Saturday, April 23, 2011

Two of a kind || 20 years: A journey to immortality Sachin Tendulkar and Ryan Giggs

 The world of sport is such that it is ever changing. Everyday there is a new face on the block. A new face hoping to make it big someday. Some do make it while the others dont.Some achieve greatness instantly, while some have to struggle to achieve it. The more time you spend  in the game the more difficult it becomes to sustain one’s performance. Thats the reason why of all the great players that were and are there  currently in the world of cricket and football, two of them stand out.Sachin Tendulkar and Ryan Giggs. Their journey and careers have  been quite similar. Both of them were child prodigies. They both started their careers almost at the same time. Their rise through the  ranks was identical. So was the blip in their careers and their comebacks too.  Both of them are now in the final phases of their careers. What they have achieved is quite phenomenal. Lets have a look...

Sachin Tendulkar: Although Tendulkar was already looked at as a child prodigy in school, the year 1988 was what did it for him. A century in each of his innings in 1988, a 664 run partnership with Vinod Kambli and a net session in which he faced the great Kapil Dev. These were enough to give him his first tour to Pakistan.

Ryan Giggs: “If you lose him you will regret him.” These were the exact words that made Sir Alex Ferguson notice the 13 year old Ryan Giggs. Giggs even scored a hattrick against a United side unaware of the fact that Sir Alex was watching him from his window. A trial followed and Sir Alex ended up at the Giggs doorstep with a contract in hand.

First Decade
Sachin Tendulkar: In his first tour to Pakistan he had an outstanding innings in a 20 over exhibition match.  On his third tour to England he became the second youngest cricketer to score a Test century when he scored 119 at Old Trafford. 2 more centuries followed against Australia, that too in difficult conditions. Although he was doing well in tests, a century in an ODI still eluded him. He had to wait for 4 years and 79 ODI’s to get his first century. Tendulkar began to rise within the Indian cricket setup. 1996 opened the floodgates of success for the little master. First of all he finished the leading run scorer at the 1996 world cup. What followed was Australia’s tour to India in which he got 3 centuries to his name. During the 1999 world cup, he had to return home due to his father’s demise but returned back to score yet another century which he dedicated to his father.

Ryan Giggs: Tipped as the greatest prospect in English Football since George Best, Giggs made his United Debut against Everton in 1991. He became a regular in the first team and at the same time was captaining the youth team. At the end of the 1992 season he was named the PFA Young Player of the Year. By now Giggs had cemented the left wing position in the United first team.
The next 2 3 seasons he became one of United’s key players helping United win their first title in 26 years and also the double the following season. The team around him was changing as old faces were being replaced by newer ones. By the end of the 1995 season, the Fergie Fledlings had replaced the likes of Ince and Hughes.It was now time for Giggs to make his mark in Europe, as he helped United reach the European Cup semi-finals in 1996.
1999 was a big season for United and Giggs. He scored one of the greatest goals ever scored in FA Cup history against Arsenal. He scored the equaliser against Juventus in the Champions League semi-finals. To top it, he set up the equaliser in the final against Bayern Munich. Later that year, he was also awarded the Man of the Match award in the Intercontinental Cup final. 4 fruitful seasons followed where Giggs was pivotal in United’s success. When Denis Irwin departed in 2001, he became United’s longest serving player. At the start of the 2001 season, Giggs completed his first decade at Old Trafford.

Second Decade 

Sachin Tendulkar: Tendulkar continued with good performances in 2001 and 2002. However the next 4 5 years were dominated by injuries. Although he had another great World Cup in 2003, he spent almost the whole of 2004 outside the game due to his tennis elbow problem. He was booed at for the first time in his career in 2006 and with a shoulder operation on cards, things were not looking that good for Tendulkar. Although many critics believed his career was sliding down, he announced his comeback with his 40th ODI hundred against West Indies. 2007 was  a year shrowded with controversy as differences between him and coach Greg Chappell became public. The result was a dismal World Cup campaign, not only for him but for India too. He had another good tour against Australia in 2007. The next year he broke the record for most runs in test cricket, a record previously held by Brian Lara. The last few years has seen Tendulkar perform consistently for Team India. Although greats like Ganguly and Dravid have slowly been phased out, his place in the squad remains fixed.

Ryan Giggs: The next 4-5 seasons were quiet compared to Ryan Giggs standard. Having started out as a winger for United, Sir Alex started playing him in a central role in midfield. In the Champions League final, Giggs broke Bobby Charlton’s appearance record coming on for the 759th time. At the start of the 2008 season many thought that Giggs’s prime was over. But the last two seasons he has played as well as he has ever played in his career. Although he just started 12 games last season for United, Ryan Giggs was named the PFA Player of the Year for the first time in his career. This season too his performances for United have been breath taking. No one will say he is 36 year old. Just this week he signed a new contract that will keep him at Old Trafford till 2011.

Sportsmen are not supposed to get better at the end of their careers, but nobody told Ryan Giggs and Sachin Tendulkar. In sport, old age starts in the mid-30s. This is when the eyes slow, the waistline thickens, the knees rebel against all that twisting and turning, and the hotels and airports begin to pall. In the major outdoor sports, only a golfer or a goalie can expect to stay at the top of his game through his 30s. But somehow two 37-year-olds are among today’s leading sportsmen, trading not on reputation but on recent form. Ryan Giggs, recently voted Manchester United’s greatest player of all ahead of George Best, has again been one of the most influential figures in club football, steering United back to the top of the Premiership. Sachin Tendulkar, already installed as one of cricket’s all-time greats, was the best batsman of 2010, keeping India at the top of the Test rankings with a string of centuries. Both men were born in 1973, and have stayed at the top for 20 years while careers in general have been getting shorter. How have they done it?

Fitness: Keeping fit is the first duty of a sportsman. A winger like Giggs would normally be creaking at 30, fading at 32, strolling about in a lower division at 34, and spouting platitudes in a commentary box at 36. Giggs has bucked the trend by devoting his afternoons to an activity many footballers might sneer at: yoga.

Batting is less strenuous than football, so Tendulkar is less unusual—101 men have played Test cricket in their 40s, but their ranks have thinned as the international programme has sprawled. The last was Alec Stewart in 2003, and he only started at 26. Tendulkar was a Test regular at 16, so he is that rare bird, the child star with staying power. Where Giggs is slim and wiry, Tendulkar is 5ft 5in and chunky. A shoulder injury and some poor form nearly finished him in 2006, but he fought back by working ferociously in the gym and the nets. Making a Test century, as he has done far more times than anyone else, means batting for four to six hours in the heat of the day. He regroups with breathing exercises and meditation. Open mind, healthy body.

Stickability:  The one-club man is an endangered species, hunted almost to extinction by the plutocrats who have turned sport into a form of luxury shopping. But Ryan Giggs hasn’t changed clubs since 1987, when, as a 14-year-old, he shrewdly left Man City for Man United. With his open mind, he might have made a better fist of playing abroad than most British footballers, but he has stayed firmly put.

The leading cricketers barely play for their clubs these days, but even so, as Kevin Pietersen of England has shown, they can still walk out on them. Tendulkar has played for Mumbai since 1988, and when the Indian Premier League arrived, bearing unprecedented gifts, he simply joined Mumbai Indians.

Vision: Wingers don’t always have this, as Theo Walcott of Arsenal has been known to demonstrate. All they need is pace, and the ability to make one decision—cross the ball or pull it back. Giggs can do that in his sleep, but when he moves into central midfield, it’s as if he has a sat-nav in his head, showing where Rooney and Berbatov are at any given moment. Tendulkar, when he opens the batting for India in a one-day game, has a similar device to tell him where the fielders are.

Stamina: Bobby Charlton’s record of 759 games for Manchester United stood for 35 years, but Giggs surpassed it the night he won his second Champions League medal, in 2008, and by January 2011 he had played another hundred times. Behind the statistics lie decades of dedication and application, of rising to the big occasion and not sinking to the small one. In cricket, it was long thought that 100 Tests or a little more was the limit; they do last five days, after all. Then one bloody-minded Australian, Allan Border, battled his way to 156 Tests, and another, Steve Waugh, managed 168. Tendulkar, without being bloody-minded at all, has played 177 Tests. Going into this year’s World Cup, he also shared the world record for one-day-international caps—a mind-boggling 444. He has far more miles on the clock than any other cricketer of any era.

Humility: Both men play for teams with an arrogant streak. If there were a competition to find the world’s most supported sports team, the final would probably be between Manchester United and the Indian cricketers. The big names in both teams are worshipped like gods and paid like bankers. No player has ever held this status for as long as Giggs and Tendulkar, yet they have remained humble. Giggs doesn’t mind being substituted or coming on as a sub. Tendulkar, unlike some Indian batsmen, takes trouble with his fielding, cricket’s third and least egotistical dimension. He has kept up his sideline as a bowler, purveying modest little allsorts when the team needs them. And neither man minds whether he is captain or not: they just slot in as the senior pro, an almost equally vital but far less visible role.

Simplicity: Tendulkar’s technique is compact and classical: he observes the basics that cricket coaches drum into children—pick up the length, step forward or back, keep your head still—while adding flourishes of his own, such as the whip past mid-on that is more like a tennis shot, a cross-court topspin forehand. Giggs too respects the eternal verities: keep possession, track back, find space, be in a position to be passed to. The younger men he plays against, from Arsenal to Barcelona, play sideways, like quicksilver crabs. Giggs is forever looking to slip the ball forwards. What sounds like a no-brainer has become a USP.

Appetite: Every sporting career begins with a child who just loves kicking or hitting a ball. Giggs and Tendulkar are elder statesmen now, but you can still see that child in them. They come to each game fresh, as if unaware that they have played hundreds of them. They still want to win, although they can hardly move for medals. And they take pleasure in their craft—timing a drive, weighting a pass, whipping up some magic.

Selectivity: Sportsmen who play for both club and country struggle to please both masters: the 2010 football World Cup was a parade of club superstars failing to reproduce their club form, from Rooney to Torres. Giggs, like Paul Scholes, worked out that he couldn’t satisfy his country’s demands as well as Alex Ferguson’s. He quit international football in 2007, after only 64 games for Wales. Tendulkar has played just one Twenty20 match for India, and hasn’t appeared in county cricket since a stint with Yorkshire in 1992.


Dignity: Most of us hope to grow old with dignity. Giggs and Tendulkar both started showing dignity before they grew old: no scandals, no shenanigans, no sex texts. In a petulant age, they show grace under pressure. Neither has much to say, which can be dull for fans but makes sense for them and their teams: their skills do the talking. In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, the meaning of life was 42. In football and cricket at the moment, it seems to be 37.

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