Sport as a metaphor for life may be a cliche, but that does not make it any the less true.
Much of our appreciation of sport is an expression of our tribal “thumos”, our spirited-ness (to use the translation from Greek for this Platonian concept). It is irrational, when thought of logically, why would I feel any joy when a private club, by its own accord, BCCI, wins a game, or when Kolkata Knight Riders, less wary of calling itself a club, does? Sure, a bunch of strangers who would walk past me if they saw me dying on the street get a big pay cheque and hold aloft a trophy and spray each other with champagne, but why do I feel emotionally invested in their fate? It makes no sense, and that is what thumos is, something beyond rational notions of self-interest—it’s why firefighters rush into burning buildings, or a bunch of men storm the Capitol building and post selfies, knowing fully well, what will happen to them.
But is it only thumos that drives our appreciation of competitive sport? Sure, it provides a dopamine rush when the game is won, but then how many of these won games do we remember, for life? Not many. That is where the cliche of “sport as a metaphor for life” comes in, what makes sport truly memorable, a little hypothesis that I have, is when we find ourselves reflected in it.This is not a conscious mental process, it is not as if we are deliberately trying to connect sport with our existential experience, it just happens.
When I was young, things moved me, in general, much more than do me, now, the ground was soft, and memories more easily made, even of small things, for how can I explain that thirty years later, I still remember the batting of Ali Shah and Greatbatch, before he became a slogger, and Jimmy the Padams. But what perhaps cut the most deep were the underdog stories, no make it the ones where the rules were broken, because that’s what being a teenager is, breaking the rules, be it Dave Houghton’s lone charge against New Zealand in the 87 World Cup, or India winning the World Cup in 83. Things that were just not supposed to happen, as the adults say that they will, and yet they do, a boy not much older than me sends Mushtaq and Qadir into the stands in a savage display of hitting unheard those days, and Kapil Dev avoids a follow-on through a barrage of sixes against Hemmings, and if you were told to be gentle and keep your head down, Prasad showed that sometimes it doesn’t work, that sometimes, you need to get into their grill.
And then I remember Calcutta 2001, as in my mid 20s, on the cusp of being emerging as a man of my own, I saw India, doing the same, a bunch of men my age, in the prime of their youth as I was, standing up to one of the mightiest cricket juggernauts ever assembled, and it was hope that I remember, crying at the end in a security lab where I saw the game on multiple monitors, and I will keep it in my heart, till my dying day, the hope.
But I am not dead yet, just older, and more broken, like an old cambis ball, and wiser, so I move slower, and remember even slower. The high of winning still hits, thumos dies slow, but like an old addict, I am inured to its effects, and cynical too, about sportspeople, and one tournament fades away into another, forming a ceaseless haze of hyperbole, advertisements, and glitter.
Till Sydney, I find it again.
Once again. Two men, broken and bruised,one with a torn hamstring and the other with a spasming back, protecting another man with a broken finger, keeping out grenades flung from the front, and abuse from the back. There is no hope of winning, they cannot, none of the batsmen can move freely, and no one after them can either, and so they do what seems the easiest thing from the outside, but what isn’t.Surviving.It has taken me middle age, to understand how difficult surviving is, how difficult it is, when you are no longer as you used to be, physically and emotionally, and you know how fragile everything is, one edge, the ball staying low, and you are gone.
Sometimes you give in to the person you once were, as Vihari does, slapping over the slips a delivery to the boundary, and then apologetically smiling to his partner, but that is only a momentary failure, as you put your head down to bat out time, telling yourself to take it day-by-day, or ball-by-ball, and I will outlast this Cummins over for a Hazelwood, and then maybe hope for a bit of an off-color Stark, before Lyon comes back again.Winning, that is for another day, and scoring more than the other or keeping them down below your score is something I shall try to keep doing, but for now, the thing is to blot out the pain and the voice in the head that asks for a boisterous slash to the off, and if I can just go onto the next breath, I know I will be victorious.
I will be Sydney.