© BCCI

Laxman, Sehwag and Tendulkar: All behemoths who command attention without so much as demanding it. Excellent batsmen, extraordinary communicators, exceptional role models. © BCCI

“I feel for the players who don’t get an opportunity for the entire season to play a single match. I was also one of them when I was playing for Kochi Tuskers or when I played for Deccan Chargers. I didn’t get the number of matches I thought I deserved, or I wanted to get to showcase what I can do for the franchise. We are very inclusive, so those players are also very important for us. We feel for those players – they are wanted and they are part of the family.”

These are the words of VVS Laxman, him of supple wrists, steely resolve, silken strokes and ready smile. Words of empathy and understanding, of support and encouragement. But these aren’t just words.

Laxman. Rahul Dravid, his partner-in-crime in several defining partnerships. Virender Sehwag, the no-nonsense straight-talker whose approach to life is summed up so beautifully in his approach to batting. Sachin Tendulkar, the ultimate name in Indian cricket. All mature adults with a volume of glittering work in international cricket, achieved through a strong grounding in the basics, and a strong grounding in life. All currently mentors – Sehwag is, officially, a lot more than that – of different franchises in the Indian Premier League. All behemoths who command attention without so much as demanding it. Excellent batsmen, extraordinary communicators, exceptional role models.

The fear that these legends would be lost to Indian cricket, to cricket in general, post their retirement has comprehensively been destroyed. So, maybe, if the IPL hadn’t come sweeping through like the cricketing tsunami it has come to be, they would have still found other avenues through which to contribute to the sport. But, given a glorious opportunity through the IPL to pass on their wisdom, knowledge, experience and expertise, they have embraced the role with a commitment and a sense of purpose that was their calling card during their stellar cricketing journeys.

People like Kumble will be remembered more for the legacy he leaves behind, not so much as a cricketer but as a human being, who offers more than just a shoulder to lean on or a comforting arm around the shoulder. © AFP

Mentor originates from Greek mythology; he was the friend and trusted counsellor that Odysseus put in charge as guardian and teacher of a young Telemachus when he left for Troy. The proper noun has long since become a noun, and triggers a mental picture of a wise, sage, well-intentioned individual who is wonderfully adept at not just seeing right from wrong, but also equipped to point out to young charges the virtues of not straying from the straight and narrow.

The batting quartet, as well as Anil Kumble, are men on whose overworked but broad shoulders the term mentor sits lightly. They have the stature and the presence, but they are neither pompous nor overbearing. They don’t look down on people, they are inherently fair and just, they inspire through words now like they did with deeds when still active as cricketers, and they bring with them certain core values that have remained unshakeable through thick and thin.

The batting quartet mentioned above, as well as Anil Kumble, their one-time teammate and skipper who was once the mentor of Mumbai Indians and is currently the head coach of the national team, are men on whose overworked but broad shoulders the term mentor sits lightly. They have the stature and the presence, but they are neither pompous nor overbearing. They don’t look down on people, they are inherently fair and just, they inspire through words now like they did with deeds when still active as cricketers, and they bring with them certain core values that have remained unshakeable through thick and thin.

The IPL has made sure that it isn’t just Indian cricketers, young and not-so-young, who have had the opportunity to tap into the vast reservoir of knowledge. Perhaps, David Warner might not even have fancied a tilt at Test cricket if not for Sehwag when they were together at Delhi Daredevils, even if Sehwag then was still a player. But then again, mentoring isn’t a hit-the-switch-and-turn-the-magic-on, one-time exercise. It is an ongoing process, a system of give and take where from time to time, the mentee too becomes the mentor. After all, learning is an unending process, isn’t it?

These gentlemen are all mentors not just from a cricketing point of view. Yes, for the large part, they will talk technique and temperament, attitude and approach, how to handle pressure, how not to get too far ahead of oneself within the contours of a game, how to stay in the present, how to read situations and how and what to anticipate when. But, and not by a fantastic extension, a lot of these aspects apply to life itself; cricket cannot be all life, even though it might appear thus to many at different stages of their careers. There is more to life than cricket, than sport, than any professional endeavour. Sometimes, it is easy to lose sight of this truism, which is where the roles of these individuals assume massive significance.

© Delhi Daredevils

When a Dravid speaks, he is naturally speaking from a position of strength. Not an assumed position of strength, but a status conferred on him by the manner in which he has conducted himself over time as his performances on the field. © Delhi Daredevils

Several of the tips issued from a game perspective can easily be applied to day-to-day, everyday situations, but as much as bowling yorkers or keeping a still head at the batting crease, lessons are constantly being imparted on various aspects emanating from but not directly connected to the sport. Such as, how to handle success and failure. How to maintain equanimity in good times and bad. How to remain humble and grounded. How not to take anything for granted. How to base one’s outlook on honesty and hard work. How not to look for short-cuts to success. How to manage money. Discipline. Diet. How to balance cricket with other energising enterprises. How to shed the bubble that insulates you from the realities of life. And, most crucially, how to always, always, remain respectful – of the sport, and of people.

When a Laxman or a Dravid, a Kumble or a Sehwag or a Tendulkar speaks on these issues, they are naturally speaking from a position of strength. Not an assumed, affected position of strength, but a status conferred on them as much by the manner in which they have conducted themselves over time as the quantum of impressive runs and wickets that have embellished the sport.

When a Laxman or a Dravid, a Kumble or a Sehwag or a Tendulkar speaks on these issues, they are naturally speaking from a position of strength. Not an assumed, affected position of strength, but a status conferred on them as much by the manner in which they have conducted themselves over time as the quantum of impressive runs and wickets that have embellished the sport.

Many years back, Laxman’s father had told me that his son had glorified the game. “When he was growing up, I told Laxman that it is not the profession that glorifies the man but the man who glorifies the profession. I am glad he has proved me right.” Dr V Shantharam, now in his mid-70s, is still a practising physician who puts in nearly 10 hours a day, offering free-of-charge service. It’s easy to see why Laxman has turned out the way he has, why he uses phrases such as ‘feel for them’ and ‘part of the family’ as he talks about players who for some reason or the other haven’t been able to get the opportunity to showcase their skills within the IPL framework.

The Laxmans, the Dravids and the Kumbles will be remembered more for the legacy they leave behind, not so much as cricketers but as human beings who offer more than just a shoulder to lean on or a comforting arm around the shoulder. These are true giants in the most genuine sense imaginable; Mentor must be proud to have such successors.