Time to move on?

imageRarely, there come individuals who are sports stars par excellence, much loved, venerated. They cut across nationality, faith, colour and creed and are put on a pedestal and adored everywhere. In my lifetime I can think of maybe a dozen such revered sportsmen, who were kings in their domain. Muhammad Ali, Bolt, Jordan, Pele, Woods, Sobers and Federer are out of that ilk, belonging to different sports. When they are losing, the crowd suffers with them and lives every moment of their battles.

Just yesterday there was such a painful time, watching Roger Federer being pulled apart by Marin Cilic in the first two sets of the Wimbledon quarter finals. Cilic is a power player, but in his hey day Federer would have despatched him in his usual languid style. So we all suffered alongwith Federer, living in hope, that one last time he will achieve that pinnacle of a Grand Slam victory. And that is the topic of this blog. Do the likes of Federer overdo their stay?

One can quote so many examples of this decline of a super individual. I can remember a horrendous final at Wimbledon in 1974, when a bristling young Jimmy Conners just killed Ken Rosewall, an aging Wimbledon hero. In turn, McEnroe destroyed an aging Jimmy Conners in the 1984 final. Leaving aside tennis one also remembers a struggling Michael Schumacher in Formula One (on his comeback) and the decline of Tiger Woods in golf. I can also recall the sudden slowing down of pace of some express bowlers, as the years took their toll. Imran, Trueman, Thompson, Waqar, Holding were examples of natures destruction. Most poignantly, there is the example of Muhammad Ali declining in his late 30s in boxing.

It does not stop at sports. Humans carry the same tendency wherever they are in a position of power or fame. Rulers seem to stay beyond their time of effectiveness and popularity. CEOs drag their career, milking the last few years, while clearly their ability to manage has declined. Actors and singers stay decades beyond their prime. The creativity and passion (so important in the arts) gone after a peak, but these artistes use their goodwill and fame to hang on, delivering quality well below their best.

All the above examples are a very sorry sight. Witnessing previous masters become ordinary is embarrassing and depressing. It seems people are so addicted to power, fame and adulation, that they are ready to sacrifice their self respect to linger and hang-on as long as they are allowed to. Only it looks terrible and really cheapens these former leaders.

My own philosophy is that decline is natures way. People wane in capability and need to move on with grace. They need to make way for succeeding generations, so that the flower of humanity keeps regenerating. That is what institutionalisation is; it is this institutionalisation which will create sustainability. It is this natural regeneration which will provide humanity with new and better Bradmans, Bolts, Jahangirs, Federers and Schumachers. The leaders in various roles, need to stop this inane hanging on at any cost. It does not bode well for them, is not a good spectacle and reduces human capacity to grow.

In the end a relevant quote from the Quran seems appropriate to describe natures toll.

Surah Yasin
If We grant long life to any, We cause him to be reversed in nature . . . (Qur’an, 36:68)

That is literally we tend towards our childhood years and slowly lose our strength. Also in other places, the Quran mentions old age and the resultant weakness.

*picture is from Taringa.net

Stress Test

imageWhat is common between Karachi 1973, Edgbaston 1987, Karachi 2000 and Abu Dhabi 2015. Well if you want to have a real live stress test, with all its elements, you need to be alive and watching the events happen. I am one of those unfortunate few, who have actually lived and passed this stress test.

The commonalities are that its got to be a Pakistan versus England Test Match. The first innings of both teams have to be strong innings. It should be the fifth day of the match. Everyone considers the wicket is lifeless. All think it is a foregone conclusion, that the match is a draw. Pakistan is batting in its second innings (the third of the match, so England have still to play its second innings). Our batsmen and our dressing room is relaxed, maybe too relaxed. They think its a done deal.

Except that all hell is about to break lose. Pakistani batsmen will throw away their wickets, in a stupor of carelessness and apparent safety. Then pressure is going to be created and we will end up putting the game squarely in England’s hand and so will have to fight like mad to try and save it.

You really don’t believe this do you? But the truth is that this is exactly the way it turns out and we just don’t seem to learn from our history. So to recount.

Karachi 1973. With Majid as captain, this match is more famous for the three 99’s which were scored in the match. Majid, Mushtaq and Amiss (https://sarfarazar.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/the-99s-in-karachi/). Going into the fifth day with a 59 run lead and 105 for 2 before lunch, we looked safe. Then we collapsed to 129 for 8. A very brave partnership between Wasim Bari and Sarfaraz Nawaz rescued us and we were able to escape, what looked like certain defeat some hours earlier. The anger all of us felt was utterly useless and all one could do was watch and pray.

Edgbaston 1987. Imran as captain. We had just thrashed England at Headingly and for most of the match had looked good in this, which was the forth test of the series. Two big first innings and we were 79-1 at lunch on the 5th day. We seemed comfortable with Shoaib looking excellent. Post lunch we collapsed. Miandad, Malik et al. Imran dug in and resisted. We left England 124 to make in 18 overs. Simple in T20 days, but England with three run-outs squandered their chance and ended up 109 for seven. Phew! The close proximity to a mind blow out. I shall remember that late evening forever. I lost five years somewhere during it.

Karachi 2000. Moin Khan as captain. This was the Steve Bucknor match. The chase in the darkness of a Karachi evening. Again we looked okay. Match not in contention. Muhammad Yousuf and Saleem Elahi playing, 128/4. Then we collapsed to 158. Still the target looked unreachable at 176. But we reckoned without Steve Bucknor and his peevishness. He took exception to our slow over rates. So if you are angry, warn the captain. But no, he stretched the game to a time when no one could see the ball. Clearly a flagrant violation of the principle of bad light. England got to 176 in the darkness and Pakistan lost our 45 year old unbeaten record at the National Stadium. Most of our anger was directed at Bucknor. But this disguised the fact that we had lost a drawn match through our own carelessness.

Abu Dhabi 2015. Well you do not need details of yesterdays match. Suffice to say, that watching before lunch, I kept thinking of the three matches mentioned above. I promise you, that if I had Waqar’s number, I would have called him up to relate all the above to him. Might have stopped the sorry shots which emanated. Hafeez out to a needless runout. Younus and Misbah to awful heaves, which belie their experience and maturity. Asad Shafiq and Sarfaraz also not really thinking and adjusting for the changing situation. Awful. It was deja vu. A friend of mine shut his television as he could not take the stress.

Forty two years and they will not learn. I have come from school to retirement, a whole work-life. But, yet our people do not learn. In the future, I shall personally send this write-up to the Pakistan coach, before the next Pakistan versus England series. Please have a heart and think of us long time supporters.

*picture is from pictures.cricket.com.pk

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