October 18, 2008

Michael Jeh

Legion of Superheroes

Michael Jeh
Sachin Tendulkar chats with Brian Lara during a benefit match to raise funds for victims of the Asian tsunami in 2004, The Oval, June 20, 2005
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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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by LostCause on (October 20, 2008, 13:31 GMT)

Brett Lee, Mike Hussey, VVS Laxman, Shane Bond, and most of NZ cricketers all fit in the category.

Posted by notihng-to-do on (October 19, 2008, 14:18 GMT)

I think Tendulkar had have a few bad behaviours but i think Pollock and Johnty should also be in this list. there are a lot of well mannered cricketers throughout the world but not all of them are famous.

Posted by Karthik on (October 19, 2008, 11:21 GMT)

waterbuffalo, you're incorrect in your assesment there.

Tendulkar has clarified in the past that being a short man, the extension of his line of sight towards the high arm of the bowler always extrapolates to above the sightscreen. Which means he requires no movement immediately above the sightscreen in order to concentrate on the bowlers delivery hand.

Plain common sense, hardly deserving of the harsh accusations you throw senselessly at him.

Posted by Michael Jeh on (October 19, 2008, 2:27 GMT)

Hi Bowlesy. I didn't see that footage involving Dhoni and Ganga which is why I qualified my statement with "I cannot recall a genuine incident...". I'm sure that people will write in with incidents they witnessed which fill in the gaps of my knowledge. Vinish, agree 100% with you about Dravid. Probably add Kumble to that list too. I'm sure someone will come up with one example to contradict each legend but I suppose the point is that over such long and distinguished careers (with the added pressures that superstardom brings), it's still pretty amazing that these great players don't have a string of bad stories attached to their names.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (October 18, 2008, 17:19 GMT)

I remember Tendulkar haveing a fit when he was given out very late in the day in a Test against Pakistan in India. He had spent the previous half an hour stopping play by complaining about the sightscreen and moving it back and forth and asking people to sit down and stop moving etc. He said the sightscreen was too short afterwards. Well, Bucknor got so fed uo, he promptly gave Tendulkar out the at the first appeal, it looked doubtful at the time, but Sachin brought it upon himself with his prima donna antics. That's the thing about cricket Mr. Jeh, you cannot write a sweeping generalization about the game or its players because someone somewhere will remember something to the contrary. As I recall Tendulkar behaved like a spoiled brat the whole series, and boy was he angry when Pakistan walked off the field. In my opinion as a Pakistan supporter, Rahul Dravid's behaviour was far more admirable and steady than Sachin's but I suppose that's splitting hairs.

Posted by Chris van der Leij on (October 18, 2008, 13:54 GMT)

There are two names that immediately come to mind in South African cricket: teh indefatigable Jonty Rhodes and Shaun Pollock. The latter in particular would have ended up as one of the great allrounders of all-time if it had not been for his modesty as a captain. A superb bowler, he could have become a world-class batsman as well. Better than Jacques Kallis, even though Kallis is a great allrounder as well. Jonty was the world's greatest fielder and underrated test batsman. Both Shaun and Jonty behaved with great dignity towards their fellow cricketers, friends and foes alike.

Posted by Vinish Garg on (October 18, 2008, 12:56 GMT)

If we are talking about being among the best while holding true character throughout, being a supreme role model and for off-field conduct too, Rahul Dravid too stands along with any great. Let me know if anybody disputes it.

Regards Vinish

Posted by Bowlesy on (October 18, 2008, 12:37 GMT)

I'm surprised that the correspondent "cannot recall a genuine public tantrum". One that immediately springs to mind is his hissy fit and subsequent ball-snatching when the umpires initially refused to give Dhoni out as they were unsure whether Ganga had stood on the rope when taking a catch.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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