You are a Champion, You got a Heart

‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat’.

First things first. Of course critics don’t really count in the larger scheme of things. And by that rule, I don’t. Guilty as charged.

That out of the way, its Tuesday. Tuesday after The Sunday. A Tuesday when the feeling of utter loss and incomprehension of The Sunday has started to dissipate, and I try to look at things as dispassionately as I can.

One can’t help but wonder how would Dravid, Dhoni and Co. have taken those stirring words of Roosevelt at the beginning of this page? Would they view those words with the mixed feeling of, say,  being one number away from a ‘full house’ in a game of lotto and winning a million dollars, but instead, settling for a thousand dollar prize? Winning a prize for sure, but a much diminished and unsatisfying one?

Or would the players view it akin to a poverty stricken man stumbling upon a piece of bread and being given the option of keeping it aside to climb a ladder and reach a five course meal (topped with a heavenly tiramisu)? In other words, the possibility of losing the piece of bread, not considered a real option at any time at all?

Going by the decision to shake hands with the opposition when they did, one would guess that that fear of losing the bread overwhelmed the thought of joy of a heavenly dessert.

No one in their right minds would call out the Indian team’s actions as completely and totally wrong. For a series win, is a series win. Period.

Practical? Cold hearted? Focussed? Of course.

This Indian team is the number one test team. In rankings.  In the number of victories they achieve. There is a lot which one admires about this team. Beyond numbers, in the way each in the team stands up to be counted. In the manner in which the team just refuses to give up. In the manner in which they have consistently won overseas over the past few years, albeit in small steps/ one-off matches.  The self-confidence that the players display. In the ability to back themselves.

Make no mistake, for this is no ordinary test team here, and on nine out of ten days, I am a huge fan.

But not on that day. That Sunday.

The team may not be wrong in their actions. But were they right too? In the pure sense of the word?

Step back a bit, and one asks oneself, is there not more to sport than cold statistics. Than ‘mere victories’? Who won which series where by how many matches? Bear with me here, for not one moment, I venture to say that victories don’t count. But surely, there is more to ‘victory’ than in terms of team-A-scored –535-runs-in-five-days-and-team-B-scored-483-so-team-A-having-scored-more-is-the-winner?

Inspiring. Daring. Triumph of human spirit. Against all odds.  Are these words also not associated with sport? Beyond mere numbers? Does sport not give one that feeling of rising beyond oneself? Have you not ever felt that feeling of soaring in the skies? That feeling of indescribable lightness when you have defied all odds and achieved something? Is that not the essence of sport? To rise. And rise beyond oneself to triumphant glory?

Does the sportsman representing the nation, not have at least, the unspoken and unwritten duty to rise beyond himself? If not for himself, for us the countryman and backer,  for we too, live through him, and die with him?  At most times, does sport not mirror the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies of life itself? And the team, as the keepers of the faith, not have the duty to mirror the script of life?

For those of you who had the privilege of seeing the Rocky movies, you may remember the final moments of the last installment of the series. Rock Balboa, all benevolent grandfatherly muscles and smile, is at peace with himself after the fight with the young reigning champion Mason Dixon.  In the background, we see that the referee has just announced that Dixon is the winner of the fight. But the viewing crowd in the movie does hardly care about the ‘result’ of the match, about who is ‘victorious’. For them, as for us, the undisputed ‘winner’ of the fight, the real  winner of the fight is as clear as daylight.

In a moment of rare grace, says Dixon to Balboa, ‘You’re a great champion, you got heart! ‘

How I long to have been able to say those words to Dhoni onThe Sunday. Call me an old fashioned, impractical, sentimental fool. But victory for me, would have been a 1-1 result in the series, with India all spent, all wickets lost, bruised in a valiant pursuit of the target, and finally pulling up six runs short after straining every fibre in the body.

‘You’re a great champion’, I would have told Dhoni, ‘you got heart’.