Before Chris Gayle became the T20 freelancing, instagramming, coarse-line dropping brand that he is today, it was said of him that he used to be ‘so cool that he didn’t even take his shades off in the shower’. Mark Waugh’s cricket had a touch of the regal about it, and he famously quipped about not taking a Rolls Royce out for test runs, when asked about his disdain for practice and training. MS Dhoni seems so cool sometimes that you get the feeling he can turn chilled water into ice.
These three, and several others, might have all been candidates for the Hep Hall of Fame, or the Czars of Cool – until June 24, 2017 when every question of who should be at the top of the list was settled. Mithali Raj read ‘The Essential Rumi’ sitting boundary-side while her team was batting against England Women – who were more fancied than India Women going into the Women’s World Cup. When it was her turn to bat, Mithali put the book down, walked in, hit 71 as the latest in a series of scores that now reads 70*, 64, 73*, 51*, 54, 62*, 71. It’s not just seven fifties in a row, because you can’t be Mithali Raj and break just one world record. It was also her 47th half-century.
So you can be Mithali Raj and break two world records. You can even do it after having read a book just before going out to bat, because you had to “borrow a paperback with Kindles not allowed”.
— ICC (@ICC) June 24, 2017
But Rumi? Beautiful poems etc no doubt, but it’s got stuff like, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
And, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Not to speak of “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
I’d need to lie down for a bit after that, and if I could get someone to massage my temples, so much the better. Mithali? She goes and breaks world records and settles forever the debate on who could be the coolest cat in flannels.
There’s other debates about sport, not just her chosen field but in general, that even the Indian captain might not be able to settle though.
John McEnroe fanned one recently, when he gave an honest opinion of where he thought Serena Williams would rank (at 700) if she was playing on the men’s tour in tennis. If he had been a cricketer, McEnroe would have probably been a see-ball, hit-ball kind of batsman, though doing it with unbelievable finesse rather than brute force.
To put his comments in context though, McEnroe had begun by saying he thought Serena was the greatest ever woman’s tennis player. He was then asked if he wanted to drop the gender and classify her as simply the greatest ever tennis player, to which he answered in the negative, reasoning that there was no way she could beat the Roger Federers, Rafael Nadals, Novak Djokovics et al. He still maintained that Serena was a great champion and athlete, just that it was unrealistic to expect her to beat the top-level men consistently.
For all the furore his remarks generated, it’s interesting to note what Serena herself said when she was asked – in 2013 – how she would have fared against Andy Murray, who wasn’t even the top-ranked player then. “I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes,” she had said, explaining the difference in pace and power that almost made men’s and women’s tennis “two different games”.
Maybe McEnroe was too uncharitable in suggesting a 700 rank and maybe Serena was too modest in predicting a 10-minute thrashing at the most, but the central point of both remains. So let’s put it out there as fact: Yes, Serena Williams is a great, great champion, a remarkable athlete and a gift to tennis. But no, she’s not the greatest ever tennis player in any absolute sense of the word.
It is, in fact, demeaning to even speak of Serena in terms of comparison to men’s tennis. Apples versus oranges is a far too liberally used cliché but it’s exactly what it is. You don’t need to get all shrill about Serena’s place in tennis history by comparing her to the men because it’s not fair to her. And in any case, her place in history is more than secure, she herself having authored chapters of it by her deeds. So what if she can’t beat Federer or Nadal – and let’s be honest, she really wouldn’t – she doesn’t need to beat them because they are both playing a different sport almost, as Serena herself said.
It’s like focussing on Mithali’s ODI average of 52.25 and saying, yes it does look close to Virat Kohli’s 54.57 so they must be equal. Without even getting into the mundane differences of how the ropes are pulled in for women’s matches and the power-games involved, it is an argument and comparison that does disservice to two champions of their trade, two individuals who have both done wonders with bat in the same sport, but on different playing fields.
So yes, Mithali might not beat Kohli at his own game, but then they are playing separate games.
What she will beat everyone hands down though, is in being the Queen of Cool. Or make that, the Monarch of Cool. Because no one, not even Kohli, can compete with her there.