Michael Jeh October 18, 2008

Legion of Superheroes

Like Lara and Tendulkar, Murali too seems to be hugely respected by the cricketing community all over the world

The great thing about watching Sachin Tendulkar pass Brian Lara was the sense that both men transcend national loyalties. In a world full of false heroes, here are two great sportsmen who are truly worthy of global admiration.

Both great batsmen have enjoyed long careers based on quiet dignity and enormous respect from their own peers. In some senses, this is the real barometer because the only people who really know the full story tend to be those who watched them in battle - team-mates, opponents, umpires, media and support staff. In the case of Tendulkar and Lara, it’s hard to find examples of too many character assassinations from people who know them well.

The consistency of their character over a long career is what stands out. It’s often said that Reputation and Character are twin brothers who were separated at birth but will eventually meet up again sometime in their lives. And when they do reunite, they will be equal.

When genius is hailed so publicly at an early age, Reputation is always the older brother, shaping destinies even before careers begin. Character would naturally have to follow, judged by history and constant public scrutiny. Character is not what other people think about you – it is who you really are deep inside. Many people with great reputations haven’t got the character to match and when the two brothers eventually meet, Reputation is dragged down to the level of truth to where Character lives his real life. Not so for these two gentlemen.

Lara battled demons midway through his career but he finished off like any great champion, rarely embroiled in unseemly on-field altercations. It was almost like he refused to stoop down to that level. His consistency of behaviour over a long career cannot be faulted. He walked 100% of the time when he nicked it and rarely showed public displays of petulance when he got bad decisions. I cannot recall a genuine public tantrum.

Likewise Tendulkar – for a man who has carried the weight of a country for so long on his shoulders, for a man who has had to live most of his life in a goldfish bowl, his public persona is faultless. His on-field behaviour has always been dignified and classy. In life itself, I can’t recall a single incident when he lost his cool or put himself in a situation which he later regretted. For someone who has had to cope with that amount of public scrutiny, that is truly remarkable. How many other celebrities can claim that sort of public record? His celebrity status has gone far beyond Indian boundaries and yet, his global appeal defies the usual jingoistic prejudices.

On the bowling side of the record-breaking fence, Muttiah Muralidaran shares a similar pedigree. His constant smile and unblemished disciplinary record over a long career speaks volumes for the strength of his character. He has had to endure some very public humiliations that would have broken lesser men but somewhere, deep in his soul, he has found an inner-strength that has sustained him through the nightmares. Like Lara and Tendulkar, Murali too seems to be hugely respected by the cricketing community all over the world. How many other great international players can claim that? Adam Gilchrist is one name that instantly comes to mind.

The two brothers, Reputation and Character have indeed found each other in these remarkable men. In looking for reasons why, we may well discover that Dignity and Integrity were their common parents.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane