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October 3, 2011

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True bravery and faux bravery: A little primer

Samir Chopra
Shoaib Akhtar and Sachin Tendulkar exchange words, India v Pakistan, 4th ODI, Gwalior, November 15, 2007
Courage is the ability to overcome fear, not the absence of fear  © AFP
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I have not read Shoaib Akhtar's autobiography, and given the current prioritization of my book-buying budget, it is extremely unlikely I will buy a copy (I might borrow a friend's copy for a chuckle or two though). I have, however, heard a great deal about this particular literary production, because some passages in it, and the reaction to them, have served to highlight a very common confusion about the notion of courage.

Unless you were a cricket fan denied any access to media over the past week or so, you know that Akhtar allegedly penned a few lines in which he suggested that Sachin Tendulkar might have been, shall we say, a tad apprehensive when facing Akhtar. You would also know that a fit of outraged reactions to these sacrilegious lines has resulted in book-release events being cancelled and considerable ire (to put it mildly) being sent Akhtar's way.

I have read the offending lines and they seem rather mild to me. But let us suppose that Akhtar had written what his most fervent critics imagined him to have written. Let us, that is, imagine Akhtar had written something along the following lines:

Many people think Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest batsman of all time. But I always thought he was a coward. Whenever he faced fast bowling, he was scared; I could see it in his eyes. His legs were shaking, his eyes were wide with fear; he never, ever liked playing fast bowling.

Does that sound suitably damning? Does that condemn Tendulkar as a lily-livered chicken with a yellow streak "lacking moral fibre"? (And would that correspondingly, make Akhtar into a true mensch, one capable of reducing grown men to a quivering mess?)

I don't think so. My reaction to reading that particular set of lines would be roughly something along the lines of "Wow, what a brave man. Even though he was scared witless by fast bowling, he kept on playing top-level competitive cricket for twenty years, and managed to score 99 centuries and some 25,000 runs. What a mensch! He knew he was going to keep on facing fast bowling and yet he kept on putting himself into an intensely uncomfortable situation. Gee, I wouldn't do that for a million dollars".

The problem here is quite simple. Akhtar imagines that by pointing out evidence of fear or discomfort in the face of physical danger, he has impugned someone's courage (and correspondingly patted himself on the back for being able to induce that fear; similarly, I suppose someone threatening another person with a deadly weapon might feel very brave). Those reacting to Akhtar suffer from the same confusion. But courage is not the inability to feel fear or the absence or fear; it is the ability to master felt fear.

An inability to feel fear when facing a threat that can cause serious injury or death does not indicate bravery; it merely indicates a neurological disorder, a dysfunctional apparatus that does not do justice to our evolutionary heritage. True courage or bravery is the ability to overcome that entirely rational fear and to overcome it in order to achieve the objective at hand. A little reading of memoirs penned by mountaineers, military heroes, and adventurers of all stripes might convince those who imagine that a brave person is some sort of automaton who blithely and idiotically subjects himself to danger. We respect these men and women because while they feel the fear that all of us do, they are able to get over and on with it.

I have no desire to face fast bowling at the top-levels of cricket. And even if someone told me that I could wear pads, helmets, gloves, chest and elbow guards, and count on facing spinners and 'medium-pacers" occasionally, I would still not do it. I took high school physics and I'm perfectly capable of carrying out the calculations pertaining to impact forces generated by a cricket ball; what those numbers can do to human cartilage and bone is a little gruesome. Any man that can put himself into a situation where he might have to encounter them has my respect. He should have Akhtar's too.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Keywords: Cricket books

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Posted by Deepesh on (November 18, 2011, 13:02 GMT)

Well said samir although akhtar or any pakistani (includes Imran Khan) has no right to say anything to Sachin Tendulkar..... while he has been winning India worldcups he has be doping and disgracing his country( as if pak can be a bigger disgrace!) He is God and is better than any other player dead or alive and certainly better than 'AALOO'period

Posted by MMK on (October 12, 2011, 7:53 GMT)

@ All Indian Fans. I cant beleive people are still commenting on this! Samir has already posted another article!!!!

As a Paki I have to intercede and say that anyone who doubts Sachin's greatness is off their rocker! I find it disconcerting that very few cricket fans respond on this web-site - no cricket fan can consider ST, Punter, Lara etc to be not-great! I find too many responses colored solely by nationalist sentiment and not by intellect.

Regarding Shoaib's book, I believe that his objective was solely to make money (hence the high-profile launch in India as opposed to Pakistan), and just to ensure sales he decided to add some controversy to the book. Looks like its working for him, even if he will be eternally hated by Indians.

Please refrain from the mud-slinging. And before I forget, Samir has already written another article - move on with life!!!

Posted by Jaytirth on (October 10, 2011, 3:31 GMT)

@Posted by: Gerry_the_Merry at October 7, 2011 10:31 AM

Clever Jaytirth...not mentioning the last three tests (played in India, 2004-05) including which the average of 36 is computed against the full strength Aussie team for Tendulkar over 9 tests. ------------------------------------------------------------- My post was related to matches when Mcgrath played in the Aussie team. Since you are quoting Sachin's averages in 2004-2005 series, let me tell you that Ricky Ponting's average was 3.4 in 2001 series .

Posted by Rana Mudassar Khan on (October 9, 2011, 17:21 GMT)

People have got their knickers in a twist yet no one has read the book! lol.

He actually said in ONE GAME tendulkar with an ELBOW INJURY was apprehensive against him.

People with little to their credit like Vilas Rao and the FOX inspired element of the indian media have gone dolally.

If any one is making money from all of this apart from Shoaib it is his INDIAN PUBLISHER.

Why let truth get in the way of a good story?

Posted by naresh on (October 9, 2011, 12:31 GMT)

@ibrahim: "Hell even ponting is better than him you know why? because he actually won matches for his team"

just how many of his hundreds have won matches since warnie and pidge left? probably one against the ...cough..."mighty" windies. YEAH right on.

@osama: "And imran khan calls inzamam great because 19 of his 25 test centuries were in victories"

what was the bowling attack like in those matches? was it tahir naqqash leading the attack or was it wasim-waqar? (and here I refrain from talking about ball tam.....well never mind)

@IG: "Now on the other hand - Ricky Ponting - 5 WC's played 4 finals played, 3 WC championships. You see what I'm talking about here? Quality is not rubbish and it doesn't need one-eyed supporters either."

yeah - it doesn't. now open both your eyes wide and look at the teams your dear punter played in. and whatever happened to the great punter in 2011? oh.....the poor chap was missing gilly/mcgrath/warne/haydos/...

Posted by Sachal on (October 8, 2011, 12:35 GMT)

Good Article. Shoib's book takes jabs at everyone, even in Pakistan cricket , like Wasim Akram and Jawed Miandad. Shoib was always all talk , I mean he publicly stated he was better than Waqar and Wasim. Well my friends his figures didnt show it. So his taking a jab at Sachin doesnt mean anything, he knows to get in the news , he has to either perform on the field (which he couldnt do many times in his prime also) or perform for the media, he chooses the easier route. The more attention you give him the more you encourage him so start ignoring him and he will sulk like a baby. Tendulkar's response is the best answer to his antics, lets follow him. (by the way I am a Pakistani)...Cheers

Posted by Gerry_the_Merry on (October 7, 2011, 10:31 GMT)

Clever Jaytirth...not mentioning the last three tests (played in India, 2004-05) including which the average of 36 is computed against the full strength Aussie team for Tendulkar over 9 tests. Fine. Let us ignore this. Do only cherrypicking. Still, a very unremarkable 48 in those 6 tests (approximately). I bet Laxman averaged more, but then, we are already being selective about data aren't we...

Posted by Anonymous on (October 7, 2011, 3:55 GMT)

@IG - Better a muppet than a pig that is pig-headed. And frankly, I am flattered. :)

Posted by Jaytirth on (October 7, 2011, 1:47 GMT)

Posted by: osama at October 6, 2011 7:50 PM @ max : you keep mentioning all the hundreds that sachin has. no one is denying that sachin is a prolific run getter. but the fact of the matter is that after lara ( who unfortunately had a poor WI team to work with) tendulkar has the most centuries in losses . And imran khan calls inzamam great because 19 of his 25 test centuries were in victories. -------------------------------------------------------------- Lara had Walsh, Ambrose, Bishop with him. Sachin had srinath and V Prasad. Inzamam had Wasim and Waqar with him. Which bowlers do you think could get 20 wickets in test?

Posted by Jaytirth on (October 7, 2011, 1:35 GMT)

@Posted by: Mon at October 6, 2011 7:29 PM It is Indian people who always insult great like Bradman, Sobers, Viv, Lara, Ponting and try to rate them bellow Tendulkar with their big mouth. ---------------------------------------------------------------- I have lived in India all my life and followed cricket almost religiously. I have never hear or read anyone criticizing bradman, viv least of all Lara. I am myself a bigger fan of Lara because of his style. When Bradman died, 'The Times of India' carried the news on the front page. Ponting may have got booed as Australians indulge in sledging. What I do see is the fact that many Australians, Pakistanis and English cannot digest the fact the an Indian may be regarded as the greatest batsman. So the frequent references to a very few instances of failures. Sachin has played cricket for 22 years and it is but natural that he failed sometimes.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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