April 11, 2007

Of heroes and hero worship

ESPNcricinfo staff
So Brian Lara will be gone from the one-day stage

So Brian Lara will be gone from the one-day stage. So will Glenn McGrath. Inzamam already is. So is Anil Kumble. It’s a pity. We shan’t see the likes of them any more.

One of the fascinating things about any team sport is the extent to which individual players within a team matter so much to the fan. They provide the rich subtext within the larger narrative of a game. Individual players become our heroes. And heroes provide fans with an extra intensity in the heart of a game they are already intense about.

Heroes offer the repeating, repeatable motifs we pursue in anything we are passionate about – the moment when the bass line kicks in, the instant when the drink has begun to take hold, the moment when we are riding the high, floating, weightless.

I’ve had many heroes in my 30-odd years of following cricket. Increasingly, they are younger, much younger, than I am. (Quite a realization, that, the first time one has it. Then one gets used to it; one knows that the sportsmen we’ll admire will be only younger than we are.)

There have been times when they have gone and something has gone out of me. The passion for the game after such occasions hasn’t quite dwindled; it’s just as though there is a hole in my affections where the player ought to have been.

It’s always been the case with any sport for me. I remember it happening with GR Viswanath in cricket, with John McEnroe in tennis, with Diego Maradona in football. Who has it happened to with you? Has it happened to you at all?

Heroes we find while following a game in our childhoods are the best. (Viswanath, McEnroe and Maradona were mine.) We feel most intensely about them. And if we find players we admire later, the ones we find in childhood or adolescence are the true heroes.

That’s because hero worship essentially belong to the experience of childhood. As we grow older and cynical, we treat with mistrust the notion of being so utterly in thrall to another human being. The late Alan Ross, poet, editor and writer, has the last word on this: ‘I believe that heroes are necessary to children and that as we grow up it becomes more difficult to establish them in the increasingly unresponsive soil of our individual mythology. Occasionally, the adult imagination is caught and sometimes it is held: but the image rarely takes root.’

Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He is the author of two volumes of cricketing memoirs - You Must Like Cricket? and All That You Can't Leave Behind - and a novel, If I Could Tell You