Millennium Post
Game On

40 Carats

The world of sports is blessed with presence of legendary ‘diamonds’ whom fans admire not only for their top-notch capabilities but also for their relentless ability to make comebacks

40 Carats
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Way back in 1973, 40 Carats, a romantic film featuring superstar Liv Ullmann and Edward Albert, was a huge hit. The theme of the movie was adapted from an earlier play (American), which rocked on Broadway. For those film buffs who have seen 40 Carats in the 70s in theatres in India, the story is still fresh in memory. While watching the movie online, again, after decades, what still stands out is the unimaginable romantic plot which had been conjured up!

What does a movie have to do with modern-day sport?

Well, a lot. The way we have been reading about comebacks, the way we have been seeing ageing stars rise again and again, it goes to show that typifying an athlete just as "old" and over-40, is wrong. There are many athletes, biologically inferior to younger ones, who still produce a great show in their field of play.

If you happen to be following the drama of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2022, there has been no dearth. Big teams like Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians have been made to look pedestrian. For some, the performance from these two heavyweight teams is like watching a horror show.

Yet, amidst all this chaos, where newer teams of Lucknow and Gujarat franchise have been rocking, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has shown he is truly 40 Carats. No, there is nothing like romance as depicted in the movie. Yet, he has managed to grand headlines, like ever before, and stays the romantic relic.

The drama began before the IPL when Dhoni handed over captaincy to Ravindra Jadeja. Results were hard for the fans to digest. Some were crying and some were mocking CSK, especially those who think the team is no longer worth watching. However, the way Dhoni handed over captaincy, reclaimed it, and then went on to even win a match, showed how much he holds us all in thrall.

You can call him 40 Carats, you can call him ageing, but you cannot dispute the fact that despite not playing cricket the whole year, when he wakes up for the IPL, he is ready. It's not easy to be 40 and stay fit. When we talk of fitness in the IPL, it's fitness which borders on gruelling standards. Standards set by those who are in charge of the IPL teams' conditioning, physical and mental, and who do not compromise. There is no place for those who are not willing to shoulder the load. And there is also no place for those who have to face criticism for flop shows, be it with bat or ball.

For a good part of this IPL, especially last week, Dhoni managed to grab the headlines. By reclaiming captaincy of IPL when the team was in the dumps, he showed a willingness to again stand up. It is, as if, whatever be the reasons for the team's flop show this season, including Jadeja's inability to perform, Dhoni is not going to hide behind excuses. Such has been his contribution to Indian cricket, winning captain of the T20 format in the 2007 World Cup and winning captain of the ICC World Cup 2011, Dhoni is like the diamond — 40 Carats.

He has been cut, polished and made into an exquisite piece, which cannot be bought. His link with CSK is one of pure romance and loyalty, which is valued by the team. How long this will continue, none knows, but going by what one sees on the field, he is still as sharp as before, handles the blokes on field well. Only those in the middle in CSK can tell you how much influence he wields on the team.

It may seem strange that at a time when there are giant performers in this IPL, headlined by KL Rahul, how Dhoni is still important. He continues to hold fans in thrall, no matter whichever way. Critics will be critical. But there are also those who have a lot to learn from Dhoni each day. His press conferences are still a super hit. He is both a diplomat and a charmer while talking, where he offends none with harsh remarks. I, for one, thought, Dhoni on the cricket field would be history. However, one should not be surprised if he is there, again in 2023.

Should the Indian cricket board use him as a mentor? Definitely, yes. He has so much to offer and if there is anybody who will gain from it in the next one year plus, it is Team India. They will be playing two crucial ICC World Cups in 2022 and 2023 — T20 and 50-over format.

That brings us to a few more 40 Carats in sport, notably tennis.

The other day, Roger Federer made it clear he is in no mood to retire. By announcing he was skipping Wimbledon 2022, Federer hinted that his return to professional tennis after recovering fully from injury and rehab later this summer is on the cards. For someone who holds 20 Grand Slam titles to his credit, what is the use of playing professional tennis, one may ask. Well, sport is not about being champion all the time. Just as Formula One legend Ayrton Senna was remembered fondly on his death anniversary last week, there will be respect, emotion and love for living legends.

Senna left fans in tears. His departure left a huge void, with the manner of his demise bringing into focus the perils of being in motorsport. However, none enters motorsport thinking he can create a spark without being aware of the furious fire hazards which are in store every minute of his career.

Federer's return is much anticipated, though he will be almost 41 later this year. Can his ageing body, which produced magic with the tennis racquet, repeat the same? Can his legs run at the same pace as today's Young Turks? Can he match players like Djokovic and Medvedev? These are not factors which worry him. If Federer attempts a comeback, it will be a serious one, where he will be fully fit. He is aware there are chances of another breakdown. However, the way modern medicine has produced marvellous results, Federer could turn out like a refurbished car which has been in the best workshop.

Again, 40 Carats of women's tennis, Serena Williams, keeps fans guessing. She has not played since Wimbledon 2021. Serena occupies prime space in media and social media. However, by allowing her long-time coach Patrick Mouratoglou to work with other big tennis players, Serena has hinted she won't be back soon. If Ash Barty retired at 25, the Aussie admitted she has had enough.

Serena, who will be 41 later this year, speaks only about what she has achieved — winning 23 Grand Slam titles. It could well have been 24 or 25, equalling or overtaking legend Margaret Court. Serena's comeback after maternity was breath-taking. The fact she choked in a few big matches at the biggest Grand Slams suggested she was finding it harder to win titles which used to be so easy for her.

As a mother, Serena has often expressed herself with great emotion. She had a near brush with death during pregnancy and delivery. Her body has undergone massive wear and tear. Yet, if you think she is going to officially retire, it is not in the cards. Her rankings are not what it was. Two years of the Covid pandemic have been hard for so many elite athletes. Serena, perhaps, understands that if at all she will attempt a comeback, it will not be unless she is fully fit. The niggles she dealt with on her return to top tennis in 2018-19 were sad to watch.

Serena remains an influential champion even away from the courts. The kind of impression she leaves on people in every walk of life is remarkable. Her social life is one of giant presence, even today.

Role model? Yes.

40 Carats? Yes.

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