Nothing is easy. There are no caveats with God. Or for that matter with Richard Dawkins, the avowed atheist who states: “The universe doesn’t owe you comfort.” It is futile offering prayers in return for rewards. Nobody jumps out of the womb a genius, sporting or otherwise. Joel Garner has one word: “Work.” Sachin Tendulkar, as a 12 year old played three matches a day and then practiced some more. Sometimes playing and practicing 10 hours a day. Picasso, over his life time, produced over 50,000 works of art.
Joe Martin, a white policeman who ran an afterhours Gym, reflecting on Muhammad Ali’s first visit said: “He didn’t know a left hook from a kick in the butt. But he was the most dedicated fighter I ever saw. He lived in the gym. He was there when I arrived in the morning and he was there when I left at night.”
Don Bradman straddled the Depression era and gave hope and inspiration to a people and country isolated from the rest of the world. Bradman was single-minded in his pursuit of excellence. The golf ball and single stump symphony against the water tank is folklore. He would remark in later life: “I did not know at that time I was honing my eye-hand coordination.”
Greg Chappell singled out Bradman’s capacity to compartmentalize: “On the field it was cricket, off the field it was speech writing.” Bradman was public property and he fulfilled his obligations with the same dedication he brought to his run making.
John Milton: The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven. Kathleen Stein in her book, The Genius Engine, pinpoints “where memory, reason, passion, violence and creativity intersect in the human brain.” She also writes about “the mindprint of our individuality, sense of identity, ability to base action on knowledge, and yes, perhaps even the evolution of consciousness itself.” The Green Berets. The High Priests of Meditation. The Conquistadors like Francisco Pizzaro defeating the Inca Empire in 1531. A Freedom fighter like Subhas Chandra Bose, with his catch-cry: “Give me blood and I will give you Freedom.” For these revolutionaries the G-spot was not below the hips but above the shoulders.
Rahul Bhattacharya in a recent article offered this about a Champion cricketer: “I found myself rationalising past the extraordinary Brian Lara. To watch Lara bat was to not only understand the scope of cricket, but also appreciate the beauty of the moving human form. He was one of the very few cricketers to watch whom I was willing to drop anything I was doing. And yet, succumbing to the task of making a worthy verdict while simultaneously resisting the tyranny of stats, I decided to focus instead on 'influence'”. “Where does this beauty of the moving human form emanate and what is the source of this “influence”.
Consider the following from the Biomechanics of Human Movement, written by Marlene Adrian and John Cooper:
The human organism consists of more than 200 major muscles (out of 400) that supply energy.
More than 206 bones that provide the framework for movement, with over half found in the hands and feet.
43 major joints of the appendages (126 bones involved) about which body parts rotate.
Approximately 14 Billion nerve cells and over 100 Trillion other cells.
Over 60,000 miles of blood and lymph vessels.
Imagine all the above being in concert and we have some understanding of the Bradman or Tendulkar legacy. Some champions produce this confluence of diversity for a day; others for a season. Some produce it for a few seasons. Bradman and Tendulkar produced this nearly every time they walked to the crease. For 20 years, and in the case of Tendulkar, even as we read. This is the hunger; the passion that epitomizes the Champion Sportsperson, the artist, the musician and the master surgeon.
This is not going to be a biology lesson but it is pertinent to understand that the frontal lobe is where the 14 billion nerve cells are activated from.
Frontal Lobe - Front part of the brain; involved in planning, organizing, problem solving, selective attention, personality and a variety of "higher cognitive functions" including behavior and emotions.
The anterior (front) portion of the frontal lobe is called the prefrontal cortex. It is very important for the "higher cognitive functions" and the determination of the personality.
The posterior (back) of the frontal lobe consists of the premotor and motor areas. Nerve cells that produce movement are located in the motor areas. The premotor areas serve to modify movements.
The Genius Engine details the release of a hormone in the brain that may explain why certain individuals perform better under stress: “...levels of a hormone and transmitter, neuropeptide Y (NPY), may be largely responsible for how well an elite warrior functions under the pressure-cooker conditions of warfare, and how quickly he or she recovers from ordeals of combat.” The researchers concluded that soldiers who released more NPY stayed focused longer. There was also a marked difference in the levels of NPY release in ordinary soldiers and Special Forces commandos. Even among the commandos there was a difference in the levels of NPY. The higher the level of NPY the more “genius” in the warrior. These findings are not offered as definitive proof but more as a guide to better understand the performances of a Bradman or Sobers. With the advances in 3-D imaging it may be possible in the future to wire the champions and profile their billions and trillions of neurons and nerve cells.
Viv Richards, brooding and tempestuous, Hemmingway and Mandela rolled into one. Conflicting and confronting. The anger of a Muhammad Ali and the self-belief of the Dalai Lama.There was a primal savagery about his squarecut. He smote like a warrior and smoked like an active volcano. The lava flowed, simmering, in his proud blood.
Greg Chappell talked of “weathering the storm” when facing the barrage from Holding, Roberts and Garner. “You could go thirty overs before you had a sniff. You had to survive and be there when the smoke cleared.” Almost forty years after the “hardest cricket I ever played” Greg Chappell has an excitement in his voice when he recalls his “love for the contest” and the competitive instinct willing himself to test himself against the best. Rahul Dravid also speaks about the immense satisfaction he had competing and scoring runs against Australia because “they were the best team and I wanted to test myself against the best.”
Garfield Sobers unlocked for me, as a 15 year old, the secrets of cricket’s Grecian Urn:
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayst,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know
( - John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn)
I have a few of these images in my depleted neuron bank. Eden Gardens, five days from December 31st, 1966 to January 5th 1967 (we had rest days in that era) unlocked for me the limitless possibilities of human endeavour. The gap in his toothy smile the gateway to genius. Seam up, back of the hand, front of the hand; high-arc backlift and swift hands before the pirouette on the hook. The head thrown back as the squarecut that was at once the most brutal and the kindest cut of all. The man was always in forward motion. He pouched them in the slips and swooped in the covers. Briefly, he also donned the wicket-keeping gloves. There was a singular exultation in his every movement. The result of the game was incidental. The 70 Sobers scored in 85 minutes was resplendent with 11 boundaries. Back then the number of balls faced was not an item that deserved merit in the scorebook. This was watching a virtuoso performance. Spellbound and transported to a magical field. The ultimate field of dreams.
Was there ever a more rousing sight than Dennis Lillee on Boxing Day 1981 bowling the last 35 minutes of play? Australia had recovered from 4 down for 26, due to a magnificent 100 not out from Kim Hughes, to be all out for 198. Alderman snared Bachus who was playing for an injured Greenidge. Lillee had Haynes well caught by Border and in the same over Croft, the night watchman was marooned, LBW. The next ten minutes pitted two of cricket’s most combative warriors toe to toe. Dennis Lillee all flowing black mane and flashing Machiavellian eyes flicked the sweat off his forehead with his forefinger as each batsman departed. His white shirt unbuttoned he followed through to where he was touching eyebrows with Viv Richards. He beat the Man with a legcutter conceived in Hell. Richards was going to stand his ground. This was Muhammad Ali and Frazier all over again. Viv had his neurons on high alert even as Lillee commenced his run. He could sense that Dennis was traversing a line closer to the stumps. He must have seen that Lillee’s wrist was positioned to deliver another legcutter. The back lift was more to fineleg and the feet were moving into a drive on the up. Lillee, possibly, had seen this too, and delivered a ball that hit the seam and ducked in; off the inside edge and Richards had perished. Both accomplished combatants. But one had blinked before the other.
Does form fade when the light dims? Who nourishes neurons? Do they get turned off altogether in one flick of the switch? Is this the passage of time the sages speak of? Which of the neurons was flickering as Ali struggled up all those steps in Atlanta to light the Olympic flame? Nelson Mandela would have used all the 100 trillion neurons and nerve cells to survive Robben Island. We all have them but the Champions make the best use of them.