Sunday, 18 July 2010

Why, oh why, do they come back

Why , Oh Why, do they come back ?

Don’t look back. Don’t ever look back. Please. You are an all time great. You have millions of adoring fans. You have made enough money. Yes, I know that the road forward seems only downhill and the wonders of the lands you have just passed is fatally alluring. But bite your tongue. Thrust your chin forward. Go forward. And don’t look back.

This could be true for any one of us, that is if you slightly discount the millions of fans and the enough money bit. But it is so so true for sportsmen. Its really tough not to look back – but alas, many succumb to the temptation.

Look at Michael Schumacher. Why did he do this. He had achieved all that there was to be achieved. And yet he comes back. To be scrapping with teammate Nico Rosberg for 10th place, and losing. Remember the days when the mere presence of Schumi on the track would be enough to strike terror in the hearts of opponents.

Michael Jordan was a case who both proved and disproved the theory. When he went away first time after “three peating” – Ah the wonders of American English – he could only stay away for 2 years. He came back and picked it up where he left and won three more. Went away and again came back after 2 years. This time, well; let's leave it at that.

Women in tennis are particularly prone to this affliction. Probably because they come very early to the game and retirement age is 25. That’s cruel. They come back and then struggle. Kim Clijsters and Justin Henin recently bucked the trend – they came back and won. But I think they will rapidly slip away.

The saddest sight is that of Lance Armstrong in this year’s Tour de France. Firstly he beat cancer. That was without a doubt his biggest victory. After brain surgery and extensive chemotherapy, he went on to win the most grueling of sport – the Tour de France, seven consecutive times. Nobody had come remotely close to that before. For years, the sight of Armstrong in a yellow jersey (the colour of the leader) dominated cycling. In 1995, after winning for the seventh time, he bowed out unconquered. And then, what does he do – he came back last year. He lost, but was at least competitive. This year, he is in the 25th place today. And we haven’t even got to the Pyrenees.

There are of course, those, who went out with great grace and never looked back. Don Bradman was one – after leading the arguably greatest team of all, the post war Aussies, in the Ashes, he went out when he was at the very peak. And a little man emulated it some 40 years later. For years, he had carried his country on his shoulders virtually single handedly. When he was still the best, he decided to go. The setting was Bangalore. Against the old enemy. The ball was turning square. In a minefield of a pitch, he stood alone, the Little Master. He was on an altogether different planet. India lost narrowly. But as the shadows lengthened, he walked away, unbowed, the greatest of them all. He never came back.

That's the way to go. Why, Oh Why, do they get tempted to look back.


  1. I couldn't agree more! Especially about a true warrior like Lance Armstrong.

    I think it is basically because public adulation is like a drug. Once you taste it you crave for it--at any cost.

    And it is horribly sad.

  2. Anonymous18/7/10

    fame...its a dangerous drug..the sound of clap has an intoxication which is beyond the reach of any narcotic...i hope sachin does the gavaskar route


  3. what a beautiful piece ramesh. suppose this was an opinion poll with option - i would vote "Cant Say"

    i think, we overdo many of this stuff. there is no need to tatoo a favorite player on your skin and run crazy for a small glance. and there is no need to look down at him and say - hey you were no. 1, now look you are only 25th. Coming 25th is a big deal as well. its lil less money maybe but well thats how it is. if he is not your number 1, fine, let him be.

    every sport has a ego aspect and has a commercial aspect. the commercial success or failure is like any other field. the ego part need not get pumped up so much that when it blows off... it breaks people down.

    But then, its not gonna change. the harmones are gonna govern the show. so might as well walk away when you are at the top of it so that you can live the rest of your life in the intoxication of where you got out.

  4. @Preeti - Yes its a drug indeed. You can't go cold turkey - I understand.

    @gils - Yes its an addiction. In Sachin case the danger is different - staying on for far too long. But then he's a rarity in the sports world - he seems to get better with age.

    @Sandhya - Trust you to come with a superb perspective again. Maybe we should be less critical of Armstrong. But then, I've watched the Tour de France for many years now. The sight of seeing Armstrong in anything other than the leader's yellow jersey is hard to take.

  5. I remember the 1987 Test. Gavaskar got 96 out of 204. Years later - quite recently - Javed Miandad caught up with Gavaskar and when reminiscing about old encounters, apologised to the Little Master for sledging him relentlessly in the Bangalore Test. Gavaskar apparently was puzzled - he did not hear a thing. Apparently he was so intent on watching the ball- bowler's hand to bat to fielder back to bowler - that he did not remember a single word anyone said. The story came from Miandad...

  6. @Dada - I can completely understand that. In my book, it ranks as one of the three greatest innings ever played in India; alongside Vishwanath's 97 against West Indies at Chepauk and Laxman's 281 against Australia at Eden Gardens.

  7. Ramesh - as good as Viswanath's 97 against Roberts & Co is Tony Cozier's immortal description of it - now unfortunately lost to history.

    And while we are trading cricket stories: Laxman had developed a "list" towards his left hand side after his third session. (Recall he batted through most of the first innings and came on early in the second). So when he would come back to the dressing room the physio would "straighten out" his shoulder and spine. Laxman would scream in pain, and go out to bat, and play those delectable drives...Ah. So nice to be able to trade sports stories.

  8. Perhaps they think that the stage is stable. That the talent is immortal. That the time is in their hand always. But sadly no!

    I am glad for Sourav (Ganguly) that he bowed out on a high and not before proving a point or two. Ditto for Sampras and Steve Waugh.

    Indeed nice to cherish the memories of that historical test. I remeber being so optimistic throughout that fourth day hoping for a miracle. And yes, it was a miracle if I could ever put it.

    Just to add one more great innings by our own little master - I can barely forget those loud voice (full of euphoria) of Tony Graig that Sachin wants to win the match, Sachin wants to win the match... Though he did not win that one for India, he made sure India reached finals and lifted the trophy - Thanks to his twin centuries. I sincerely hope those Sharjahi storms occur more frequently.

  9. Sports idols are like gods. One idolizes them for what they have achieved not because they come and they win. Its more because its a complete grooming of a character behind a champion. I have always felt that when you drop your expectations from someone, its worse than the worst you can do to him. If I were to tell my idol, "dude, I know you aren't the number one, but I'd still respect you on the field just as I did before"... something tells me, its gonna hurt him.

    You are right, the place of the god is the pedestal. I'd never like to see mine down from it.

  10. @Vishal - Ganguly, Sampras and Waugh went OK, but after the slide had started. Still much better than hanging on. Tendulkar , of course, is in a different league altogether. The one man, who unites a nation, Shiv Sena idiots notwithstanding.

    @Deepa - This is the beauty of the wonderful comments that this place see. Yours is a180 deg opposite view from Sandhya's and yet I see a brilliant insight in both. Thank you for such wonderful contributions.

  11. @Dada - Ah the joys of swapping cricket stories of yore. We'll go on for ever.

    Tony Cozier's poetry is probably lost in the mists of time, but an excerpt from his book on the series is here. I was fortunate to have seen that innings, as I was in Chepauk on the day. What a day ...

  12. They come back, so we could enjoy reading a nice post like this ;)
    May be it is more like a first love that keeps them calling again and again or as gils said, may be a drug!
    BTW, this applies not only for sports person but business founders/CEO.[Yahoo-Jerry Yang, Dell-Dell]I bet there would be many others whom i may not be aware of!

  13. @zeno - Yes its a drug they are hooked into and cannot be weaned away. Of course there are some examples in the business world, but usually there the problem is that they never go away and have to be booted out. The best example of a comeback is of course Steve Jobs. When he was kicked out, he was actually a poor CEO. When he came back, well; that's the stuff of legends.

  14. Well said Ramesh. It is sad to see someone you immensely applaud for his/her achievements not walk out in pride.Suddenly the not so great performance overwhelms the years of glory.

  15. @blogueuer - So true. I can't bear to look at Armstrong these days.

  16. adeshsidhu21/7/10

    Imran KHan came back from retirement and helped Pakistan win the World Cup in 92. And Zidane came out of reitrement to guide France to 2006 Footalbb World Cup final. But they remained elusive success stories...

  17. @Adesh - Yes there have been some examples in sport when they do come back successfully. These are usually cases where they have gone away a little too early.

  18. Anonymous22/7/10

    We see this in our great game of Aussie Rules Football where players attempt a come back or just try and stay in the game too long - always the same driver..... they love the game and its been such a big part of the lives for so very long that leaving it, or contemplating leaving it just creats a gap in their world that is too big to fill. Must be hard to be at the top of your choosen game, then retire and become a mere mortal.... sometimes being 'average' has its advantages I think

    Trevor in OZ

  19. @ha The classic comeback Kid! I intentionally did not mention SJ as i thought we were not talking about kids who comeback wt a bang!

    For the sake of being more specific SJ was not booted out.They stripped him off most of his responsibilities,so he quit [who wouldnt when you can't fire your very own CEO whom you himself hired personally and your mentor who taught you all the tricks of the trade makes a statement in the public, that they are considering how to deal with you?]oh the legend says, he typed his resignation letter on macintosh computer and printed using Laser printer[for which he was an evangelist] before handing over the mike markula, the vice chairman.

  20. Errata
    1) "taught you all the tricks"
    read as taught most of the tricks"

    2)"handing over the mike" submitting his resignation to mike

  21. @zeno - Trust an Apple fan to rise with a comment like this. I continue to be in total awe - you are truly so so so well informed.

  22. @ Trevor - Very true. And that's a great perspective - there are some advantages to not being on top of the world. Hadn't thought that one before, but now that you point it, yes, there is a lot of merit in that.

  23. A come back for any reason other than the pull of the sport always fails.

  24. @Priya - True, but most often its the comeback because of the pull of sport that does not work.

  25. One more example of sports persons who emulated the great don is our own Anil Kumble. He did go out when he had some more cricket left in him. Perhaps it is mental fatigue catching after relentless pressure, travel and playing for all these years.

  26. @Chennai Vibes - Yes, Kumble went out gracefully - especially as a very graceful captain.

  27. Sir, in my view the one sportsperson who went out at the peak of prowess is Steffi Graf - never to look back. I've always wondered why she took the decision that early and appreciate her sticking to it. Not that there is no tennis in her life now but the restraint is amazing.

  28. @myfloatingthoughts - Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Yes, Steffi is another example of going at the right time.


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