Many years ago in Mumbai, an Indian batsman completed his century with a single. He kept running, reportedly, till he was in front of the press box. Then he waved his bat at a journalist who had doubted his abilities in the morning’s paper.
“Eat this,” the batsman seemed to say.
Suryakumar Yadav did not do anything like that when, on October 28 in Abu Dhabi, he starred in Mumbai Indians’ stylish win against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Yadav, ignored by the selectors for the tour of Australia, stroked a point-proving 79 not out. After he scored the winning runs, Yadav displayed no histrionics. Instead, he took his helmet off and indicated to his bench that “Relax, Main Hoon Na.” It was a cocky celebration, but not belligerent.
Imagine how Virat Kohli may have reacted had he topscored and taken his team to victory just days after being snubbed by selectors. He might have taken a private plane straight from the ground and flown over each selector’s home with a megaphone in his hand. In one sequence in the Tintin comic The Red Sea Sharks, Captain Haddock lights into an offender, “Pirate, ectoplasm, coelacanth, ostrogoth, duck-billed platypus, jellied-eel, bashi-bazouk!” Kohli might have come up with an equally inspired tirade. In Punjabi, of course.
While there was no outward anger in Yadav’s body language, it does not mean he is not hurting at his non-selection. He is 30. He has played nearly a decade. In 2018 and 2019, he was the top-scorer and the second-highest scorer, respectively, for Mumbai Indians. This year too he is second in their batting chart, as of today.
Yadav also has had a solid domestic career and you can be certain that he feels the pain of missing out on the deserved recognition of national selection. And playing for the country is the highest honour in team sport, including not just cricket but also football, where the Champions League is sometimes wrongly given more importance than the World Cup.
Thousands across professions are in Yadav’s boat in this respect. You know you are good, but the next rung eludes. It eats at you, at times to an extent where you need hours on the shrink’s couch till you can see the bright side again.
A few days ago, Netflix released a documentary on Argentine journalist Eduardo Puppo’s mission to prove that Guillermo Vilas, the famous tennis player from Argentina, was the rightful No. 1 in the world for a few weeks in the 70s. The rankings system was not as reliable and consistent then. And despite a career in which Vilas won four majors, dominated seasons and defeated legendary rivals like Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors, the official records never showed him as No.1. Not for one day.
You may wonder why the no. 1 ranking should matter to Vilas now, some 40 years later? The reason is because it is an important aspect of his career. And it is deserved. Just like a spot in the Indian team is for Yadav. Chart-toppers, whether in sport or music or anything where performance can be ranked, often talk about how difficult it is to be officially No. 1 at something, and therefore, when you get there, how satisfying it is. Vilas deserves that satisfaction. It’s about his life’s work and his legacy. It would be the fruit of practicing eight hours a day, almost every day, almost the whole year, several years, and then backing that up with victories.
Puppo started digging into the subject in 2007. Initially, he did it alone, with some help from his wife. Then he found assistance all the way in Romania, in the form of a mathematician and computer programmer named Marian Ciulpan.
Puppo, Vilas and their lawyers have officially made their case to the ATP by submitting almost 1200 pages of documents. The ATP did not refute the claim, but has not acted upon it either. And now Vilas, 68, is showing cognitive decline. Even if he gets the acknowledgment he deserves in future, he may not be in a condition to experience the joy of it.
Yadav, on the other hand, has some active years ahead of him. He may not have the India cap yet but he has something very important. He has time.