Within a week of Sachin Tend ulkar's retirement, Viswanathan Anand has surrendered his world title to the Norwegian challenger Magnus Carlsen, leaving a lump in every fan's throat and a seeming void in the sport.
In many ways, the careers of Tendulkar, Anand and tennis ace Leander Paes have run parallel, marking a golden era in Indian sport. Anand turned Grandmaster in 1988, just a year before Tendulkar made his Test debut. In 1990, Leander was to play his first Davis Cup match and since then they have been step-in-step in achieving numerous landmarks and laurels.
Interestingly, Anand reached his peak rating of 2817 in March 2011; in April of the same year, Tendulkar reached the acme of his career, playing a pivotal role in India winning the World Cup.
Leander still continues, but it is a moot point for how long. He’s set his sights on the 2016 Olympics, when he will be 43, a remarkable achievement in itself.
At 43, Anand can hardly be considered old in a sport that relies so much on brain, rather than physical power.
For six years prior to the title match, he had been undisputed champion leaving several rivals in a tizzy with his brilliant skills and dazzling speed in making his moves.
Age and non-stop competition, as sports psychology shows across sports, does wither the mental edge and the creative energies needed at the highest level.
Anand will have seen shades of himself in Carlsen, who is only 22, playing a game driven by daring and aggression.
Can he recover from this setback to make another bid for the title? Does he still have the stamina and more importantly the desire to compete? It would be foolish to discount him but these are questions that cannot find immediate answers. I reckon Anand will take some time out to assess whether he still has the appetite for it.
For all that, his contribution to the sport as well as the country’s image has been enormous. Through his exploits, Anand ushered in a chess revolution in the country.
While Russia, for instance, may still have the most number of registered chess players in the world, India ranks very high too in both men and women’s sections.
Indeed, four Indians (including Anand) find a place in the top 100 among men, while in the women’s section there are six. This is quite a remarkable achievement and can be traced to Anand’s incandescent brilliance over the past 25 years. This is his legacy without doubt.
His personality beyond the 64-square chess board has been uplifting too.
Anand has worn his fame and achievements without airs. He is not pretentiously modest; rather matter-offactly candid, willing to readily explain his own mistakes as he has in this title encounter against Carlsen.
Humility and dignity are what make a champion into a colossus and there is no better example of this than Anand. Had the authorities not been so quick to capitalise on the emotions surrounding Tendulkar’s retirement to award him the Bharat Ratna, had they waited a week perhaps two of India’s greatest sportsmen could have got the country’s highest recognition together.
But whether Anand gets the Bharat Ratna or not is immaterial in my opinion.
He is a national treasure, no less....