The ‘appetite’ to win is not something that India has been known for in sports. This appetite is another name for will power, the single-minded determination to play the game at its best. In any form of sport, it takes physical courage, mental strength and highly developed skill to nurture this kind of will, and there seems to be little bit of irony in leaving India out of the reckoning in this sphere. One of India’s most famous cricket captains faced some of the fastest bowlers of the time with only one eye, the other having been destroyed in an accident a few months before he became captain at 21. Such imperturbable courage would be hard to come by the world over. In a way, Yuvraj Singh’s courage and determination are a striking allusion to the legacy of Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. Mr Singh’s battle with a terrifying disease, his obviously unwavering desire to come back and fight on the field again, and his achievement on his return also have a dramatic quality.
Some of that has to do with the communication-dominated culture of these times and also with the cricket-madness of the nation. But the dimension of the spectacular takes nothing away from the nature and quality of Mr Singh’s victory: he is a true winner, irrespective of runs and catches, because he has beaten fear and continued on his chosen way, as though a dangerous disease was just a brief blip in his career. Such winners are rare and, therefore, from Stephen Hawking to Kylie Minogue, they set the highest standards for what the human mind can achieve if it is set on its target. But the sports arena is the arena for ‘play fights’; so it is the best place to witness the various kinds of victory and heroism. A year of fighting an illness that could have destroyed her did not stop Serena Williams from returning to the court and lifting her next trophy in what must have been for her a kind of double victory. Sportspersons wield an unusual influence over numbers of people; their identity is tied to spectacle. Hence their courage is always acted out; they can inspire hope, positive thinking and determination. That is what Dave Callaghan, the South African batsman who returned to play after his fight with cancer in 1992, alluded to when he said that Mr Singh must have inspired so many people in his fight with the disease. Certainly Mr Singh has just shown the world that Indian sportsmen have no lack of appetite to win.