x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Many athletes not prepared for when their '15 minutes' is over

That afternoon at Nagpur airport, a young man who had not even turned 20 sat in a seat by himself, lost in thought.

Though his international career for India appears finished Parthiv Patel is still playing shots in the IPL Twenty20.
Though his international career for India appears finished Parthiv Patel is still playing shots in the IPL Twenty20.

It is one of those scenes that are hard to forget. Usually, Indian cricketers in the public realm cannot even dream of private space.

In a crowded airport lounge, they are usually the target of every pen, paper and mobile phone camera around. Yet, that afternoon at Nagpur airport, a young man who had not even turned 20 sat in a seat by himself, lost in thought.

He had performed dismally with the wicketkeeping gloves throughout that series against Australia, and after the defeat in Nagpur that confirmed Australia as winners with a Test to spare, the selectors had cut him from the squad. Less than a year earlier, full of confidence after a sprightly cameo with the bat, he had even sledged Steve Waugh in his farewell Test. Then too, though, his keeping had left much to be desired.

After a much-hyped debut in England two years earlier - he played a big part in India saving the Trent Bridge Test - Parthiv Patel's career had found a dead end. And that afternoon, as many of his teammates - equally culpable in a 342-run defeat - signed autographs and posed for pictures, he was ignored, as though he was in quarantine.

No kind words, no pats on the back, just cold indifference.

Less than a day earlier, he had been wearing the Indian cap. Now, he may as well have been a stain on one of the chairs.

Remember too that this was no calloused veteran. This was a youngster, and his confidence was shot to pieces after glitches in his technique had cost the team at crucial moments right through the series. The cruel barbs on television and in print didn't help either.

Reading about the story of Michael Johnson, the former Manchester City midfielder, brought back memories of that day. Johnson- once subject to a £10 million (Dh58.9m) bid from Liverpool had the remainder of a five-year contract paid up by City after injury and mental health problems led a promising career astray.

Sports journalists are no mental health experts, so we have no idea of the many factors that may have contributed to Johnson's decline from future England international to has-been in the space of six years.

What we do know is that Johnson's sad tale is not football's alone. A couple of years ago, a former Indian international told about what happened once he was dumped from the side. "No one calls you, no one wants to know how you're getting on," he said. "We think we have so much talent that we can lose sight of those that are dropped."

In many of these cases, the players involved have healthy bank balances, but no other skill sets with which to make a life for themselves. But what hurts more than the financial insecurity is the anonymity, the awareness that their 15 minutes of fame are up.

Remember Swapnil Asnodkar, the Rajasthan Royals opener who played a big part in the team's success in the first Indian Premier League? Shane Warne talked him up as the Goa Cannon. He has not played a Twenty20 game since October 2011.

Another of Warne's former teammates, Kamran Khan, was reported for a suspect action soon after he first caught the eye with his slingshot action. The last anyone heard of him, he had vanished back into obscurity in Uttar Pradesh.

Irfan Pathan, once seen as the heir to Kapil Dev's all-rounder mantle, is 28 and has not won a Test cap in nearly five years.

Every so often, there will be an interview telling you of his intention to come back to the big time. For his sake, you hope he is right.

At the recent launch of the Wisden India Almanack, CD Gopinath, the only survivor from India's first Test win in 1952, spoke of how he sometimes had to skip matches because his employers would not grant him leave.

Back then, cricket was still a game that did not play the bills. Now, in the IPL age, there's far more at stake.

And a Johnson-like decline is so much harder to cope with.

 

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