Sindhu is surely emerging as the biggest sporting icon of Bharat
Sports is beautiful. It makes one witness to some of the most captivating contests in real life. Sports is cruel. It has to have a winner and a looser. August 27, 2017, saw these twin aspects at its climax. The aspiring sporting nation on the globe soaked this unmatched paradox to the last breath.
The favourite daughter of the country storms into the finals of the BWF World Badminton Championships in Glasgow. Badminton is the next best game in Indian sports and PV Sindhu its prodigal child. Sindhu was pitted against Nozomi Okuhara of Japan for the coveted title match. The final match lasts for an hour and 50 minutes. In terms of record, this turns out to be the second longest match ever played in the women singles finals. But more importantly, the connoisseur of the game rates this as one of the greatest badminton games ever played. The beauty was the match per se. The cruelty was our own Sindhu finishing second last. After the Rio to the Glasgow heights, the country of billions has two questions on its lips.
Why does PV Sindhu always finish second best? Is PV Sindhu the most popular sportsperson of the country after Sachin Tendulkar? Both the questions are self-contradictory. But then, contradiction—thy name is life. And sport is the mirror of the life.
PV Sindhu was the saviour in the Rio Olympics 2016. In fact, the shine of her silver medal got brighter considering that other medal prospects had dried down. But when she raised the aspiration to the level that the country yearned for ‘ye dil maange more….’, she settled for the second best. When her juggernaut continued in the subsequent super series titles, there was the hope that she is covering the chinks in her armour. BWF World Badminton Championships was the next big challenge. Her opponent was seeded lower to her. And again, she finished second best. A section of the media came up with the banner headline, ‘Why is choker Sindhu still not pure gold standard?’ The sub-title read, ‘PV Sindhu choked in the final of the BWF World Badminton Championships in Glasgow on August 27. Sindhu lost a tactical match against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, who was seeded below her’.
Choker. There are a few words as hated as this in the sports fraternity. Ask any member of the South African cricket team to understand this. In one of the tours of Indian cricket team to participate in the Asia Cup in Pakistan, South Africa’s former cricketer and active participant in many such historical choking moments—Gary Kirsten was the coach of the Indian cricket team. On the eve of important match, when I questioned him, “With India having the reputation of loosing many final moments starting from the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, are we getting the reputation of being the new chokers of world cricket?” We for the first time saw eternally calm and cool Gary Kirsten getting ruffled at this question. He mumbled something in a tearing hurry and rushed to the team bus. India lost yet another final to
Sri Lanka the next day—courtesy destructive spell from new unconventional bowler Ajantha Mendis in July, 2008. When we met Kirsten after the press conference, he informally gave advice which looked like an unsolicited advice on the word ‘choker’.
‘Don’t use the word ‘choker’ selectively. It hurts us and becomes part of the psyche. Its impact is not confined to the current group of players, but generations ahead. Ask us, we have seen this from the close quarters. You need one special effort, one supremely overconfident leader to erase the tag for ever. South Africa cricket team is still in search of such leader. Once that leader transcends the barrier of choker, the subsequent generations break free’. With Gary Kirsten as coach, India found that leader in MS Dhoni. Dhoni as a
player and leader was undeterred with the baggage of past and the pinnacle was 2011 World Cup victory at home. Kirsten summed it up in one of the press conferences, ‘With Dhoni as the leader, I can go for the war’.
It’s premature to tag PV Sindhu as choker. In the words of elder statesman of Indian sports and her coach-at the highest level, there is a thin line which separates the top
players. And the victor and vanquished are decided on the day of the performance. Though she has progressed greatly to be the world class player, the best part is that there is still scope of improvement’. What will be Sindhu like when she becomes ‘that complete player’? With age on her side, this is unimaginable. But after beauty and cruelty about sports, another critical facet is that champions’ life doesn’t follow a predictable pattern. One has to make the most out of the scenario. In this, PV Sindhu will do the best to take a cue out of MS Dhoni’s leadership book. Enjoy the game, think on the process than the end result and dump the
baggage of past and expectations. Badminton is much more competitive sports than cricket. Moreover, in singles fast paced badminton matches, you are all alone. On the contrary, there are 10 more players other than yourself, while you take decisions on the field. But as the best of the sporting leaders will confide, ‘the toughest of the decisions are taken within the split of the seconds by you and only yourself’.
Is Sindhu the next big legend after Sachin Tendukar? Has Indian sporting system got matured enough to accommodate legend from sports other than cricket. Potentially yes. And PV Sindhu may be the trendsetter in this regard. Former Indian badminton star Prakash Padukone set the tone for this debate, “I would personally
consider this as the best ever performance by an Indian
sportsperson of either gender in the history of Indian sport. Even though she finished runner-up, Sindhu showed tremendous grit, fighting qualities, never-say-die attitude and stamina. Both the players displayed high quality of badminton and never gave up till the end. Aspiring youngsters would do well to emulate the qualities displayed by these two players”. Though, India has to cover a huge distance to be a sporting nation, it has had its share of
sporting glories. And this performance rated as best ever, by the one-time numero uno player of the world, speak volumes about her and her performance.
Who are her competitors in Indian sporting horizon? It looks ugly to compare players and that too, players from different sports. But let us stick our neck out. In the current
scenario—Virat Kohli is the competitor. He has got the game to best the best in the business. He has got the attitude which separates him from the rest. He’s focused on his game. But, leader Virat Kohli’s best of the performances has come under the Indian sub-continental conditions. He will be really tested, when team India embarks on the whirlwind tour of South Africa, England and Australia in the coming months.
Champion sportspersons loves battles with themselves. Virat Kohli has to win the overseas campaign to emerge triumphant in the country—where the ground for cricket is fertile. PV Sindhu has now to make it her habit to be the ‘best’ and not the ‘second best’ if she has to be the greatest Indian sportsperson of today. Perhaps, her challenge is stiffer, as she represents sports other than cricket. If she is able to transcend this barrier, taking cue from the cricketing leader Dhoni—she is potentially poised to be the next big legend in Indian sports after Sachin Tendulkar.
(The writer is a senior sports journalist)