Here I’m presenting ‘My Favourite…’ series starting with ‘My Favourite…Sports Personalities’. It will not just show who are my favouries but, I hope, will also reflect my personality and my likes and dislikes.
You will not find many of the greatest sports personalities like Diego Maredona, Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods et al in this list because of lack of my understanding about these sports. Thus as I said earlier, it reflects my liking and knowledge about a certain sport/ sport figure.

Though I’m giving rankings, these are not permanent; It is just a snapshot of what I feel as of today (and I feel that is the way it should be.). So a few days/years down the line the list might look different, because some new personalities might have arrived, some might have faded their glory and more importantly, my views would have changed (not necessarilily in a better way)

So as of now, here is the first of ‘My Favourite…’ series: My Favourite…Sports Personalities
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1. Gary Kasparov: Arguably the best chess player in the history of world chess
All though it seems the “Kasparov era” has come to an end, Garry is still the number one player in the world ahead of Kramnik or Anand. His determination, perseverance, courage, and kindness can be seen throughout his life, from World Championship games of chess to organizing charities, he is not only a great chess player, but a great man. Though his time may be drawing closer to its end, he will forever go down in history as one of the truest representations of what chess is actually about.

Kasparov has published 4 books on chess so far. He has a five volume piece in the works called Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors. Most of his books have received praise from everyone on all walks of life, however, a few critics say his slight historical inaccuracies and supposed plagiarism of analysis’s on games are inexcusable.

As a spokesman for political, educational, and social reforms in Eastern Europe, Kasparov has gained international recognition. Garry is active in several charities, including one that he created himself: The Kasparov Foundation in Moscow (it’s the first private foundation since the Revolution). Garry has also created his own international chess academy and he continues to promote the use of chess in schools.

Trivia:
During his PCA World Championship encounter with Nigel Short and on the eve of the thirteenth match game, Kasparov revealed on Channel 4 television that 13 was in fact his lucky number. Born on the 13th April, in 1963 (divisible by 13), he was the thirteenth World Champion. The game was however drawn.
(source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garry_Kasparov)

2. Vishwanathan Anand: The first Indian chess grand-master
To me Vishwanathan Anand’s contribution to sports in India is far greater than any of the sports personalities India has ever produced. In 2000, when he won FIDE world chess championship, he gave us the first world championship title in any individual event. (Of course India has won world cup in 1983 but that was a team event.)
He has instigated many youngsters in India (who could not see beyond cricket) to look at chess as a career option.
Also when it comes to being nice and likeable chess players Anand is a notch above anybody else (and way above Kasparov -:))
With the end of Kasparov era let’s hope that Anand dominates the world of chess years to come.

3: Pete Sampras: ‘Pistol Pete’
Sampras won a record 14 Grand Slam singles titles during his career. He finished the year as No. 1 on the ATP Rankings for a record six years. He was also the only player to finish as ATP No.1 for six consecutive years (1993-98). He was the ATP No. 1 ranked player in the world for a record 286 weeks. etc. etc.
These are some of the records which are not so easy to be broken (although Roger Federer has already been regarded as the contender to break these records). But it was his amazing persona that made him rise above his contemporaries. (And mind you, he had the stiffest competition there with the likes of Becker, Agassi, Edberg etc.). A true professional who knew what he had to achieve in his career. Also a true nationalist when he represented the US in davis cup alongside Agassi, Chang, McEnroe etc.
Till the end of his career he was true to his first love, tennis. He never ever let success, money, glamor divert his focus away from tennis. That is the quality that is becoming so rare now-a-days. The last thing one wants to remember him as ‘the last serve and volley player on Wimbledon’ (though that is more likely to be so.)

4: Andre Agassi: A great entertainer
When you have a lot of known weaknesses in your game and when players like Sampras, Edberg, Jim Courier and Becker etc. are in full swing in their best years, all you can do is play and win as many as smaller tournaments, hang around in grand slams as far as possible, wait for a rare grand-slam oppertunity, grab it with both hands when you get one and then bid farewell to the tennis world. That is what Michael Chang, Goran Ivanisevic, Patrick Rafter, Richard Krajjeck, Cedric Pioline did. But not Andre!!!
He did not have the best game, he was not the best athelete or big server…but he showed tremendous will power.
At one time (in 1998) he was ranked 141 th in the world and looked like it was all over for him. But he not only fought it back but went on to finish his career in a fashion that he was regarded in the same league as Pete Sampras. He finished with 8 grand slams (including each one at least once) and was runner-up in as many as 7 grand slams.
Also outside tennis court he was regarded as most popular sports/ fashion icon as well as a very funny and witty person. When one of the news reporters tried to grill him on the news about his marriage with Steffi, he replied back, ‘I’ve already made an announcement about this in the press conference of some highly respected and well known news reporters; I thought you would have been one of them’
During the days when Hewitt was dating Clijsters, (and Agassi was already married to Steffi and has 2 kids), a news reporter asked Andre, ‘If a few years down the line, you son plays Hewitt’s son in a grand-slam semi-final and loses to him what would your reaction be?’ Agassi said, ‘Then he would have to play me in the finals.’

5. Steffi Graf: The Golden Slam Girl
She is generally considered to be one of the greatest women’s tennis players of all time. Apart from 22 singles grand slam titles, she has the distinction of being the only player to have completed the “golden slam” in 1988.
Her simplicity and down-to-earth image gives her a dignity and respect. She and Andre make a near perfect couple.

6. Sachin Tendulkar: Risi
ng
above the game of cricket…?

  • Highest no. of centuries in test cricket
  • Highest no. of centuries in one-day cricket
  • Most runs in ODIs
  • Most Man of The Match awards
  • First cricketer and fastest cricketer to cross 10,000-run mark, 11,000-run mark, 12,000-run mark, 13,000 run-mark and 14,000 run-mark in ODIs
  • Only cricketer to cross 14,000-run mark in ODIs

To some these are records sufficient to prove his genious, to others these are mere numbers. But Sachin is not Sachin because of these numbers. If cricket was played across the world like football is, I’m sure Sachin would have been the most famous, the richest sports person in the world. But beyond all statistics, records, and number of fans it is the sheer joy to watch him play (or just be there on the ground) that makes him my favourite. If he makes just 20-30 runs, he makes them with such a grace and ease that you do not understand its importance. He plays so effortlessly that it makes batting look very easy; but when you see some other batting you wonder why all of a sudden scoring runs or playing strokes has become so difficult.

People often criticize him for not helping India win many more matches. They are ready with all instances of his ‘failures’ and of others like Ponting, Lara who have helped their countries win matches in similar situations. My logic is very simple. First of all I don’t feel cricket should be compared with other team sports like football which require ‘collective team effort’. Cricket, is spite of being a team event, does not always need collective team effort. A person or a couple of individuals can easily win matches unlike in football.

In that sense cricket is more comparable to, say Davis Cup tennis tournament. In Davis Cup individuals play their part when they play either singles or doubles. Then the total effect of each individual’s effort collectively decides the winner. Of course cricket is not exactly like this, but is more comparable to this than to football where team effort is of highest importance. So nobody blames a Rodick or a Hewitt when they win their matches in Davis cup even though the country loses the other matches. Then why people do not look at cricket in the same way.

As per my opinion batsmen do not win test matches, batsmen can save test matches; but it is a bowler who can win a test match for the simple reason that you have to get all 20 wickets to win a test match. So going by this criteria Sachin should not be criticized for not helping India win many test matches. It was the Indian balling attack that was not doing its part.

One day cricket, being pro-batsmen game, requires batsmen to play match winning knocks. And when it comes to that nobody will doubt Sachin’s ability. Also Sachin’s many failures, if considered so, are also to be blamed on bad policy of BCCI who put all the burden on Sachin’s batting. Australian cricket board is wise enough to use their best players sparingly so that they can extract the best out of their each inning. Then why could BCCI not do the same with players like Sachin, Saurav, Dravid and Kumble?

Of course when we compare Sachin with Lara or Ponting who deliver on important occassions, I admit that Sachin lags behind them. But he is a human being and you can not expect him to outperform his peers on all counts all the time.

After achieving most of the milestones, he can now put aside all the burden of undue expectations and just enjoy playing cricket. I’m sure that with this mindset he will achieve even greater heights in the years to come.

7. Brian Lara: One of the most gifted players

First he sets world record by scoring 375 runs in test. When that is broken by Hayden he sets a new record by scoring 400 runs; first batsman to reach that mark. And that too after 11 years since he scored 375. Brian Lara is one of the most natural and gifted players of his generation. He is arguably the best test batsman of his era, ahead of Sachin, Steve Waugh and Ponting. He is not a copybook player but is an instinctive one that makes him a bit inconsistent. But when he gets going, he is simply unstoppable. On his day he just tears apart any bowling attack in the world. Also he has the unique ability to play a marathon innings or hit a big hundred when everybody has almost written him off. Lara in test cricket has done better than Sachin while in one-day matches Sachin has outperformed Lara.

A very striking resemblance that comes to my mind about many of these great players is that they belonged to same era, competed with each other and hence probably brought out the best in them. Be it Anand and Kasparov or Agassi and Sampras or Sachin and Lara.

8. Sunil Gavaskar: The perfect technique

In the days of one-day cricket people often tend to undermine the importance of test cricket. Agreed that it doesn’t have the same “entertainment” value or verve that one-day format has. But even today test cricket is the real battle of bat v/s ball. True to its name it is test of character, strength and technique. And Sunil Gavaskar has set new standards in all these aspects. There have been players before who played great cricket, who had perfect technique and showed tremendous resilience; but not all at the same time.

He played in the era when West Indies pace bowling attack was running all over opposition and when just staying on crease was an achiement. It was Sunil who time and again showed that the great West Indies bowling attack can be tamed with perfect technique. He has a very good understanding of the game of cricket. By this I mean all the aspects of the game and potential of a player. It reflects well in his role as a commentator. While a layman considers a person like Siddhu to be a good/ entertaining commentator, people still consider listen to Sunil on the fundamentals of cricket. And mind you, he too has a very good sense of humor and presence of mind. That’s why he is always politically correct in whatever he does or says and manages to keep away from any controversy. (or at least gets out of it quickly)

9. Rahul Dravid: Great dedication

Rahul Dravid is not a natuarally talented, gifted player but he has worked hard to earn a place in the league of th best of today’s generation. Be it attitude or performance he has shown a great deal of attitude and dependability. His greatest achievement is to come out of shadows of Sachin and Saurav to make his own identity and also to adapt himself to both forms of the game. Off the field, especially when dealing with media and reacting on controvercial issues, he is the most levelheaded and balanced person.

10. Anil Kumble: The fighter

Anil Kumble, Shane Warne and Muralitharan arrived in the world of cricket around the same time frame. None of the so called cricket experts would have predcted that Anil, with his unusual bowling style and pace, would have survived beyond 4-5 years. But he has been around for more than 15 years now. Not just survived has been gowing from strength to strength with each passing year. Although Warne and Muralitharan are way ahead of him in the number of test wickets, Anil is no less a match winner than Warne and Murali.

He is a real figheter and has proved his critics wrong everytime they wrote him off. Even if he has been in or out of the team that has not hampered his performance while making a comeback

. In facr he has done better in those matches. With a perfect 10 and a no. of 5/10 wicket hauls he has already become a legend. Now it would be better for him (and Indian cricket) to do a ‘Warne’ and play only selective and important matches so that India can make best use of his remaining career.

————————————————————————————————————————P.S.: Some of the other players who almost made it to the list are:

Roger Federer, Diego Maredona, Andrew Flintoff, Btett Lee, Inzemam-Ul-Haq

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