When, some years ago, many patriotic Pakistanis began comparing him with Virat Kohli, Babar Azam urged them politely to put a sock in it. What he said was quite simple: “Look, I hero-worship the Indian captain because of the way he plays and how successful he’s been. He’s been around for quite a while, which implies he’s rich in experience as well. I have a long way to go to catch up with him.”
Implicit in this was the acknowledgement that the batsman he admired would have considerably added to his own exploits by the time he ~ Azam ~ got ahead in his career. Which is why it would have been interesting to know how Azam felt when Kohli, coping with the pressure of probing queries about his form slump, let it be known ahead of the Cape Town Test that he didn’t think he had anything to prove to anyone. Kohli did go on to play a decent knock, but the bravado might have been looked upon by others, in or out of cricket’s all too well-known omerta zone, as a badly drafted catch-me-if-you-can missive.
Successful sports persons keep striving for spectacular achievements not just because they want more claps, but they also refuse to let up because they want to be endorsed for a continued validity of skills, power, and endurance. One way of going on has long been finding new challenges, accepting, and meeting them. That would have been how Michael Phelps, the American swimmer, became the most successful and decorated Olympian with 28 medals, 23 of them gold, which was another record.
Phelps would have ended up underachieving if, at a loose end on a day not cheerful enough, he’d called it quits before making sure his records would take some breaking.
Think of Usain Bolt and you find the same instinct at work: the world’s greatest-ever sprinter, global record-holder in the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay, and sundry, sensational triumphs in three successive Olympics (2008, 2012, 2016). Not for nothing do they stay on. Pele won the first of his three football World Cup-winner’s medals ~ a unique accomplishment ~ aged 17 in 1958 but carried on till 1970 despite all attempts to kick him out of the game. When his career with Brazil was over, the USA called him over to have a go at popularising the sport in a land cold to it.
But then, truth to tell, cricket alone suffices to root out any done-it-all smugness especially in terms of batting if only Don Bradman’s overall figures are seen: 338 innings for 28,067 runs at an average of 95.14 with 117 hundreds. And he never stopped being a perfectionist, no matter where he was in action. Bradman, of course, has not been surpassed but his cricketing successors owe it to themselves to try and keep pushing the limits back. It’s like what Ronaldo, of Brazil, said: I only tried to be as good as I could be.