December 7, 2011

Winning is everything? Sorry, no

In cricket, as in other sports, it's not about the statistics and the bottomline. It's about how much joy you give, how well you are loved and remembered
83

Hundreds of thousands of men and women have played professional football. None, surely, could have so fully lived up to the name Socrates. He played as though football was a creative puzzle, to be teased out like a philosophical enquiry. He played with grace but also with lightness.

Not all of you may have encountered a mischievous theory called nominative determinism. The idea is that people are predetermined to pursue certain professions by their names: your name is your fate. Britain's leading jurist is called Igor Judge (his professional billing is "Judge Judge"); the world's fastest man is called Usain Bolt; and "Dudus" Coke awaits trial in the US for allegedly running the Jamaican drugs mafia.

Socrates certainly lived up to his nominative destiny. He was a qualified doctor, a political activist and an independent thinker. His attitude to life was appropriately philosophical. He knew that smoking and drinking were damaging his health, but retorted, "It's a problem, but we all have to die of something, don't we?"

The same joie de vivre informed Socrates' attitude to sport. He was unflinchingly committed to the joga bonito - the beautiful game. "Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy." Even people who don't like football remember being uplifted by Socrates' grace and audacity. They remember his mistakes as well as his triumphs. They remember his movement and imagination as well as his goals. And they remember that he was unique - perhaps the highest accolade any sportsman can achieve. I almost forgot the most important thing of all: he is remembered, full stop.

A great deal is written about greatness in sport. There is a natural human urge to seek objectivity and proof about who is the greatest. Averages are measured, metrics invented, comparisons fed through the meat grinder of statistical analysis.

But statistics, I'm afraid, can never tell us the whole truth about greatness. Because sporting achievement is not quite the same thing as greatness. Look at cricket. Viv Richards was an exceptional performer in Test cricket, but he wasn't off the map in terms of pure stats. Greg Chappell and other contemporaries pushed him hard. But in terms of greatness, Viv stood alone. The numbers don't quite capture the complete Viv effect - not just on opponents but also on fans. Whenever I remember watching him on television, a smile comes over my face - even now, 25 years later.

Mark Waugh's Test match average was "only" 41 (that still sounds pretty good to me, but it's undeniable that lots of players average 41 these days). But the numbers don't reflect the pleasure he gave. A sublime Waugh flick through midwicket was only worth four runs - the same as an ugly thick edge from a lesser batsman - but it was worth much more to those who paid money to watch.

Some of the most astonishing things Waugh did on a cricket field weren't recorded at all. Greg Chappell tells a lovely story in his book The Making of Champions about watching Waugh field on the footholds at extra cover and midwicket in ODIs. The ball would be bouncing unpredictably on the footholds and Waugh would swoop effortlessly and pick it up without fumbling or diving, like a cat pouncing on a ball of string. Chappell writes that he wanted to stand up and cheer every time. Statistically it was an non-event. For the discerning fan, it was pure magic.

According to the averages, the racist cheat Ty Cobb was a better batter than Babe Ruth. But Cobb was nowhere near as great a sportsman. Not if we use the correct measurement: the extent to which he was loved and remembered.

If you still think that winning in sport is all about the final score, I recommend reading Rafa: My Story, the unflinchingly honest autobiography by Rafael Nadal. When he writes about Roger Federer, his great rival, something strange happens to Nadal. Rationally he knows that he has beaten Federer more often than Federer has beaten him, but he insists that Federer is the greater player. Partly, that is because Federer still possesses more grand slams. But the deeper reason is that Nadal deeply respects - perhaps even envies - the way Federer plays. "You get these blessed freaks of nature in other sports, too."

If you produce grim, boring and joyless sport, it is reassuring to fall back on the delusion that it is all in a worthy cause. Socrates knew better. He knew that sportsmen are entertainers

Here is the interesting thing. Nadal does not congratulate himself for being the more worthy champion. He congratulates Federer for the more sublime talent. And Nadal may be right. In an era of wonderful tennis players, Federer has been the most elegant, refined and instinctive.

Socrates' death has been described as a terrible day for sporting romantics. In fact, it is a much sadder day for sporting ultra-rationalists. Because the win-at-all-costs brigade has once again been shown to be completely wrong. Socrates never won the World Cup, and lost the biggest match of his career playing on his own terms. And how is he remembered? As a loser? No. He is remembered with respect, with adoration, with love. Over the long term, it is very simple: he won.

Remember Socrates' career and legacy the next time you hear "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." That was American football coach Vince Lombardi's dictum about sporting priorities. And in the 50 years since Lombardi's quip, the reductionism of winning at all costs has hardened into conventional wisdom.

Of course, it is a consoling thought - if you're a production-line automaton incapable of playing sport creatively, or if you're a coach determined to stamp out individuality and risk. Yes, if you produce grim, boring and joyless sport, it is reassuring to fall back on the delusion that it is all in a worthy cause.

Socrates knew better. He knew that sportsmen are entertainers. They must try to win, too (no one is entertained by skill without will). But entertainment is not bolted onto sport as an afterthought. It is at the core of the whole project.

Professional athletes are only the temporary custodians of their sports. Their highest calling is to pass it on to the next generation enhanced rather than diminished. By that measure Socrates won - and he won big.

Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman Ed Smith is a writer with the Times. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • mehulmatrix on December 10, 2011, 17:58 GMT

    Very good article.Only winning is not everything, enjoyment of the game and spirit is important. Its also not only about entertainment i think. But also there's an aspect of class or art in the way game is also played. Also mental strength and character is also reflected in a sport.Only records dont reflect the class, important innings or as told the charisma of the player!

  • harshthakor on December 10, 2011, 9:44 GMT

    You are correct that Viv Richards figures hardly represented how head and shoulders he was above any batsman in his era.He played great pace bowling better than any great batsman ever and destroyed the likes of Lillee and Imran like an executioner beheading a convict,that too without a helmet.

    For sheer batting prowess Rohan Kanhai was the ultimate batsman who entered regions deeper than even Bradman .

    I wish you had discussed Barry Richards arguably the most complete batsman of all who proved his prowess in Packer Cricket,but hardly got an opportunity to play test cricket.No batsman launched such blistering attacks against great bowling combined with such technical perfection.

    In the modern era Brian Lara radiated more joy than any other great batsman with his unequaled creative genius resembling a musical composer.

    For sheer artistry Zaheer Abbas and Vishwanath would top the list reminding one of a violinist strutting his strings,while Michael Holding was sheer poetry in motion.

  • harshthakor on December 10, 2011, 9:06 GMT

    Stats never did justice to Kapil Dev,who could have become the 2nd best all-rounder to Sobers had he played for a champion team.Botham,Imran or Hadlee were not overall as talented and Kapil had superb flair to perform with both bat and ball more than Imran and never had Ian Botham's advantages of bowling on green tops and in seaming English conditions.

    I will always remember Vishwanath's sportsmanship calling back Bob Taylor in the 1980 Jubilee test which lost the game for India but won the game for cricket.I also remember Steve Waugh's sporting declaration against NewZealand some years ago which won the game for cricket as well as Michael Waughan's declaration about 8 years ago.Above all I remember Gichrist walking in the 2003 semi-final before being given out.

    The batting of Kanhai,Vishwanath,Gower,Zaheer Abbas or Worrell was sheer poetry in motion which no averages can describe.Stats also never gave justice to the great paceman like Andy Roberts and Ray Lindwall.

  • harshthakor on December 9, 2011, 4:50 GMT

    In my time the cricketer who radiated the greatest pleasure to everyone and who played in the true spirit of the game more than anyone was Kapil Dev whether batting,fielding or bowling.Remember his spectacular all-round performance at Lords in 1982 and his brilliant catch of Viv Richards in the 1983 World Cup final.He bowled some of his greatest spells on docile suib-continent tracks and gave some of the most spectacular batting exhibitions.

    Overall Gary Sobers was the ultimate man ,the equivalent of a prophet to cricket who will also be remembered for his sportsmanship like his declaration at Trinidad in 1968 which led to his team's defeat.Frank Worrell exuded more grace than any captain or cricketer and was arguably the greatest sportsman,unlike W.G.Grace or even Bradman.

    For joy my ultimate list is Kapil Dev,Viv Richards,Worrell,Lara,Kanhai,Sobers,Dexter,Gower,Holding,Wasim Akram,Zaheer Abbas and Vishwanath

  • on December 9, 2011, 2:00 GMT

    Well, if you are not playing for the win, you shouldn't be playing pro.

  • Joji_ on December 9, 2011, 0:13 GMT

    Wow. what an article. Simply superb!! Gave me goosebumps :)

  • on December 8, 2011, 22:52 GMT

    Amir Rana.. not sure if you're serious and missed the point of the article.

    There isn't a cricket follower in the world who doesn't consider Tendulkar, Dravid, Wasim Akram etc. to be greats of the game.

    But this article is specifically about the players whose careers live on in memory despite their not having won everything (Socrates having been a part of the Brazilian team which famously dominated but failed to win the 1982 World Cup for instance). That's why Mark Waugh was mentioned and Richards was mentioned ahead of his contemporaries.

    Those Asian champions you mentioned were often entertainers, but also had the best records as well.

  • BravoBravo on December 8, 2011, 16:53 GMT

    Excellent article to read. Mr. Smith, your article is like a breeze in a hot & humid summer. Players like Viv Richards, Mark Waugh, Saeed Anwar,VVS Laxman, Azharuddin, , Afridi make/made the game worth watching, there was and is never a dull moment when they were/are on the field.

  • ian_ghose on December 8, 2011, 15:59 GMT

    Superbly said Ed...I'd like to add the AC Milan and Italy legend Paolo Maldini to that list. He averaged less than 1 tackle every 2 games, primarily because his positioning was so precise, that he rarely had to tackle the opposition player to disposess him, and he did it all with a Mark Waughesque elegance. It's a shame that he retired before Italy won the 2006 World cup. Sadly, very few people appreciate the art of defending in football with very few top-class defenders around (Sandro Nesta on his last legs). Thanks again Ed...makes for a lovely read.

  • Dhan_Dhana_Dhan_Dhoni on December 8, 2011, 15:54 GMT

    It also depends on how you define entertainment. Surely, you would find people who find a dodgy, circumspect innings from a Dravid or Steve Waugh more pleasing than an innings full of remarkably well-timed strokes from a Tendulkar or Mark Waugh.

  • mehulmatrix on December 10, 2011, 17:58 GMT

    Very good article.Only winning is not everything, enjoyment of the game and spirit is important. Its also not only about entertainment i think. But also there's an aspect of class or art in the way game is also played. Also mental strength and character is also reflected in a sport.Only records dont reflect the class, important innings or as told the charisma of the player!

  • harshthakor on December 10, 2011, 9:44 GMT

    You are correct that Viv Richards figures hardly represented how head and shoulders he was above any batsman in his era.He played great pace bowling better than any great batsman ever and destroyed the likes of Lillee and Imran like an executioner beheading a convict,that too without a helmet.

    For sheer batting prowess Rohan Kanhai was the ultimate batsman who entered regions deeper than even Bradman .

    I wish you had discussed Barry Richards arguably the most complete batsman of all who proved his prowess in Packer Cricket,but hardly got an opportunity to play test cricket.No batsman launched such blistering attacks against great bowling combined with such technical perfection.

    In the modern era Brian Lara radiated more joy than any other great batsman with his unequaled creative genius resembling a musical composer.

    For sheer artistry Zaheer Abbas and Vishwanath would top the list reminding one of a violinist strutting his strings,while Michael Holding was sheer poetry in motion.

  • harshthakor on December 10, 2011, 9:06 GMT

    Stats never did justice to Kapil Dev,who could have become the 2nd best all-rounder to Sobers had he played for a champion team.Botham,Imran or Hadlee were not overall as talented and Kapil had superb flair to perform with both bat and ball more than Imran and never had Ian Botham's advantages of bowling on green tops and in seaming English conditions.

    I will always remember Vishwanath's sportsmanship calling back Bob Taylor in the 1980 Jubilee test which lost the game for India but won the game for cricket.I also remember Steve Waugh's sporting declaration against NewZealand some years ago which won the game for cricket as well as Michael Waughan's declaration about 8 years ago.Above all I remember Gichrist walking in the 2003 semi-final before being given out.

    The batting of Kanhai,Vishwanath,Gower,Zaheer Abbas or Worrell was sheer poetry in motion which no averages can describe.Stats also never gave justice to the great paceman like Andy Roberts and Ray Lindwall.

  • harshthakor on December 9, 2011, 4:50 GMT

    In my time the cricketer who radiated the greatest pleasure to everyone and who played in the true spirit of the game more than anyone was Kapil Dev whether batting,fielding or bowling.Remember his spectacular all-round performance at Lords in 1982 and his brilliant catch of Viv Richards in the 1983 World Cup final.He bowled some of his greatest spells on docile suib-continent tracks and gave some of the most spectacular batting exhibitions.

    Overall Gary Sobers was the ultimate man ,the equivalent of a prophet to cricket who will also be remembered for his sportsmanship like his declaration at Trinidad in 1968 which led to his team's defeat.Frank Worrell exuded more grace than any captain or cricketer and was arguably the greatest sportsman,unlike W.G.Grace or even Bradman.

    For joy my ultimate list is Kapil Dev,Viv Richards,Worrell,Lara,Kanhai,Sobers,Dexter,Gower,Holding,Wasim Akram,Zaheer Abbas and Vishwanath

  • on December 9, 2011, 2:00 GMT

    Well, if you are not playing for the win, you shouldn't be playing pro.

  • Joji_ on December 9, 2011, 0:13 GMT

    Wow. what an article. Simply superb!! Gave me goosebumps :)

  • on December 8, 2011, 22:52 GMT

    Amir Rana.. not sure if you're serious and missed the point of the article.

    There isn't a cricket follower in the world who doesn't consider Tendulkar, Dravid, Wasim Akram etc. to be greats of the game.

    But this article is specifically about the players whose careers live on in memory despite their not having won everything (Socrates having been a part of the Brazilian team which famously dominated but failed to win the 1982 World Cup for instance). That's why Mark Waugh was mentioned and Richards was mentioned ahead of his contemporaries.

    Those Asian champions you mentioned were often entertainers, but also had the best records as well.

  • BravoBravo on December 8, 2011, 16:53 GMT

    Excellent article to read. Mr. Smith, your article is like a breeze in a hot & humid summer. Players like Viv Richards, Mark Waugh, Saeed Anwar,VVS Laxman, Azharuddin, , Afridi make/made the game worth watching, there was and is never a dull moment when they were/are on the field.

  • ian_ghose on December 8, 2011, 15:59 GMT

    Superbly said Ed...I'd like to add the AC Milan and Italy legend Paolo Maldini to that list. He averaged less than 1 tackle every 2 games, primarily because his positioning was so precise, that he rarely had to tackle the opposition player to disposess him, and he did it all with a Mark Waughesque elegance. It's a shame that he retired before Italy won the 2006 World cup. Sadly, very few people appreciate the art of defending in football with very few top-class defenders around (Sandro Nesta on his last legs). Thanks again Ed...makes for a lovely read.

  • Dhan_Dhana_Dhan_Dhoni on December 8, 2011, 15:54 GMT

    It also depends on how you define entertainment. Surely, you would find people who find a dodgy, circumspect innings from a Dravid or Steve Waugh more pleasing than an innings full of remarkably well-timed strokes from a Tendulkar or Mark Waugh.

  • on December 8, 2011, 15:05 GMT

    to be fair, in this era of cricket( in the last 2-3 years), most of the cricket legends have retired. today the cricket has only become commercial.... the players although suffered with tumor or any other hard injuries play the IPL and quit playing international cricket (the likes of sehwag, yuvraj) loosen their respect to be in the list of greats ..even the average of 40-45 at the earlier times was considered to be great..

  • on December 8, 2011, 14:18 GMT

    Absolutely spot on. I remember as a child watching brazil lose in the 1982 cup and was almost in tears! Truly it was magic on the pitch and till date that team has defined football. That is the way we want to see it played. Same with cricket people would pay to watch the windies, warne, the 'W's in their prime because victory or not human beings love being thrilled love seeing people do things they can't.

    Socrates RIP

  • Kaze on December 8, 2011, 12:36 GMT

    I enjoyed watching Steve Waugh bat, he wasn't as pleasing as Mark Waugh but I enjoyed how he absorbed bowling on a tough wicket and then eventually got on top of the bowling. He is the greatest batsman I have ever seen in person, others may have better stats but none could be good as Steve in a crisis.

  • on December 8, 2011, 11:28 GMT

    Article is a good one by its concept BUT the problem with those writers is the tunnel vision through which they never tend to see GREATNESS in some of the Asian cricketers. They single out Viv Richards or Malcolm Marshal as an eye-wash and the rest of GREATNESS remains within Australia, England and New Zealand. Most of so called "Sirs" of cricket from Australia or England were basically pathetic players as compared to some of the Asians. But they never tend to see all this. You'll see a series of such articles in future as most of the records are now with Asians. Tendulkar, Dravid, Murali, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Imran Khan, Qadir, Saqlain, Afridi, Kumble, Sehwag and Sangakara are all Asian with huge statistics at their WALL. Now they have to prove that greatness is not associated with numbers SO likes of Strauss, Ponting, Pietersen and even Bell, Haddin, Harris or any Ina, Mina, Dika from Aus, Eng, NZL or SA should be treated as future GREATS.

  • harshthakor on December 8, 2011, 11:06 GMT

    The recently concluded series between South Africa and Australia is an example of test Cricket at it's best as well as the final test in the last series between India and the West Indies.They were like a Hollywood film with continuous twists and turns and concluding with an enthralling climax.For the true spirit of the game the 1960 West Indies -Australia series was the ultimate example.Other great series were the Ind-Australia 1977-78 series down under where Australia clinched 3-2,the Pakistan-West Indies series of 1988 which ended 1-1,Botham's 1981 Ashes where England won 3-1,the 2001 India -Australia series which India clinched 2-1 and the 1982 series between England and Pakistan where England triumphed 2-1.

    Today ,many more test matches have results but standards of sportsmanship have greatly declined .Adam Gilchrist was one of the great sportsman of the modern age.

  • harshthakor on December 8, 2011, 10:56 GMT

    Infact the batsman who gave fans the greatest aesthetic pleasure were hardly statistically the best.The most stylish and elegant batsman of all bar Denis Compton did not average above 50 runs.Zaheer Abbas,Gundappa Vishwanath,David Gower,Rohan Kanhai and Frank Worrell all averaged below 50 but in terms of elegance or creativity defeated the likes of Don Bradman,George Headley or Sachin Tendulkar.In terms of pure creative genius Rohan Kanhai and Denis Compton were the kings of all batsman and even Bradman or Sobers did not surpass their prowess.Simililarly Vishwanath or Brian Lara had more creative genius than Tendulkar or Gavaskar and Mark Waugh had greater flair than brother Steve who averaged 9 runs more.

    I agree that at his best Viv Richards changed the complexion of match more than any batsman in cricket history and in his day was head and shoulders above any batsman.

  • on December 8, 2011, 8:52 GMT

    Helps explain the reasons behind Afridi's wild popularity. Even if his stats deny him greatness his unbridled aggression and never say die attitude him ensure he his remembered by his fans for a long while to come.

  • on December 8, 2011, 7:59 GMT

    Speaking of Nominative Determinism... cant help but notice the similarity between 'Socrates' and 'Soccer Artist'. :)

    Nice one Ed.

  • on December 8, 2011, 7:17 GMT

    It's all about character. My favorite batsman to watch was Devon Malcolm. He was rarely in more than a few balls but every time one of his slogs down the line would connect and whistle to the boundary, bringing a huge cheer from the crowd, I just got a huge grin on my face.

  • Dale-force_winds_steyn_the_pitch on December 8, 2011, 6:35 GMT

    Most batsman with averages of 45+ are a joy to watch anyway. Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Kumar Sangakarra, Mahela Jayawardena etc. Sure, there may be players that average less that play as aesthetically pleasing cricket, but true viewing joy is not a classy 15 from Mohammed Ashraful- it is a stylish century from jacques Kallis. Cricket is not just about beauty- it is also about grit, determination, mental strength. The all-time statistical greats developed all of these traits to produce quality cricket, and this is the cricket one wants to see.

  • on December 8, 2011, 5:48 GMT

    Records are not everything or Statistics are not everything would have been a better title. The thought in the article also support the fact better records, especially in cricket could be due to various factors other than talent, skill, and efficiency of player in winning matches. A player who get to play in better conditions or for that matter more number of overs because of his position or for that matter gets to play for longer time may have better record than some other player who was better than him. We see these days that Brian Lara is rarely mentioned as the greatest batsman of his generation or for that matter one of the greatest of all time. Mark Waugh was not only a stylish player, but also a match winner. Brian Lara, Zaheer Abbas, Saeed Anwar, Mark Waugh, Azharuddin, Darren Bravo, Dean Jones, Hashim Amla, Gundappa Vishwanath, and V.V.S. Laxman were/are the most stylish batsmen. Richards, Gilchrist, Jaysurya, Sehwag, Afridi among others also gave great joy while batting.

  • on December 8, 2011, 5:18 GMT

    I became a soccer fan after watching Socrates and his 1982 world cup team and a permanent fan of Brazilian style of football since then.Style,grace do matter in sports.Federer,Xavi,Ronaldhino,G R Vishwanath,David Gover,Mark Waugh,Jayavardane are the type of players who keep the romantics like me engaged in sports.It is pleasing to see somebody like Rohit Sharma continuing the legacy.

  • Sid-cric on December 8, 2011, 2:24 GMT

    Excellent article. A good comparison would be Ricky ponting and Warne. Ricky may have clocked 3 world cups, 100+victories but if we were to look back at their careers 10 years from now, am sure Warne's heroics would be greener. Boris-becker would surely be "remembered" more than Ivan lendl.

  • Semoli on December 7, 2011, 23:24 GMT

    I think I like the sincerity that people show to their craft/goal. Viv's batting was brutally brilliant, Lara was very stylish and Mark waugh had a certain effortlessness about his batting that was a treat to watch. Not to compare apples and oranges, but I even like to watch Dravid bat (there is a certain sincerity to his craft that I admire.). Federer seems to combine both - style and effortlessness: genius. Ponting, VVS, Sachin, Anwar, Martin were all great....and to some people one of these great people probably pulled a sweet cord in them...for me its Federer, Viv, Lara and Mark who will make it my day.

  • xZedx on December 7, 2011, 22:50 GMT

    @ Xolile- "Winning is everything. Losing sucks." why? If you love the game then losing doesn't suck, it's a learning experience, a chance to discover your weaknesses and get better, if you love WINNING then thats a different story. And dare I ask the question what happens WHEN you lose (assuming winning is everything), I mean you've lost everything...EVERYTHING! As far as entertainment goes, if its not entertaining nobody wants to watch, simple as that. If your only objective is to win, then you might as well play in empty stadiums.

  • viswanav on December 7, 2011, 22:46 GMT

    Great article...I agree with every word written...Good to see Mark Waugh get some recognition...He was a pleasure to watch while both batting and fielding...His catching skills were exemplary...A word about Lara in the article would have made me even more happier...But one question I would pose to the author is "Does this article hold good in the IPL era, where winning is everything?"

  • Cha_cha_Chaudhary on December 7, 2011, 22:32 GMT

    Ed - Couldn't agree more with you. One of my lasting memories of cricket is how Gavaskar used to leave the bouncers from Marshal, Holding, Roberts and Garner. Standing tall, arching his back a little, and letting the ball fly centimeters away from his nose at 150 km an hour! In my 30 years of following cricket, I have not found a sight more enchanting than that.

  • smudgeon on December 7, 2011, 22:02 GMT

    Great article! I would daresay that there is no better sight in cricket than a perfectly executed, text-book cover drive - but that's just me. I think a lot of people who aren't fans (or casual fans) really miss those finer details that the more intense fans obsess over. To my mind, the slips cordon of the Aussie team pre-1999 was a joy to watch. Those guys just seemed to have so much time.

  • doesitmatter on December 7, 2011, 21:04 GMT

    I am confused now..What is that Ed "best forward defense" Smith wants to convey? Is a sportsman known for the joy he gives to fans or the grace he shows while playing the game or both becuase if it is grace Viv was nowhere near it? Btw the larger point is how a sportsman gives joy to the fans..a obdurate 185* by Atherton is anyday beautiful to watch than Mark Waugh's beautiful 41(is that his average) or for that matter Geoff Allot's 0 ..a smile comes over my face - even now, 15 years later :)

  • BellCurve on December 7, 2011, 20:08 GMT

    @Clieve Dunn - Love your comment. Sums up my sentiments exactly. I've batted, I've bowled and I've captained. Trust me. Winning is everything. Losing sucks.

  • on December 7, 2011, 19:30 GMT

    Winning is temorary,Class is permanent....

  • UdayP on December 7, 2011, 19:05 GMT

    Great article Ed. Youngsters definitely need to read this.

  • spiscean2002 on December 7, 2011, 18:48 GMT

    I watch whole test if Rahul Dravid is batting, worth to see few elegant cover drives that makes fielder chase ball all the way to boundary line and still ball being kissed by rope.

  • Clive_Dunn on December 7, 2011, 17:44 GMT

    I remember Ed Smith's forward defensive, one of the most aesthetically pleasing forward defensives I've seen. It didn't make him any good of course, but he could con you for a while into thinking here was an International class batsmen.

  • Perfect.Stranger on December 7, 2011, 17:24 GMT

    I would add to the article that the players who are joyous to watch but end up on loosing side more often then not are appreciated much more after their careers have ended. Just a thought......

  • SamRoy on December 7, 2011, 16:59 GMT

    Forgot to mention Mahela Jayawarrdene, extremely easily on the eye as well.

  • SamRoy on December 7, 2011, 16:56 GMT

    Pure aesthetic pleasure. We have seen a few in our times. Lara, Mark Waugh, Laxman, Azharuddin, Bell, Martyn, Saeed Anwar and Carl Hooper. Among bowlers Bishop, Waqar and Shane Bond.

  • Nutcutlet on December 7, 2011, 16:53 GMT

    It was ever thus. Long after the match result has passed into the seldom-opened pages of Wisden, the isolated images live on, indelibly imprinted on the memory. Being there, allowing the mind to take its photograph is the essence of the enjoyment of watching cricket. Cricket lovers bask in such moments recalled, again and again. For me, a delectible late-cut by MC Cowdrey, sometime in the late sixies; a swoop and deadly return by Tony Lock sometime or other, Michael Holding's destructive epic at the Oval in '76, delivered with all of a Rolls-Royce's grace, but faster than that, and Gower at his languid, apparently effortless, best. We all have our own albums. And when we watch a keenly-competed match, almost always a test, where we can expect the best cricket to be played, occasionally we are gifted something out of the top drawer, and it is such moments when we know that watching cricket occasionally feeds the soul. Stats can never do that! Great article, Ed: thank you for it.

  • on December 7, 2011, 16:34 GMT

    I was born in 1976, so got to see a few of Viv's matches. He was devastating, yet (as Po in Kung Fu Panda would say) awesome.

    However, the most elegant player of our time was definitely Mark Waugh. The way he would stand, his floppy on his head, cross-legged, the elegant cover drive, the sublime flick and of course the absolute ease with which he would catch at slips. Mark was definitely the most stylish batsman and fielder of his time.

    Imran is another. He walked with the grace of a tiger. His batting stance, and his 4 feet jump on the bowling crease will always be remembered by fans all over.

    I would also like to mention VVS here. If the baton was passed by M.Waugh to anyone, it could only be VVS. Sachin has a better average, but is there a prettier cover driver in world cricket today than Laxman's. As with Waugh, Laxman's on-drives are sublime. If tested, I bet his wrists could do a 360.

    So, I would agree with the writer, sometimes style and grace win over substance.

  • on December 7, 2011, 15:43 GMT

    He brought joy and elegance to the beautiful game. Perhaps only a Brazilian would dare to play with such abondon

  • KingofRedLions on December 7, 2011, 15:34 GMT

    The two Ed's (Cowan + Smith) should write a book together.

  • georgeclarke on December 7, 2011, 15:24 GMT

    Excellent point/article. Also agree with @cloudmess,those 15 minutes that can set the tone for matches and whole series are often the most exciting. Remember Steve Harmison bowling at the aussies on the first morning at lords in 2005? It typified Englands entire ashes series. Another example is Pontings recent fightback against south africa, although he only scored 60odd it helped inspire the assies a record chase, against the odds. They are as inspirational as any sporting thing of beauty.

  • on December 7, 2011, 15:14 GMT

    That's why i personally don't like this hysteria about the 100th hundred. his sublime straight Drive is second to god and his wristy flicks are parallel to god. Sporting romantics are something which made us love our very own Kapil Dev, He was a competitor and great man. he was a competitor to few of the best players like Ian Botham, Imran khan and Hadlee. Neither his bowling stats are as good as Hadlee's nor his batting record is as good as Imran's or Ian but he had that ability to be a part of sporting romantics. Nicely written. A tale of the real fighters. Kudos

  • on December 7, 2011, 15:07 GMT

    This is a lovely article and I'd like to believe it, but I'm not so sure. A sublime winner will be more beloved than a grim, soulless winner, but you've first got to be a winner. None of the sportsmen mentioned in this article are exactly short on silverware. (Yes yes, Socrates lost the big one. It's still not like he was a Kiwi opening bat or anything.) Sport fans can be quite fickle in the things we choose to love and remember. Hell, we remember "lovable losers". The Chicago Cubs, Phil Tufnell ... do things with aplomb or mythology and we won't even check the wins and losses before professing our undying love. Given the choice between stylish brilliance and assembly line brilliance, of course the former shines through. We'd all rather watch late-70s West Indies than late-90s Australia. But if I could mix my Lombardi and my Cloughie, winning isn't everything, but it's in the top 1.

  • cloudmess on December 7, 2011, 14:16 GMT

    High-quality article. But perhaps another angle is the psychological struggle in sport, which often finds its fullest expression in cricket - a bowler's match-changing spell, a batsmen scoring a century on a broken pitch. I remember watching Gower and Gooch in early 90s. Gower's innings were a dazzling sprinkling of momentary thrills. Gooch was rarely at his aesthetic best v Ambrose & Marshall, Wasim & Waqar, Warne & co (1991-93), but he played so many important innings, won so many 15-minute battles, that the satisfaction was all the greater, the inspiration just that little deeper.

  • Yevghenny on December 7, 2011, 13:42 GMT

    what an excellent article and spot on. Sport, and especially cricket is about character and there is no greater test of character than test match cricket

  • AP_88 on December 7, 2011, 13:29 GMT

    Great piece Ed! Being a Pakistani fan, Shahid Khan Afridi is one such player from my generation who fits this criteria; the passion & excitement he brings to the game of cricket is not possible to measure in terms of just numbers...be it while batting, bowling or fielding he has the ability to produce something out of nothing!

  • bilalAWAN on December 7, 2011, 13:09 GMT

    I disagree bcoz at the end of the day you need to win bcoz no one remember the hundred in a lost match. Fans enjoy victory more than anything else.

  • Trachiniae on December 7, 2011, 13:00 GMT

    Way to miss the point @jonesy. And I'm loving the desperate, partisan interpretation. I don't think that's "basically" what Ed is saying at all. And while we're on aesthetics, I'll accept that across the board England's not exactly poetry in motion at the moment, but Bell, Swann and Anderson are three of the most elegant practitioners of their respective arts in the world at the moment. Can you point me to the beauty in Oz's bowling line-up at the moment? Lumbering Johnson? Snarling Siddle? Give me a break. I'll concede Ponting's easy on the eye (or at least he was when he was regularly scoring runs) and I enjoy watching Clarke & Hussey - but Watson? Hughes? No, there's no consolation Ashes victory to be had in the grace stakes. Give it up.

  • HumungousFungus on December 7, 2011, 12:43 GMT

    Another fabulous article, Ed. An absolute pleasure to read. Cricket is perhaps unique amongst modern team sports in that aesthetics and natural ability can actually contribute to and enhance individual performance, as well as spectator enjoyment. This is why Gower and, particularly, Sir Vivian, are remembered so fondly when, statistically, they were out performed by other players of their era. Similarly, particularly in England where we were on the wrong end of his genius on so many occasions, Shane Warne will always be far more highly regarded than Glenn McGrath, despite them being equally destructive whenever we played them, simply because of what he did, and how he did it. Growing up watching Glamorgan, I most looked forward to watching the genius Matthew Maynard, whose value to the team was far more than just pure statistics...

  • on December 7, 2011, 12:25 GMT

    Great article. Just wish you had some more cricket analogies in it! :)

  • on December 7, 2011, 12:24 GMT

    Is it too early to say it? On the evidence of this and some of your earlier material it appears the baton has passed from Peter Roebuck to Ed Smith. Looking forward to reading a lot more of your material in the future, Mr Smith.

    I agree with the premise of your article: I'd choose Lara over Tendulkar, Wasim over McGrath, Warne over Murali.

  • on December 7, 2011, 12:22 GMT

    Ed Smith, you are a genius sir.

  • Headbandenator on December 7, 2011, 12:05 GMT

    Ah, Mark Waugh. When he eventually scored some runs when I was at a game, it was the most beautiful 76 I have ever seen. He and Will Jefferson destroyed Notts that fine day at Chelmsford.

  • TheCentralGovernment on December 7, 2011, 11:18 GMT

    Awesome article ... so refreshingly different from the trash that passes for humour in page 2 (Zaltzman and Vadukut excluded).

  • YorkshirePudding on December 7, 2011, 10:47 GMT

    I agree winning isnt everything, its the manner in which you play, win or lose. I have never had a problem with England losing games (in any sport) as long as they put up a fight and having a back bone. In some ways losing teaches you a lot about your character, if you can be honest when you lose and magnanimous when you win, you end up being a better team/player.

  • 2929paul on December 7, 2011, 10:33 GMT

    As a coach, I have to try to produce cricketers who perform, cricketers who win. But I want them to have fun and don't want to stop them playing with their own personality in a "win at all costs" attitude. I grew up watching David Gower's silky smooth style and no one will ever persuade me there will be a more beautiful batsman to watch. But I was a starry eyed 12 year old when he made his debut and knew no better. Like many others, I would rather watch Lara than Tendulkar, Bell over Trott or Pietersen, Mark over Steve. But coaches dream of players like Steve Waugh, Allan Border, Geoff Boycott, Ken Barrington and Jonathan Trott, even if they are the stuff of nightmares for spectators and aesthetes.

  • on December 7, 2011, 10:30 GMT

    no Akhtar?

    and now filling up the 25 characters

  • anurag2704 on December 7, 2011, 10:04 GMT

    I think there are two different school of thoughts, each with its own valid points.Recently, I read an article by Harsha Bhogle on cricinfo where he reviewed a book called Bounce by Matthew Syed.In that book , the author talks about " the myth of talent and the power of practice ".He cites several real world examples and demonstrates that practice takes precedence over talent. But that said , I would take Rohit Sharma over Virat Kohli any day just for the sheer pleasure of his strokeplay.

  • prashant1 on December 7, 2011, 9:13 GMT

    As Roebuck (R.I.P) used to say - A Tendulkar straight drive alone was worth the price of entry.

  • pranavcrazyguy on December 7, 2011, 9:07 GMT

    @Tashfeen

    And why would that debate begin? In fact in this case both belong to the same category. Sachin is the world's most complete batsman and his art is perfect in itself, or at least, very high on percentages. Lara was a genius, a pure artist whose batting was a sheer joy to watch. Both batsmen did not "win" too many games for their team. Both have staggering statistics - but not so staggering as to be outlier - in terms of batting average at least. And yet most cricket lovers rate these two as the best batsmen of their generation. Why not Ponting? Or Dravid or VVS? Dravid and VVS have "won" more games outside the subcontinent than Sachin has. No doubt Dravid is great and VVS is very good.

    But more than Dravid's so-called match winning ability, it is his near-perfect technique that I would admire. I would also admire VVS' style more than his match winning knocks. Something that people hell bent on "victories" will never understand.

  • on December 7, 2011, 9:00 GMT

    It is articles like these which our young generation of cricketers must read...thanx..am fwd it to my nephew Unmukt..he will just love it!

  • unregisteredalien on December 7, 2011, 8:53 GMT

    I'm enjoying your stuff Ed, please keep it coming.

  • santoshjohnsamuel on December 7, 2011, 8:50 GMT

    And before i finished with the first few lines, i knew Viv's name had to be mentioned! By God, the joy he brought!

  • santoshjohnsamuel on December 7, 2011, 8:44 GMT

    Excellent writing, and as many readers have said, 'keep them coming'.

  • Praxis on December 7, 2011, 8:24 GMT

    Yeah, for the same reason Ayrton Senna will be loved more than the most F1 drivers, its same in every sports.

  • muski on December 7, 2011, 8:03 GMT

    Ed - While it is true that the lasting effect of Sportsmen on their fans is their poetry in motion when they were at work, only those sportsmen achieve immortality when their poetry has bought glory to them and to their team. In that aspect a guy like Viv scores over a Lara. It was not Lara's fault that he was born in a generation which produced sub standard cricketers in the Caribbean. Notwithstanding that, Lara will not fit in the frame of an outstanding team when we think of him. Those sportsmen who were able to combine both have to consider themselves extremely fortunate.

  • varunrallapalli on December 7, 2011, 8:01 GMT

    Absolute Masterpiece!!No second thoughts. You hit the nail on its head.I would pay to watch Lara more than Sachin.Sachin may be a great batman,he may be a statistician's delight,but Lara oozes style,class.No degree of adjectives are enough to describe a Lara or Socrates or Mark Waugh or Federer.They have God-gifted abilities.

  • BellCurve on December 7, 2011, 7:48 GMT

    Sure, style matters. But who would not select Dravid, Kallis and Steve Waugh ahead of, respectively, Ganguly, Gibbs and Mark Waugh?

  • robheinen on December 7, 2011, 7:23 GMT

    Very well written, Ed. And very true at that. "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." came into sports when money became omportant in my opinion. Perhaps money is a necessity in sports to keep players free for developing their skills. It certainly is counterproductive when it is a source of income for busnessmen and women seeking only profit. Maybe someday we'll find the balance.

  • pranavcrazyguy on December 7, 2011, 6:43 GMT

    Great article.

    We have become too obsessed with winning, in sports today. Sports is so much more than who won and who lost. Somewhere in our celebration of "match winners" we have lost perspective of what sport essentially is all about - joy through artistic action. When people began to play any sport, they didn't begin with the thought that "I want to defeat this dude and humiliate him. Cricket wasn't invented so that people could humiliate each other. It was invented because people needed some recreation and joy, and they had a ball with them.

    And this is where the Sehwags and Sachins and Laras and Richards score over some of the others.

  • StarsnStumps on December 7, 2011, 6:41 GMT

    Saeed Anwar anyone?? Him and Mark Waugh are the most elegant players I've ever watched

  • Shams on December 7, 2011, 6:31 GMT

    "Because sporting achievement is not quite the same thing as greatness" That about sums it up. Thanks for the refreshing read.

  • on December 7, 2011, 5:50 GMT

    Let the Lara vs Tendulkar debate begin! :)

  • Tendulkars_Tennis_Elbow on December 7, 2011, 5:09 GMT

    Splendid piece. Thanks for this Mr.Smith. Keep em coming Sir.

  • trini_indian on December 7, 2011, 5:04 GMT

    The great Brian Lara comes to mind when reading this article. Individually, Lara was great, but not all the times that he played did the West Indies win.

  • landl47 on December 7, 2011, 4:42 GMT

    While I understand and agree with what Ed Smith is saying, the best soccer player and best cricketer in my lifetime were both pure magic to watch and extremely successful. They were Pele and Garry Sobers. They were loved, revered- and they won, too. It's hard to beat that for a combination.

  • ToTellUTheTruth on December 7, 2011, 4:41 GMT

    Brilliant and beautiful as always Ed. Just in time to fill the void created by the unfoturnate/untimely death of Mr. Roebuck. I would love to watch a Mark Waugh/Mohd. Azaharuddin/Zaheer Abbas/David Gower/Barry Sanders/Brett Favre replay any day than win-at-all-costs attitude shown by some of the modern day "greats".

  • on December 7, 2011, 4:37 GMT

    Thank you, Ed. This is a classic piece.

  • on December 7, 2011, 4:30 GMT

    Amazing article.. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, a straight drive of sachin is remembered more than his actual number of runs scored. The flourishing coverdrive of Lara is what he is remembered by and not the runs scored.

    Mark Waugh was compared with Sachin and Lara.. not because of his average or runs scored, but because of his class..

  • jonesy2 on December 7, 2011, 4:27 GMT

    on one hand i agree on one hand i dont. i like that what you are saying basically england dont have the ashes right now considering all of their cricket is played with unwavering insult to the eye. as opposed to say, australia. on the other hand sport is all about winning, it is the ultiimate goal for every organisation and athlete no matter of personal goals

  • gzawilliam on December 7, 2011, 4:23 GMT

    I remember a few close in catches by mark waugh where you think the ball is gone. Then waugh would just grin and show the ball in his hand. Amazing catching skills. He was a pleasure to watch field sometimes more than bat.

  • Idiosyncrasies on December 7, 2011, 3:39 GMT

    A wonderful article which puts greatness into perspective. Thanks, Ed. Keep 'em coming.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • Idiosyncrasies on December 7, 2011, 3:39 GMT

    A wonderful article which puts greatness into perspective. Thanks, Ed. Keep 'em coming.

  • gzawilliam on December 7, 2011, 4:23 GMT

    I remember a few close in catches by mark waugh where you think the ball is gone. Then waugh would just grin and show the ball in his hand. Amazing catching skills. He was a pleasure to watch field sometimes more than bat.

  • jonesy2 on December 7, 2011, 4:27 GMT

    on one hand i agree on one hand i dont. i like that what you are saying basically england dont have the ashes right now considering all of their cricket is played with unwavering insult to the eye. as opposed to say, australia. on the other hand sport is all about winning, it is the ultiimate goal for every organisation and athlete no matter of personal goals

  • on December 7, 2011, 4:30 GMT

    Amazing article.. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, a straight drive of sachin is remembered more than his actual number of runs scored. The flourishing coverdrive of Lara is what he is remembered by and not the runs scored.

    Mark Waugh was compared with Sachin and Lara.. not because of his average or runs scored, but because of his class..

  • on December 7, 2011, 4:37 GMT

    Thank you, Ed. This is a classic piece.

  • ToTellUTheTruth on December 7, 2011, 4:41 GMT

    Brilliant and beautiful as always Ed. Just in time to fill the void created by the unfoturnate/untimely death of Mr. Roebuck. I would love to watch a Mark Waugh/Mohd. Azaharuddin/Zaheer Abbas/David Gower/Barry Sanders/Brett Favre replay any day than win-at-all-costs attitude shown by some of the modern day "greats".

  • landl47 on December 7, 2011, 4:42 GMT

    While I understand and agree with what Ed Smith is saying, the best soccer player and best cricketer in my lifetime were both pure magic to watch and extremely successful. They were Pele and Garry Sobers. They were loved, revered- and they won, too. It's hard to beat that for a combination.

  • trini_indian on December 7, 2011, 5:04 GMT

    The great Brian Lara comes to mind when reading this article. Individually, Lara was great, but not all the times that he played did the West Indies win.

  • Tendulkars_Tennis_Elbow on December 7, 2011, 5:09 GMT

    Splendid piece. Thanks for this Mr.Smith. Keep em coming Sir.

  • on December 7, 2011, 5:50 GMT

    Let the Lara vs Tendulkar debate begin! :)