Moments etched in memory

Players come off the field clutching backs, limping, with a shoulder out of place, a splattered nose, carried on stretchers thanks to an injured knee or worse, concussed and more. By bringing these images to our living rooms, television somehow makes us complicit in their misfortune.

Watching Jasprit Bumrah hurt himself during the IPL, a million Indian hearts would have missed a beat — but the bowler is fine and fit for the World Cup.   -  PTI

A heart-stopping moment during live telecast of a sporting event is not so much the incredible goal or the unbelievable six, but the sight of a player falling in a manner that suggests an injury, perhaps even a career-ending one.

Watching Jasprit Bumrah hurt himself during the IPL, a million Indian hearts would have missed a beat — but the bowler is fine and fit for the World Cup. On the 2011 tour of England, as soon as an injured Zaheer Khan left the ground, you sensed India’s chances of winning left with him.

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During a soccer camp in Bangalore many years ago, India’s leading player, the elegant Harjinder Singh, came off the field, his face ashen, his gait that of a broken man. He had been injured, and he told his coach, “This is it.” His career was over at 28. A year earlier, he had been named the best midfielder at the Merdeka tournament.

Television brings into our living rooms boxers who get pummelled but live on to fight another day, cyclists who tumble out of major competitions but know there is still a future. The worst visual by a long way was the sight of Ayrton Senna’s head slumped after a Formula One crash at the San Marino Grand Prix.

The cameras didn’t move away quickly enough, and the worst fears were confirmed — the greatest driver of his time was dead. A couple of years later, I was at San Marino, and we were taken around the course where the accident occurred. It was difficult to retain one’s poise.

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At the 1988 Olympics, the American diver Greg Louganis struck his head and bled during the springboard preliminaries (he went on to win the gold). To watch a world-class athlete get it wrong like that was disorienting. What was even more so was his announcement seven years later that he was HIV positive. It earned Louganis condemnation from other divers at the Olympics till doctors pointed out that only those who had an open wound might have been in danger in that pool, and in any case the chlorine in the water would have killed the virus.

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The sight of the great Pele being kicked out of the 1966 World Cup is surely one of sport’s least inspiring moments. It began in the first match against Bulgaria. Then Portugal too decided kicking and fouling Pele was an excellent tactic. As Pele hobbled about, the referee allowed Portugal to “get away with murder”. It was shameful.

Players come off the field clutching backs, limping, with a shoulder out of place, a splattered nose, carried on stretchers thanks to an injured knee or worse, concussed and more.

By bringing these images to our living rooms, television somehow makes us complicit in their misfortune. There is something ghoulish about relaxing on a sofa, drinking a beer and stuffing short eats into our mouths while a career ends in a split second, or a hero limps away for the last time.