Friday, 30 May 2014

We are probably living through the greatest era in sports

Of all the areas of human endeavour, no area is more prone to dewy-eyed revision than sport. Nostalgia is a hazard for sport spectators. It was better back then, purer, more innocent, less showbiz, earthier, tougher, less about fame and money. You know the drill.

The past isn't always more glorious though. It just seems that way. Mostly because we encouter sports first as children, when the intensity of emotions, partisanship and preferences sear into the memories. Nothing will ever appear that vivid again, except for those who are able to maintain a childlike fascination about sport long into adulthood.

It seems that way also because the sporting careers are brief and largely youthful. When my father tells me that you should've seen Sunil Gavaskar at his prime or someone tells me that Maradona was unbelievable, obviously that's because they were a sight to behold. Yet there is also a longing element of self-remembrance in the watcher's recollection. I was there, before your time, in my time.

Another way of looking at sports is in terms of irrevocable progress involving better training methods, better nutrition, relaxation regimes, scientific understanding of the game and about the players anatomy. Just look at athletics, world records don't tend to last long.

Neither perspective is accurate. Sport isn't getting better or worse. The bland truth is that different sports enjoy their highs and lows at different times. Look at boxing, it is buried somewhere so deep that it's hard to imagine it'll ever come out. Of course there are some good boxers around, but boxing itself has lost its charm.

Our tendency to romanticise the past makes it difficult to fully recognise a golden era while we are living through it. Yet we are probably living through the finest golden era of any sport.


Football is right now ruled by arguably the two best footballers ever to play the game: Ronaldo and Messi. Two truly remarkable sportsmen that have character, technique, fitness, daring, imagination, vision, speed, energy and everything else. Their greatest achievement is that they have made perfection commonplace. The standards of other players has risen up. Every young kid wanting to play football wants to become either one of them or maybe both! Watching them play is astonishing and the amount and the kind of goals they have scored was unheard of. Football as a game is at its best. High energy gameplay, intense pressing, variety of passes and goals and the overall standards of the matches being played are as good as they have ever been.

Cricket too is at its peak. With the advent of T20 cricket and the foundation of various T20 leagues in various countries, the popularity of the game has soared. The standards of matches in the two other formats are ridiculously good too. The grade of equipments - bats, balls, shoes, jerseys, helmets, guards and all other things - is just awesome and the the quality of the game being played is astounding. The kinds of batting and fielding performances the teams put in were unimaginable even 8-10 years ago. The strategy has changed and the way the game was looked at has changed, and has changed for good. 2 or 3 young cricketers have impressed so much that spectators and experts have started entertaining the thought that they just might break Tendulkar's records, which were and are thought to be unattainable for any batsman ever. Simply put, this time is the best cricket has ever seen.

The interminable days of Pete Sampras were overshadowed by Federer. Then came Nadal. The matches tennis have produced since then have had breathtaking quality. The pair produced a wimbledon final in 2008 which many regard as the greatest match ever. The calibre of other players had to improve to even remotely challenge these two guys. Then came Djokovic and Murray and a couple of more players who threatened the duopoly of Federer and Nadal. I regard the rivalry of Nadal-Djokovic better than Federer-Nadal just due to the sheer standard of the matches they have produced. This pair produced a final in the Australian Open 2012 that lasted almost six hours. Six hours of intense, extremely high quality tennis. The best days in tennis are here to stay for quite a long time.

Other sports are also doing great. Formula 1, badminton, basketball and the others are arguably seeing their best days, with records made and broken in no time.

Today's elites maintain an extraordinary level of skill, competitiveness and fitness week in and week out. I'm not sure for how long they'll be able to keep it up without burning out, and indeed there are signs of their bodies beginning to rebel and age taking a toll on them.

All the more reason to savour this era before its glorious light begins to fade. The story is still going on and we should feel priviledged to be witnessing such elite sportsmen playing these tremendous sports.