Monday, March 12, 2012

Staying at the Top [repost from old DS blog on cricinfo]

This is an old post. I made the original post way back on 4th December 2005 at cricinfo's now defunct blog "Different Strokes" (old).
This particular post now stands dedicated to Rahul Dravid, the great one-down Test batsman of India who retired from a 15+ years long Test career on 9th March 2012.
At the time he retired, Rahul was the all-time 2nd highest Test run getter for all countries in all time, behind only his India teammate and co-partner in another record of Test partnership runs - Sachin Tendulkar.

Here is the post:
Staying at the top

Let’s explore a new game. The oldest one, perhaps. Envisage an amphitheatre with a frighteningly large and admirably levelled playing field. We call it the arena. Standing loftily amidst the eerily quiet arena are a handful of very high pedestals of various shapes and sizes, strewn over the place like islands on the oceanscape. Each such pedestal, or podium, has just enough space for one person at the top. Painfully narrow and disconcertingly steep ladders offer access to each pedestal from all possible sides.

That was a virtual panoramic footage of the arena. For it is not quite so quiet in reality. This amphitheatre of glory is forever overflowing with numerous enthusiastic players desirous of participating in this game. This is no team game – each one for himself. Each player picks a pedestal of his choice and plays with the aim of making a successful climb up the crowded ladders to the top of the pedestal and trying to stay on at the lone spot on offer. If thrown off by a pretender, the player has to try and rework his way to the top from wherever he lands. The choice of pedestal is at the player’s discretion.

There are no other rules to this game. No restrictions are exercised on the number of attempts allowed to an individual player, nor does the cold granite of the amphitheatre know of the reverberations excited by a game-over whistle. It is up to the players when they wish to join the game or leave it.

New challengers come from far-away places and join the game every day, just as a few old ones slowly walk away into the horizon. And yes – recesses are unknown luxuries up there at the coveted pedestal top and on the battlefields that are the ladder rungs.

The amphitheatre is the world of sports watchers, and the arena is that of competitive sport. Each pedestal signifies a separate sport.

People at the top of the podiums are called winners. A winner who stays there for a long period qualifies as a champion. And the name of this game is ‘staying at the top’. They have called it so since this endless and intoxicating game got flagged off. The number of podiums on show is way too less compared to the ocean of participants. New winners keep emerging on various pedestals. It is the easier part – getting to the top. Experts and past champions say that a stay at the top asks for even greater skills. “The longer the stay, the more difficult it becomes.”

Some champions have a number of stays at the top of their chosen pedestal. They are celebrated for the triumph of their spirit and a unique ability to claw back repeatedly after taking blows. They become legends in their own right. Some other great ones, however, do their entire stint on the podium at one go.

The longevity of rule of some greats often brings forth diverse reactions. These greats keep on displaying new skill sets and deft manoeuvres that help them maintain that little extra edge over the challengers from the ladder, in the process drawing applause and eliciting reverence from the connoisseur who knows the game from having played it.

Besides witnessing the battle at the top, the discerning spectators also derive thrills from the little progresses and setbacks of wannabe and returning champions unfolding in the mini tussles down the ladder. The battle royale for the top slot, however, is all that matters to the casual entertainment-seeking observer seated in the distant spectator’s chair. And for all the grit on display, survival at the top can be pedestrian fare when compared to the thrilling rise, humbling fall or fairy-tale resurrection of a champion.

A challenger has half the world backing him during his thrilling ascent to the top. But then comes the hard, seemingly one-dimensional battle of staying on. During this phase every trick conjured up to retain his supremacy is seen as routine; somehow the champion no more merits too much credit. As the stay gets longer some caustic, instant-fun-loving spectators are even heard jeering him for ‘blocking the way’ of rookies, little realising that the game remains healthiest when strapping challengers are made to get the better of the top dogs and earn their place under the sun.

The departure of greats can register a variety of patterns. Some trust their instincts when time beckons. Though still in love with being a champion, they accept the inevitable and leave the podium without being actually toppled over. Some other champs get into the ‘spectator mode’ of thinking and get bored with the absence of higher peaks to challenge them. They too discard the arena of their own free will, the reason being monotony and lack of hunger. There is yet another kind who realise the wane in their skills, but the still-raging fire in their bellies makes them fight on till they are dislodged.

Now, did you like the game?  

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