Sachin & Leander: role models

By AMITH MATHUR

IT is fashionable to project sporting heroes as role models who shape the minds of kids, inspire and motivate them. This powerful and popular theory suggests that success and the relentless pursuit of excellence of some individuals spurs millions of others to do likewise. Because Tendulkar is what he is every kid dreams of creating batting records, of destroying Warne and owning a red Ferrari.

Sachin Tendulkar, without any publicity, supports a large number of disadvantaged kids. -- Pic. H. SATISH-

This role model theory works more in India than elsewhere because cricketers are huge stars, they are red-hot celebrities forever standing in front of cameras and microphones. This constant media glare enhances their image and presents them to fans as supermen worthy of being emulated. The delicious package, success — fame/wealth — is so irresistible kids get sucked into a race to be the first to step into their shoes.

But there are sceptics who feel this role model thing is exaggerated. The non-believers, while admitting that sport heroes are hugely gifted and have superb talents, question their status as examples for others. How, the insolent question is posed, is a khiladi fit to be a role model? A footballer, they argue, may beat the defenders with his supreme skills, a spinner may turn the ball one yard and a (drug-filled) Tarzan may throw some metal disc a few miles but is that enough? Their point, in simple terms, is this: to become a meaningful example for others the champions must do something meaningful and extend themselves beyond sports.

To support this stand, the numerous escapades of spin ace Shane Warne are listed. Warne is the world's greatest ever slow bowler but what about the no balls he frequently delivers — scandals about relationships with women/match-fixing and doping. Or, for that matter, consider the case of Azharuddin, a delightful artist who played 99 Tests, captained India for almost a decade but then fell from grace. How is he to be slotted? Champion player, superb fielder... ...role model ...or something else?

These choices are dodgy but nobody disputes Sachin's position as a 24-carat, totally pure role model. From age 16 when he first picked up a bat for India, Sachin's batting and conduct away from the crease have been consistently awesome, he brings immense dignity, poise and balance to whatever he does. Mindful about maintaining the correct profile, especially in a cricket-crazed nation which follows his every move, Sachin presents a straight bat and refuses the temptation to hit across the line. Some, people with narrow vision, see him only as a hungry run machine and a megastar who surpasses Shah Rukh Khan in popular appeal. But, as is now slowly emerging, there is a more gentle, caring, concerned side to Sachin as well. He is actively promoting many charities, doing commendable work for children and selflessly — and without publicity — supporting a large number of disadvantaged kids.

Leander Paes, too, is one who wants seriously to contribute and make a difference to society. -- Pic. AFP-

If Sachin is a genuine star, so is tennis ace Leander Paes who has won many titles, an Olympic medal and everyone's hearts by sheer courage, commitment and passionate patriotism. Leander possesses every quality that you look for in a hero — top performances, powerful presence, pleasant personality and loads of star appeal. Yet, besides all this, there is an endearing simplicity and direct honesty about him that makes him a role model. He is close to his family, respects elders, cherishes traditional values, is careful about being correct, wants seriously to contribute and make a difference to society.

Two things drive Leander — an inner urge to excel and a fierce desire to achieve for the country. Speaking at a Children's Conclave held in Jaipur recently, he said: "What keeps me going is the thrill of seeing the flag flying high."

Of course, sporting achievements are not constructed merely by sentiment, noble values or good intentions. Hard work is essential and Leander's path to success was paved by an unwavering commitment, he talks of dutifully doing homework till late at night and then getting up at 4.30 every morning to train. But he enjoyed the grind, was totally convinced about his ability and refused to allow doubts to enter his mind. "One must remain positive and focus on one's strength," he says, "otherwise you are eroded from within."

"But how does one handle pressure?" asked a child, because that too has a crippling effect on sportspersons. "Yes", he responded, and explained that pressure can be turned around and used for becoming more determined. It depends on your attitude — pressure can paralyse you or it can give strength and create focus. The choice is yours.

Like Tendulkar, Leander thrives on challenges, he always strives for more, wanting to stay a step ahead of others. Sachin hates losing a friendly table tennis game to a colleague in the team room. Leander, no less competitive, wants to do well whether it is hockey (his father's sport) or football (he almost joined PSV Eindhoven juniors) or rugby.

Lately, golf has caught Leander's fancy because he lives next to a golf course. Practices with the likes of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Annika Sorenstam who give him tips in exchange of tennis lessons and the arrangement seems to be working out smoothly. While details about how tennis has progressed for these stars are not available, Leander is not doing too badly in golf. Already, despite just 25 rounds on the course, he is playing to 10, hitting the ball so long he is comfortably reaching the par fives in two!

"How do you do this?" I asked. "You just have to", he replied evading a direct answer.

When you play with those big names you can't play military (meaning left-right) golf. You have to keep it straight.

Remarkably unstarry, well mannered, God-fearing, family-loving and deeply humble. Leander and Tendulkar are alike. Both hit the ball hard. Both are top performers. Both are top role models.