Wednesday, 6 November 2013

And in the End, the Love You Make...

All the attention this week has been focused on one individual.

A legend of the game, Sachin Tendulkar, idol of millions, will be walking out from the pavillion, bat in hand for one last time during the current series against the West Indies.

The adulation of the masses, the glare of the media, the expectations of a nation-all are falling on one man's shoulders. While he does deserve an amazing send-off for his magnificent contribution to Cricket, I feel it's a little over the top to have the kind of circus that we are currently witnessing.

For one, the game isn't about an individual. When all is said and done, this game is a Test match, between two teams of eleven players each. The focus should be on the game itself. That a superstar of the game is playing for the penultimate time is just a footnote. It's insulting to players of the calibre of Chanderpaul, Dhoni and the others to have their contribution to what may just be a fine match completely overshadowed by one individual's reputation.
There are several reasons why Sachin should be considered a legend. There's an equal number of reasons why this over-exuberant showering of affection should not be

But that is for another rant. I'm here to write about something else entirely, that links to this in many ways.

Sachin will be on the field in Kolkata for 5 days, till the 10th.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the nation, another legend of his own sport, Vishwanathan Anand, takes to his own battleground, probably for the last time. The build-up to his game is overshadowed by the build-up to the aforementioned Kolkata match.

Arguably, Vishwanathan Anand is bigger in Chess than Sachin is in Cricket. He has broken several boundaries, and his career longevity is definitely not inferior to Sachin's in any way. Consider his opponent, Magnus Carlsen, who is nearly half his age! Anand has also been the master of all formats of his game: he is widely considered the best rapid player of his generation, but has been reigning World Champion in the matchplay format for several years now. His reign has not been without challenges though: Kramnik, Topalov, Gelfand, to name just a few, have all tried, and failed to topple him.

Why do I say this is his last championship? Simply, age. At 43, he is among the oldest players on the international circuit. Chess may not be the most physically demanding of sports, but nevertheless, age does matter.

What if Anand loses this Championship? Will he accept that he is now past his prime, as so many suggested during his encounter with Gelfand, and in subsequent tournaments? Or will he come back, as legends do, stronger than ever, to reclaim his title from the Pretender to the throne? That's an interesting case to consider. Equally interesting is the case if he wins. How long will it be before he walks off into the sunset? True, people will ask "Why?" if he retires after a victory over Carlsen, but it is better to retire when people are asking that question, rather than its negative.

As for the game itself, it is probably Anand's toughest challenge in a long time (and, to continue the link with the initial part of this post, probably a much tougher, and definitely a much more high-stakes encounter than the one up in Eden Gardens). Carlsen has been rather unstoppable of late, and has obviously put in a lot of preparation for this game. Anand too has put in a great deal of effort, probably learning from his misstep against Gelfand last time around. This match is an intriguing test of styles as well: Anand has been a master of playing the waiting game of late, while Carlsen's temperament generally causes him to attack from the word go. Gelfand frustrated Anand with a water-tight defence. Carlsen now challenges Anand with an open, expansive, all-out attack. But Anand isn't one to stereotype himself. He has reinvented himself successfully over the last twenty years, and grown from a rash, impetuous young Turk (not unlike Carlsen himself today) to the Old Master. Anand is a master of the Game, an old hand who knows all the tricks (as he aptly demonstrated in his matches against Kramnik and Gelfand, two amazing studies in contrast) and has the temperament to take all challenges head on (as in the game against Topalov in 2010). The game will be an interesting match-up, and sparks will fly!

What would make the game interesting though, is if Carlsen wins a game early on, thereby forcing Anand to go on the attack. Will Carlsen change his strategy to see Anand out? And will Anand have the tenacity to fight back against the Mozart of Chess? We'll find out soon enough.

Predictions? Anand to narrowly win, possibly in the last game. Carlsen lacks big-match experience, and could potentially lose his composure should Anand frustrate him with early draws.
Oh, and India to whip the West Indies. No doubt about that.

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