When he was playing golf that seemed to come from a different universe,Tiger Woods didn’t only beat opponents,he often took away their will to compete. Opponents looked at him with awe,eager to see what he would do next rather than think of ways of combating him. Woods had that aura around him that sportsmen dream of possessing. When Woods was scorching the back nine on the last day,there was an air of inevitability about it all. His opponents had bestowed on him the cloak of invincibility.
Jordan had it and Federer did,that mystical quality that injects hopelessness into the opponent; which causes them to temporarily abdicate their skills and drool over what is on display. It takes a long time to build this aura and only a few defeats to dissipate it. When the inevitability of victory is dented,it is almost as if opponents are shaken out of their reverie and awoken to the fact that victory is a possibility. Federer might only have lost a few games here and there and opponents began sensing an opportunity where earlier they were overwhelmed by the aroma of despair.
Only two teams in recent times have managed to bring this aura to cricket. Both won matches before the contest began. Both got into tense situations but almost inevitably either team on the park believed the champion was going to win. The West Indies through the late seventies and into the eighties were like that and so were Australia for about fifteen years from the mid-nineties. The 1948 Australians,in the eyes of some the finest team assembled,produced some stunning victories that gave birth to this legend including scoring 404 on the last day of a test to win (aided no doubt by the fact that the English bowled 114 overs but that only marginally diminishes the enormity of what they did).
The great West Indies added to their aura significantly when they chased down 344 in 66 overs on the last day of the Lord’s test in 1984. They had an ageing Lloyd at no 5,Dujon at 6 and Marshall at 7. England must have fancied their chances,they even declared their second innings (even if at 9 wickets down) but by the time the game ended (and Viv hadn’t even come to the crease!) they must have been left wondering just what they needed to do to win against the West Indies. The news would have travelled: you can’t beat this guys and the West Indies would have won a couple of more matches before the game began.
England might have thought the tide was turning against Australia at the World Cup of 2003 when they made 204 for 8 and had Australia 135-8 needing 70 at run a ball with 2 wickets in hand. I was watching that game and at no point did it cross our mind that Australia would lose. Seriously. They just had their air about them and of course they won. When you win games like those the opposition starts to believe in your invicinbility. The aura appears.
In recent times with Australia having slipped and the leadership of the test rankings yo-yoing a bit no team is able to generate that kind of aura; nobody seems scared of anyone anymore and in a sense that may be good for the game. India didn’t seem too inclined to go for it in Dominica in July 2011 when,after a slow phase of batting they still only needed 86 from 90 balls with 8 wickets in hand. India had the opportunity to make a statement about their strength,instead they suggested they,the number one team in the world,weren’t as confident. You don’t build an aura like that.
And England allowed the opposition to score 637-2 at the Oval last week often bowling as if you just had to do something with the ball in hand if you have run in 15-20 yards with it. Champions don’t give an inch,England were offering a mile at times. The series might well have a twist but by the time the game ended England’s image had been dented.
So there is no aura in cricket anymore,no runaway leader in tennis and it seems mandatory that every major in golf must have a different champion. And Formula One is struggling post Schumacher. Only Spain at football can now claim to have that aura unless of course that occasional cricketer from Jamaica scorches the track at the Olympic stadium in the next couple of weeks.
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