They will be missed

Published : Jan 12, 2012 00:00 IST

Former Indian cricket captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.-V. SUDERSHAN
Former Indian cricket captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.-V. SUDERSHAN

Former Indian cricket captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.-V. SUDERSHAN

2011 saw the passing away of a few sporting greats. By Shreedutta Chidananda.

M. A. K. PataudiDied: September 22 (aged 70).

The tributes continued to pour in long after M. A. K. Pataudi's demise. Many harped on his blindness in one eye and how gifted he must have been to score all the runs he did despite it. Those who had played under him, however, spoke of him with a degree of warmth few are likely to elicit. India's youngest captain, at 21, Pataudi is also perhaps the nation's most revered. Erudite and incisive, ‘Tiger' infused the team with courage, marshalling a spin-bowling unit that went on to fetch the country its first overseas wins.

A record of 2,793 Test runs, scored at an average of 34.91, may not inspire much awe but there were telling innings played. He made 103 in his debut series, against England in Madras in 1962, guiding India to its first series win over the opponent. A double-hundred in Delhi two years later and a masterly 148 at Headingley in 1967, both again struck against England, followed. His efforts against Australia on a monstrously-green pitch in Melbourne the following year continue to be spoken of in hushed amazement.

Pataudi died in Delhi in September, weeks after he had presented the England team with his eponymous trophy, for its evisceration of India in the Test series.

Basil D'OliveiraDied: November 19 (aged 80).

Basil D'Oliveira's inclusion in England's squad to tour South Africa in 1968 had consequences that reached far beyond the cricket field. A ‘coloured', D'Oliveira became a figurehead for the anti-apartheid movement after the South African establishment's objection to his presence and the tour's subsequent cancellation. The incident built up to South Africa's suspension from international cricket, thrusting the apartheid policy into the world's focus.

In 1960, D'Oliveira moved to England with John Arlott's assistance, having placed a heartfelt request with the broadcaster, in a letter written — rather famously — in green ink. There, ‘Dolly' made his name as an all-rounder, turning out with great success for Worcestershire. He was originally omitted from the touring party to his native South Africa, despite having turned in a series-deciding performance in the final Ashes Test of 1968. Only Tom Cartwright's injury saw him earn a call-up. There can have been few more significant selectorial decisions in cricket history.

Joe FrazierDied: November 7 (aged 67).

Joe Frazier only went to the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo because Buster Mathis — to whom he had lost in the trials — had injured his hand. Fighting with a broken left thumb, 20-year-old Frazier, today regarded as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, defeated German Hans Huber in the final to win the gold. Ordinarily a fine accomplishment, it remains only a speck in popular memory for Frazier's troika of fights with Muhammad Ali, in the next decade, towers over everything else in that period from the sport's history.

Stripped of his title for refusing to fight in Vietnam, Ali returned to the ring after a three-year hiatus, for a tilt at an honour he claimed was rightfully his. In what was dubbed the Fight of the Century, and marked the beginning of one of boxing's most riveting rivalries, ‘Smokin' Joe' won via unanimous decision to hand Ali his first professional defeat. Although Frazier lost a non-title rematch in 1974 (by which time he had surrendered the belt to George Foreman), Ali would exact satisfactory revenge at the “Thrilla in Manila”, a fight of searing ferocity that could easily have resulted in either or both fighters dying.

Ali attended Frazier's funeral, but the two had shared a complicated, openly-hostile relationship throughout.

SocratesDied: December 4 (aged 57).

Hours after Socrates had died in a Sao Paulo hospital, his beloved Corinthians sealed the Brazilian league title with a point from its final game over Palmeiras. A tribute ordinarily, except it is doubted if a goalless scrap featuring four red cards and a mass brawl, would have thrilled the man. For winning, as he and the rest of Tele Santana's men made the world understand almost three decades ago, isn't everything.

That Brazil side at the 1982 World Cup Socrates led may have failed to make the semifinals even, but few tournament teams since have delivered such joy. At the heart of it all stood The Doctor, languid and assured, cleaving the defence open to send Zico, Falcao, or Eder (or notably, against Argentina, Junior) on goal, sparking moves upfield with a preposterously well-controlled back-heel, and when needed — like against the USSR — producing a corking equaliser.

Socrates studied medicine at University, wrote on economics and politics, and even led a movement for democracy at Corinthians. A year before his death — from septicaemia brought on by years of alcohol abuse — he said he was authoring a book, a work of fiction set in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup. It never saw the light of day.

Marco SimoncelliDied: October 23 (aged 24).

The Sepang International Circuit holds poignant significance in Marco Simoncelli's cruelly truncated career. It was there in 2008 that the Italian rider, then aged 21, first came to international attention, finishing third to win the 250cc World Championship with the Gilera team. It was there, three years and four days later, that he also rode in his last race.

Fresh from his second-placed finish in Australia, a performance that had lifted him to sixth in the World Championship standings, Simoncelli would have hoped to make further ground in Malaysia — the season's penultimate race — although the title itself had long been lost. On the second lap, the 24-year-old was involved in a crash with Colin Edwards and close friend Valentino Rossi, when his Gresini Honda lost traction on Turn 11. He died of injuries to the neck and head — his helmet having slipped off in the collision — later that day.

Dan WheldonDied: October 16 (aged 33).

Only a week earlier, in what was to become a bad fortnight for motorsport, British racing driver Dan Wheldon too died on the track. The 33-year-old two-time Indy 500 winner was involved in a horrific 15-car pile-up on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in the final race of the IndyCar season.

Seve BallesterosDied: May 7 (aged 54).

One of golf's true mavericks, Severiano Ballesteros sprang to attention on his debut at the Open Championship in 1976, where, competing as a 19-year-old, he finished tied for second with Jack Nicklaus, producing, along the way, a shot of staggering audacity — merely a teaser of what was to follow. Over the years, he managed miraculous recovery shots — “He could get up-and-down out of a 'garbage can',” Jack Nicklaus wrote upon his passing — but his short game could be equally enthralling. Ballesteros was at the forefront of a European revival in golf, re-igniting interest in the Ryder Cup, a competition the U.S. had grown wearyingly accustomed to dominating. Five major tournament wins do not perhaps accurately reflect his impact on the sport.

Sammy WanjiruDied: May 15 (aged 24).

History may not come to judge Sammy Wanjiru as one of the greats in his sport but his credentials were inexorably growing before he fell to death from the balcony of his home in the Rift Valley. His gold medal in the men's marathon at the Beijing Olympics made him the first Kenyan victor of the event. Wanjiru also won the London and Chicago Marathons, shattering course records in both places.

Gary SpeedDied: November 27 (aged 42).

Manager of the Welsh National football team at the time of his death, reportedly by suicide, Gary Speed played for a number of English clubs in a long career, making fewer Premier League appearances than only two other players (David James and Ryan Giggs). He won the league title with Leeds United in 1992, before going on to represent Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers, and Sheffield United.

Peter RoebuckDied: November 12 (aged 55).

Although an able opening batsman with over 17,000 first-class runs, Peter Roebuck will be better remembered as one of the foremost cricket writers of his generation. Independent and opinionated, with often blunt views on the game's players and administrators, Roebuck cultivated a large readership, particularly in India. He turned out for Somerset for 17 seasons, before moving to Australia at the end of his playing career, where he established himself as a journalist.

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