March in 2021: An escape into Tendulkar, Federer, Messi and nostalgia

The month of March has been particularly rewarding for sports fans who revel in the vintage, sprinkled with a generous dosage of sports history.

Legendary cricketers Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar turned back the clock with some vintage batting during the ongoing Road Safety World Series in Raipur.   -  Road Safety World Series | India Legends

After months of enforced stillness because of the COVID-19 pandemic, live sport has returned to stadiums and drawing rooms around the world. The month of March has been particularly rewarding for sports fans who revel in the vintage, sprinkled with a generous dosage of sports history.

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In the Champions League last-16 tie between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, Lionel Messi struck a stunning equaliser. Roger Federer, the 20-time Grand Slam champion, returned to action at the Qatar Open following a 13-month injury layoff. And Sachin Tendulkar sent fans roaring with his trademark straight drives at the Road Safety World Series (RSWS) T20 in Raipur.

No better sight

Meanwhile near V.I.P road in Raipur, 50-year-old Ramkumar is busy making a cup of tea for his customer. Ramkumar was born and raised in Mumbai, in a neighbourhood close to the Wankhede Stadium.

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But some of his earliest memories are of watching Brian Lara playing the cover drive on his black-and-white TV. Few things would make Ramkumar happier than seeing Lara play again. He has watched five matches of the RSWS T20 in the stadium, and the rest on television.

"There was no better player than Brian Lara in full flow (Lara jab form mein hota tha toh ussey zyada achha koi batsman nahi tha)," says Ramkumar, smiling from ear to ear.

"His [277 vs Australia] in Sydney [during the 1992-93 tour] is still fresh in my mind (Unka double hundred Australia ke saamne abhi bhi yaad hai)."

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Ramkumar and many fans like him would be lost in these times without the moments of nostalgia. Such as, on Monday, when South Africa Legends captain Jonty Rhodes swooped in on the ball and fired a one-handed throw to catch Bangladesh Legends opener Mahrab Hossain short.

Already, fans yearn for the Tendulkar of yore, who stood tall when his teammates wilted around him, and talk endearingly about Kevin Pietersen's decisive innings of 158 on the final day of the Ashes in 2005.

"Only if MS Dhoni were here (Kaash Dhoni yahan khelta)," says Mahesh, a member of the catering staff at the stadium. "Since he has retired now, he could've played here if not for the IPL (Ab toh retire hogaye hai Dhoni, IPL nahin hota na toh yahan khel sakta tha)."

Saving grace

The way all live sport and life intertwine is glaringly obvious – some supporters welcome a return to normalcy, but others fear it is too soon with a reprieve from COVID-19 nowhere in sight. However, they all agree on one thing - that their favourite spectacle is a welcome distraction from reality.

Having gone 404 days without competing, Federer beat Dan Evans 7-6 (8), 3-6, 7-5 before his comeback in Qatar was ended by Nikoloz Basilashvili.

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Messi struck twice on his record-equalling 767th appearance for Barcelona in a win over Huesca, and Tendulkar slammed a 37-ball 60 against South Africa in the RSWS.

Eight years have passed since a jam-packed Wankhede Stadium watched Tendulkar bid farewell to the game. Surely, the autumn of Federer's career has been on the horizon since he won his last Grand Slam, in Melbourne 38 months ago. And Messi, the Argentinian teenager who signed for Barcelona, has now been embedded into the fabric of the city for close to 17 years.

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So, as these sports stars across disciplines turn back the hands of time, people revel in watching familiar faces doing familiar things, the allure of a comforting sense of nostalgia proving to be the saving grace.

Being around fans and seeing their obsession with heroes of a certain vintage makes complete sense.