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A bond with sport.

by Bored Guest

A curious coincidence occurred on a weekend this month that set me thinking. Up late night with nothing much to do, surfing the sports channels on Tata Sky late after midnight presented me with a spectacle that set my mind racing. Two sports channels (I think they were TEN Sports and Star Sports but I could be mistaken) were showing reruns of matches that had already happened. One was a Twenty20 match between New Zeeland and Pakistan and the other was an NBA regular season matchup between the Lakers and the Suns.

The first match I watched was the NBA one. Kobe was as usual putting up a show, and young Andrew Bynum was burning it up too while Amare looked like he was never injured, dunking with impunity. In between all this, anyone would be forgiven for not noticing a 37 year old veteran (37 in NBA basketball is very very very old) playing for the Suns. But this was just not any other journeyman. This was Grant Hill.

For those who didn’t follow the NBA in the tumultuous 90’s, Grant Hill was one of the greatest collegiate basketball players ever, who came into the NBA and was immediately seen as the potential successor to Michael Jordan in terms of what he represented for the league. Hill was an intelligent and superbly talented all round player of exceptional capacity, and was an A list superstar in his years at the Detroit Pistons. A measure of his genius can be found in the statistic that he is only one of two NBA players who have led their teams in points, rebounds and assists for three seasons, the only other player to have done it being the venerable Wilt Chamberlain.

Tragedy struck in 2000 when he injured his ankle and since then cruel jokes have abounded, most of them comparing Hill’s left ankle to an overused mine, alluding to the number of surgeries he had between 2000 and 2007. Having lost the peak years of his career to injury, Hill moved to the Suns in 2007 and has been performing steadily ever since. On that day I saw Andrew Bynum, a young Laker star almost exactly half Hill’s age turn him around easily and go for a dunk.

The unfairness of it all prompted me to change the channel, only to see (what I thought was) the sad end of another drama being played out. New Zeeland was playing Pakistan in a series of Twenty20s in Dubai, and Shane Bond was being carted around the park by the Paki batsmen. Already in the what-could-have-been mindset, this depressed me further. Again, this was Shane Bond.

I first noticed Shane Bond in 2001-2002 and what I saw astounded me. Here was a fast bowler, genuine fast, and had both control and pace. He was intimidating and everything you could ask for in a fast bowler. But it wasn’t just that. Brett Lee and Akhtar could bowl as fast and faster. It was the way Bond generated his pace. With all the other leading fast bowlers of his era, there was the criticism, warranted or not, that they were benders, that they chucked. With Bond, there was not the slightest question of any doubt. There was, and still is, a certain honesty about Bond’s bowling action that put him a cut above the rest. I guess the reason why Shane Bond and perhaps Dale Steyn are special, lies in the undeniable honesty of their bowling. When Akthar hit Dada on the ribs, the Indian fan in me automatically and unfairly consoled myself that he was a chucker and that it was ok. When Bond took 6 wickets for 19 against India, I didn’t have that consolation, because Bond was unimpeachable.

Over the years, as a back injury and participation in the ICL converted Bond into an unfortunate footnote in the annals of international cricket, the parallel with Grant Hill seemed appropriate. Both were immensely talented and both almost realized that talent and potential. Yet, even after their best years were taken away by circumstances beyond their control, they are still there, hanging on at the highest levels of their respective sports by sheer grit and determination.

In sport the champions are often celebrated to a point where we don’t often notice or acknowledge people like Hill or Bond. Yet, for me, these athletes represent the core value of sport itself. Their love for the game and the determination to play it at the highest levels despite all the trials and tribulations they have gone through make them the champions they are. The tragedy of Shane Bond and Grant Hill wont be noticed or talked about as much as the achievements of Sachin or Jordan, but these are also the people who make it all worth it. As I write this, Bond has just taken 8 wickets in his comeback test and Gill had edged his way into the starting five at Phoenix at the age of 37. Their little victories might seem trivial when compared to the feats of reigning superstars, but make no mistake, without them, sport just wouldn’t be what it is.

Here’s to hoping against hope and the triumph of determination and hard work against the formidable odds of battered bodies and old age. Here’s to Shane Bond and Grant Hill and Graham Alexander and all the others who make it worth it.

By Jian Johnson


Gaurav Sethi said...

Welcome on bored Jian

"Bond was unimpeachable." - That just about sums it up, Bond vs the others. But boy, was he a sorry sight playing for the sorry Delhi ICL team. He deserved better.

Like bowling long spells for NZL, that too without his trademark wince.

pRAFs said...

bond is back, and how..
still bowling 145 k + at 34 yrs of age.
it's supposed to be the sell by date of a fast bowler.while akhtar and lee are on the fringe od retirement, i certainly want to see bond leading the kiwi attack for a few more years.
cricket surely would be poorer without the likes of him

Mahek said...

Bond didn't lose a lot of time playing for the ICL. It was his injuries much like those of Hill that have ensured he has less than 100 test wickets.

straight point said...

top notch stuff jian!!! ...and welcome on bored...

it will be interesting to see how long he can carry the nz attack on his shoulder... someone needs to step up and form a partnership with him... much like a batsmen however good he is batting he still needs one to stuck at another end...

Mahek said...

Chris Martin and Iain O' Brien are good enough to support him. They don't get the attention they deserve because they play for New Zealand. You can be sure O' Brien's spell after dislocating a finger would have been all over the papers had he held an Indian passport.

I'm trying to think of other cricketers who couldn't realise their potential because of injury and names like Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones, Jacob Oram, Chris Cairns, Zaheer Khan come to mind. Even Steyn had to work on his mechanics because he kept breaking down during the early part of his career. Hopefully he's going to be around for another 7-8 years.

Mahek said...

I guess some things are just not meant to be. Bond out of the test series with a torn abdominal muscle.