In 1988,a young boy from Madras became Indias first ever Grand Master. A few months later,a rugged youngster from Khadki made his first appearance for the national hockey team. A year later,a curly-haired batsman from suburban Bombay,all of 16,made his international debut in Pakistan. And a year after that,a hyper-active kid from Calcutta won the boys singles title at Wimbledon.
Born a few years apart,Viswanathan Anand,Dhanraj Pillay,Sachin Tendulkar and Leander Paes announced their respective arrivals on the big stage almost simultaneously. Four young lads,with nothing but burning ambitions in tow,embarked on journeys that were intertwined by a series of coincidences that eventually redefined Indian sport forever.
Fast forward to 2013 and that glorious era has perhaps crawled to an end. Anands defeat to Magnus Carlsen on Friday in the world championship match further enhances this fear,especially considering that Tendulkar retired a week ago and Paes is currently on the final leg of his long and illustrious career.
While it lasted,however,the good times were great. Even those involved in creating the moments are aware of that. The manner in which our careers have coincided with each other is extraordinary,even freaky, says Paes. But what gives me immense pleasure is that together,we were able to prove to the world that as Indians,we could be world beaters.
Twenty years is a lifetime in sport,especially in an Indian set-up that in former sports minister MS Gills words is designed to stunt an athletes growth. These sportsmen in question began their careers in an era when news on tracks,fields,courts and grounds were found solely in the back page of a newspaper. Then,the 90s happened. And as a symbol of this new,economically liberalised India,they dazzled Indian sporting arenas like it had never been dazzled on before.
Quite like the timing of their entries,Anand,Tendulkar,Paes and Pillay reached the highest points of their career at about the same time. Pillay guided India to the Asian Games gold in 1998,which is the hockey teams biggest achievement in three decades. The same year,Tendulkar cemented his position at the top of world rankings with 12 international centuries and 1894 runs in just one-dayers.
Paes went on top of the doubles world ranking after a season to remember with Mahesh Bhupathi in 1999,where they reached the doubles final of every Grand Slam,a record that still stands intact. The same year,Anand won the Chess Oscar that laid the foundation for his first-ever world championship title in 2000. With four sporting beacons casting their collective glow just before the turn of the century,the man on the street began to take his sport rather seriously.
But if their first decade as professional sportspersons was about breaking new ground,the next revolved around dealing with ageing bodies while maintaining the same level of excellence. So in ways only known to them,their genius adapted. Theres something unique about our longevity, says Paes. It comes from the passion for our respective games.
Their excellence wasnt restricted only to the field. In a country deprived of sporting mentors,Anand,Tendulkar,Pillay and Paes gave the young just what they were looking for. For decades,India had looked westward for guidance. This quartet ensured that greatness in the field of sports could be homegrown.
Just for that,Indian sport owes a lot to these stalwarts.