A genius is a glorious concoction of perfection and imperfection – the imperfections, most often, the outcome of striving for perfection. It is not often, when common man gets a glimpse of a genius and it is even less frequently that common man recognizes a genius when he sees one. The genius in a painter or a poet or a writer goes unappreciated by the masses. Unfortunately for the great artist,in the eyes of the world, the proclamation of his genius happens only when the audience understands the art. It requires half-a-genius to even comprehend the work of a genius.
Sports is an exception and occasionally cinema. The closest a common man comes to understanding a genius is when he watches a Federer in action or a Sachin in motion.
Federer is a symphony on court, poetry in motion. You give a set of words to a great writer, someone like Naipaul, and he knows how best to phrase them. You throw a ball at Federer and he knows how best to place it. It is sheer exhilaration that one feels, when Federer is at his best. The best part is that he never needs to be at his best to better his closest rival. One common argument that is thrown against acknowledging the greatness of Federer is that he never had great rivals. The fact could well be that Federer never gave that opportunity to anyone, of becoming a great rival. He just steamrolled over every opponent, never permitting anyone to grow in confidence and pose a challenge to his supremacy. Except Nadal, at French Open. Had Nadal or Safin and Roddick for that matter, been playing in any other era they would not have been ordinary mortals.
My firm belief is that the day Federer decides to win the French Open, he will win. How often have we seen him drift into a period of nothingness, then suddenly decide it is time to go home and majestically wrap up the match in no time? How often have we seen Federer serve more aces than his reputedly-big-serving opponents? When Federer steps onto the court, he fights against himself. The day he decides to lose, others can win. Otherwise, ‘don’t even try, pal!’ (Federer might have been joking – but was he? Every opponent knows he meant it and sadly for them, he was stating the truth). Federer’s genius is defined by one word – invincible.
Sachin’s genius is composed of a different concoction. His flaws and vulnerabilities are there for everyone to see and exploit, whenever he permits them to. His flaws have been analysed by so many experts so many times that if you add them all and if an ounce of truth is there in them, Sachin would have been relegated to the archives of cricket statisticians’ laptops. There are very few people who have kept a billion hearts throbbing and fluttering for seventeen years. When Sachin first walked into the international arena, every heart was secretly praying for the kid to succeed. If you had thought that it was because he was a kid – pause, the hearts are still praying. Sachin doesn’t need any prayers though. There is something right about every stroke he plays and he plays every stroke. The balance, the timing, the grace all make time stand still. Even when he ducks awkwardly under a searing bouncer, his determination is stamped over it.
Sometimes Sachin is an intelligent bowler’s easy prey. If he had fallen to a particular ball playing a particular shot, he is most likely to play the same shot off the same ball and sometimes fall again. The intelligent bowler doesn’t realize that Sachin will keep playing the same shot not because he can’t play it differently but because he wants to play the same shot that failed him and succeed. He will keep failing till he succeeds. Once Sachin masters his failing, the intelligent bowler will have to start raking up his brains again to spot another flaw, not knowing that Sachin will probably be more eager than him to know the next flaw – so that he can fix it. Haven’t we seen him paddle-sweeping straight to the fielder repeatedly till he gets the stroke right and beats the fielder by an inch – looking past the spectator’s frustration (oh! why cant he try some other shot), it is the same obsessive urge for perfection on display.
Sachin has many detractors. But will any of them dare not to watch him when he is in action. He may not match a Lara or Steve Waugh in snatching victory from jaws of defeat. But when Sachin plays, winning or losing become secondary in its truest sense. There is nothing to exceed the sheer joy of watching the sheer genius in action. There is nothing to match the sight of imperfections being ironed out right in front of your eyes and perfection emerge ultimately, every time.
Luckily for bowlers like Warne or Murali, unlike Federer’s rivals, they could build their fames by bowling at others.