuing her good work in cricket.
Dhoni’s last years in international cricket were also marked by externally created pressure to quit and make way for next generation. In team sports, it is the hand-holding, the active transition within the team that is often more important than one spot opened by retirement.
The run up to CWG had another great sportsperson fighting the oblivion battle - Saina Nehwal. She didn’t make the Indian squad and that had everything to do with her fitness and performance. Nehwal thankfully has media and experts rooting for her and that’s what an athlete needs on a comeback trail. I for one hope to see her fighting spirit on the world stage once again - she’s unique in her desire to fight and win.
Nehwal is 32. Mithali is 39. MC Mary Kom is also 39 and she has her own battle to stay in the top flight of world boxing.
What is the correct age for retirement in sports? Or in any profession? Should age be a criterion? Should an organisation or society or media decide or build public opinion for or against an athlete, professional or individual in a vocation or profession? Shouldn’t performance be the criterion? Shouldn’t the focus of enablers (media, sports bodies, alumni) be on providing access and opportunity to as many people as possible and then picking the ones who perform the best as long as they can keep performing?
Recently I watched “Kaun Pravin Tambe” on Netflix and I instantly put it as Number 1 on my list of good biopics on Indian sports personalities (we don’t yet have a great sports biopic). My current Top 5 are: Kaun Pravin Tambe, MS Dhoni, Dangal, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, and Mary Kom.
I have watched “Shabhash Mithu” which is Mithali’s biopic (as also ‘Saina’) and will also watch the story of Jhulan Goswami when it releases. I rate “Kaun Pravin Tambe” over all others because it does a great job of telling the story with so little. Written by Kiran Yadnyopavit and directed by Jayprad Desai with Shreyas Talpade delivering an honest performance to bring alive the very real struggle and achievement against all odds of Pravin, who made his IPL debut at the age of 41. (Last I heard, he was still playing short-form international league cricket at age 48).
All across India there are young children, youth, middle and old aged individuals looking for a spark of inspiration to boost their morale in that odd moment of uncertainty as they go through their daily grind, keeping their dreams alive, trying to find a way through.
All we need now are good writers who are willing to do the hard work of telling the story with sufficient craft (in media and entertainment) so that the stories behind the headlines and glory reach the people who need to hold on to their dream for another day, to be assured that they matter, to be reminded that others before them have struggled and overcome.
Sanjay Mukherjee, author, learning-tech designer and management consultant, is founder of Mountain Walker and chief strategy advisor, Peak Pacific. He can be reached at email@example.com