Respecting champions

At major sports events in England, America and Australia, it is customary to invite the past champions who are often felicitated during a break between matches. And they get a wonderful ovation from the crowd. This is something we can learn to do.

Prakash Padukone won the All England Badminton Championship in 1980. At that time the tournament was the unofficial world championship, and so winning it was what most players dreamt about. The Chinese did not participate then, but that in no way takes anything away from Prakash’s victory, for he beat the defending champion, Liem Swie King, to win the title.   -  REUTERS

I have to confess that I am not a huge selfie person. I am flattered that 30 years after my retirement from the sport, there are some who want to have a selfie with me, and I try to accommodate as many as I can if am not required to be in the TV studio. There are times when, like every other human being, I too am tired and just want to get back home or to my room and relax, and get ready for the next day. These are moments when I would rather be left alone.

There are also family moments when you don’t want to be disturbed, and also times when you want anonymity to do some shopping or any other chore without attracting any attention. Of course I regret it later and berate myself, as a few seconds wouldn’t have made me any more tired than I already was. One thing is for sure: if it is a youngster or a school kid then whatever the situation I will try to pose for a selfie.

A few days ago, though, it was my turn to be the fan and ask for a selfie with the greatest sportsperson India has produced. Not for a moment am I forgetting all the greats of Indian sport before I was born, and those who did fabulously well for India even before I started to understand what sport was. However, for me the one sportsperson who towers above everybody else is Prakash Padukone, the badminton legend. This, of course, is my view, and once again with absolutely no disrespect whatsoever to the many champions from different sports that have brought glory to India.

Prakash won the All England Badminton Championship in 1980. At that time the tournament was the unofficial world championship, and so winning it was what most players dreamt about. The Chinese did not participate then, but that in no way takes anything away from Prakash’s victory, for he beat the defending champion, Liem Swie King, to win the title. And remember, in those days a player got a point only on his serve and not the opponent’s, as is the case now. It was, thus, very difficult to score a point and at the same time try to avoid conceding a point to the opponent.

The following year, when the Chinese entered mainstream badminton, Prakash was winning against them too while the Indonesians, Malaysians and the Danes, the powerhouses of badminton, were struggling to get points off the Chinese. At the Grand Prix in Pune, organised by that great lover of badminton, Avinash Wardekar, Prakash beat the Chinese in the final to win the title in front of a huge crowd. I went there to watch the matches and was mesmerised by his feet movement. Thankfully, through the peripheral view, I could also see the way the game was unfolding, but watching Prakash’s feet movement, his balance, the way he rocked from his toes to the heels and the way he sprang up in the air to smash were a feast for the eyes. There was so much for me to learn from those feet and to try to put it to good use in my sport, cricket.

Prakash was humility personified, and is still the same. Today he looks pretty much the same, excepting for using glasses to read. And if anything, he looks leaner than he was during his playing days.

We bumped into each other in the airport lounge in Dubai; we were awaiting our respective flights, and he told me that he was returning from the All England Championships where he had been invited as a special guest. This is a regular feature at all the major events in England, America and Australia. The organisers invite the past champions who are often felicitated during a break between matches, and they get a wonderful ovation from the crowd. This is something we can learn to do.

In cricket, only the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association sends special invitations to the former Test players to come and witness the match. The Mumbai Cricket Association under Mr. Sharad Pawar also had started inviting former India captains from Mumbai to sit in the president’s box. At most centres, though, it’s extremely tough for the former champions of that state to get passes to witness the matches. They are told to come again and again by people in charge who, quite frankly, have no idea of what these champions have contributed to the sport. If they had, then they would send the tickets to the champion’s house instead of asking him to come later.

Of course, they will be the first to line up for a selfie with the former greats, but that is another story altogether.