An idol’s idols

Let me talk to you about my idols from the sporting world — icons whose exploits shaped my youth and who still continue to fill me with awe.

Ronaldo may have had a career blighted by injury but still he managed to leave a generation with memories to last a lifetime.   -  AP

I am always caught between being mildly embarrassed and massively grateful when young children come to me, saying how they look up to me. It makes me think about my idols from the sporting world — icons whose exploits shaped my youth and who still continue to fill me with awe. And I thought it would be nice to veer away from hardcore football for a change and share a bit about my heroes with you.

Ronaldo, the real one

He isn’t the fat one, he’s the real one. Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima or simply II Fenomeno for those who aren’t into names on birth certificates — the Brazilian was everything you wanted your hero to be. Debates on footballers would always revolve around who was second best, they still do. When the legendary Gianluigi Buffon calls you ‘an alien for what he could do on the pitch’, it’s as credible an assessment as it can get. He may have had a career blighted by injury but still he managed to leave a generation with memories to last a lifetime.

The beauty of Ronaldo was that he could punish you even when he was down — literally. Do yourselves a favour and pull out his final game for Barcelona from the internet. Drawing 0-0 against Deportivo in a game they needed to win, Barcelona looked to have lost its purpose. That was till the 89th minute when Ronaldo was brought down while on a run towards goal. On the floor, the Brazilian watched as a Deportivo player failed to control the ball. In a flash he was up again, picking the ball, steaming through the defence and scoring. The world will never ever see a player like him. I can only imagine the kind of legacy he would have cemented had his knees been better allies.

Sachin Tendulkar

I’m not sure how many of you know, but a lot of my childhood was spent on makeshift cricket pitches around Delhi. I used to be part of multiple matches at the same time, running from pitch to pitch with teams allowing me the liberty to only bat for them. Sachin Tendulkar was always going to be a part of my childhood in a very special way. It’s not so much about what he did but about how he went about doing them. Cricket has had its fair share of stalwarts, but I’ve never seen anyone possess the kind of aura that Tendulkar had every time he stepped on a pitch. Whether it was at the Lord’s, the WACA or Sharjah, the reception was always the same.

Nobody possessed the kind of aura that Sachin Tendulkar had every time he stepped on a pitch. Whether it was at the Lord’s, the WACA or Sharjah, the reception was always the same.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

While the 1996 World Cup was my first big brush with the Little Master on television, it was an incident in the 1999 edition in England that left an indelible mark on me. Tendulkar lost his father in the middle of the tournament and rushed home for the final rites. India was up against Kenya next in a must-win game and while they aren’t the fiercest opponents, everyone knows the curse of an upset in a tournament as big as the World Cup. I remember reading in the newspapers that Tendulkar was flying back for the game. He went on to score a century (140 in 101 balls) and handed India the win it needed. I have never stopped being in awe of the man since that day. I’ve been so fortunate to share the stage with him on a couple of occasions and I’ve always shook his hand like a fan.

Thierry Henry

While there will never be another Ronaldo, Thierry Henry in an Arsenal shirt made for a brilliant hero to look up to once the Brazilian had retired. I used to be an Arsenal fan and there was only one reason for it — Henry. He had the pace, the precision, the skill and the kind of attitude to go with it. The flick, turn and bang against United or the run from his own half against Spurs —Henry was as lethal as they come.

That Arsenal team had a lot of fantastic players in Bergkamp, Vieira, Overmars, Wiltord, Pires — but nothing excited me more than watching Henry getting the ball, inviting the defender to make it an equal start for a duel and then simply annihilating him with pace. Also, his trademark finish — the stroking of the ball at the far post, while pulling his body so as to suggest an artistic fade away, was a thing of beauty.

M. C. Mary Kom will always be a very important chapter in Indian sporting history.   -  M. Moorthy

 

M. C. Mary Kom

Mary is a rock star, period. She’s been such a beacon for not just boxing, but for sport in general, in the country and I’m a fan. She’s always been written off and every single time she has made a comeback to rubbish the doubts. And she does all of this with the most radiant smile! After winning three World Championships on the trot, she took a break to marry and have kids, ignored the naysayers, came back and won two more titles. But I was happiest when Mary, India’s lone woman boxer at the London 2012 Olympic Games, came home with a bronze medal. She’s inspired an entire generation and for me, Mary Kom will always be a very important chapter in Indian sporting history.

Lionel Messi

I spent a fair bit of time on this one before realising that I shouldn’t really be giving any reason for this choice. Lionel Messi is god’s gift to mankind, we all need to simply cherish it!