Just not cricket: Why did Sachin get Bharat Ratna before Dhyan Chand?

Sachin Tendulkar is no doubt a Bharat Ratna, every 65 inch of his stature. The government's timing was perfect in officially acknowledging on his D-Day what the nation long felt about the cricketer. But is he the only diamond in India's small but dazzling collection of champions?

Many would argue that Tendulkar's sterling sporting achievements are more than matched by one Viswanathan Anand. More would agree that even his superhuman exploits donning the tricolour on the helmet do not quite add up to the many miracles worked on the Davis Cup turf by one Leander Paes. But they are contemporaries who do not mind waiting for their turn.

Sachin Tendulkar. Getty images

Sachin Tendulkar. Getty images

Not the memory of Major Dhyan Chand though. The hockey wizard retired in 1948. He died before Tendulkar even picked up his bat at 11. It is impossible to compare generations or different sports. All of 5 feet 7 inches, Dhyan Chand won India three Olympic golds. But statistics count for nothing when one considers his influence on the game that he picked up only after joining the Army at 16. Had the wizard played cricket, his aura would have been no less than Sir Don's.

Indeed, in 1935, Bradman watched Dhyan Chand in action in Adelaide. “He scores goals like runs in cricket,” was his enchanted reaction. The next year, the German press went into a tizzy watching the wizard at Berlin. “The Olympic complex now has a magic show too,” screamed a headline. Legend has it that a charmed Hitler offered the major the post of colonel in his army. Residents of Vienna built a statue of him with four hands holding four hockey sticks, underlining the wizardry.

Now doesn’t it seem odd that India officially acknowledged Tendulkar, every bit a Bharat Ratna, before honouring the country's first modern sporting genius and superstar? The sliding fortunes of hockey may have a lot to do with it. Long back in 1956, Dhyan Chand was honoured with the Padma Bhushan. The government released a postage stamp on his first death anniversary in 1980. Of course, sportspersons were not eligible for Bharat Ratna till the rules were amended in November 2011.

That very December, 82 MPs, a number of UPA ministers among them, together wrote to the Prime Minister's Office, recommending Bharat Ratna for Dhyan Chand. The same month, the PMO also received 64 nominations, including one from Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, backing Tendulkar for the highest honour.

Since 2012, the union sports ministry has twice recommended Dhyan Chand for Bharat Ratna. As recently as this August, the ministry reiterated that he was the logical choice. "We had to name just one sportsperson for the Bharat Ratna. With all due respect to Tendulkar, Dhyan Chand is a legend in Indian sports. And it was logical to recommend Dhyan Chand for the Bharat Ratna since we have named every other trophy after him," Pradip Deb, secretary sports, was quoted as saying.

The UPA government dithered for two years since amending the rules before picking Tendulkar as a ''popular choice'' on the day of his retirement. Few grudge him the honour. But his selection even as the first among the illustrious contemporary equals only underlines the unmistakable clout of cricket.

Anand has won the world championship five times (and the Chess Oscar six times) in a sport many times more competitive than cricket. Three years senior to Tendulkar, He became India's first grandmaster even before the boy wonder made his international debut. The only player to have won the world championships in all formats – tournament, match, knockout and rapid – he is acknowledged as the most versatile world champion in the history of the game.

Paes is a few weeks younger to Tendulkar. He made his debut for India a year after Tendulkar and has an overall record of 86-31 in Davis cup. He took India to the World Group during 1991-1998 and beat Switzerland and France on way to the semifinals in 1993. Routinely magical exploits in the doubles game apart, Paes defeated the likes of Henri Leconte (1993), Goran Ivanišević (1995), Wayne Ferreira (1994), Jiří Novák (1997) and Jan Siemerink (1995) playing solo for India.

In 1996, Paes needed a wild card to enter the Atlanta Olympics and went on to win a Bronze for the country. His dream run was halted by none other than Andre Agassi who described the inspired Indian as a "flying jumping bean, a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, with the tour's quickest hands". Now in his forties, Paes is also the oldest ever grandslam winner.

Both Anand (1985) and Paes (1990) won the Arjuna award before Tendulkar (1994). Anand was the first recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 1991–92, India's highest sporting honour. Even Peas became a Khel Ratna (1996-96) before Tendulkar (1997-98). While Paes remains a Padmashree (2001), Anand became India's first sportsperson in 2007 to be awarded the Padma Vibhushan ahead of Tendulkar. Tennis fans may feel a little impatient but chess aficionados should not mind if the cricketer takes the lead this time.

But what about the wizard? The hockey fraternity is understandably bitter. But the Major probably would have none of it. The first sentence of his autobiography reads: “You are doubtless aware that I am a common man.” The wizard scored 61 goals in his last international series and India won all 22 matches in East Africa in 1947-48. Then he called it a day.

But of course, this is not cricket.

jaymazoomdaar@gmail.com


Updated Date: Nov 18, 2013 06:55 AM

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