What is it about the underdogs?
We all love an underdog story. More than the Apollo Creeds, the world has been historically more fascinated with the Rocky Balboas.
However, won’t it be much easier for us to just support the ones that always win? Won’t it make us feel great about ourselves if we were on the side of the winning team?
Interestingly, people don’t tend to do that. Instead, they choose to back the underdog.
There’s a pretty simple explanation. As Jerry Maguire would say – We live in a cynical world and it’s not easy to make a mark that inspires others. Most of us want to be different, but end up being the same as one another. All of us aspire for greatness but only a few who are immensely talented or have quite an amount of good fortune, end up being what they really wanted to be.
And then, there is a third kind of species – the underdogs. They are one of us – less fancied, less talented and with minimal good fortune, and on all counts are expected to fail. However, they are slightly different from the herd.
When our backs are against the wall, we fight it, but when the pressure increases, we give in. These people don’t. Instead, they seem to gather a second wind when their world is crumbling around them and rather than giving in, they take a final swing at it, and more often than not, achieve something that’s even beyond their imagination.
Sports is filled with such inspiring examples, but the latest one to grab the headlines is Pravin Tambe, the 41-year-old “youngster” playing for Rajasthan Royals.
When the entire cricket world is speculating about the retirement of when a certain 40-year-old superstar, Pravin Tambe is rolling his arm over, flicking his wrists and spinning a fairy tale.
Pravin Tambe is a known name in Mumbai’s club circuit. He has been playing for years in the Kanga League and has been turning out for various clubs and office outfits, although he has had moderate success. The old-school leg spinner struggled to make a name for himself because of the towering presence of the more famous ones like Sairaj Bahutule, Nilesh Kulkarni and Ramesh Powar.
Tambe did manage to sneak into the probables of the Mumbai Ranji squad in 2000 but never made the final side, hence never played for Mumbai. But that didn’t deter his love for the game. He continued playing at the Kanga league and club cricket.
He even played for a club in Liverpool, for free, and as most unsuccessful cricketers, runs a cricket coaching camp. Nobody knew him and Tambe remained one of those cricketers in India who scorch the green of the Shivaji Parks of Mumbai and the Maidans of Kolkata but never make it inside the Wankhede or the Eden Gardens, until this year.
The talent scouts of Rajasthan Royals were watching a T20 league in Mumbai – a normal practice for scouts from all IPL teams every year. Tambe turned out for the DY Patil academy but had no idea that he was being watched too.
Why would he even care? The IPL is all about the young talent from around the country and at 41, the thought of being a part of IPL didn’t even cross Tambe’s mind.
However, during the tournament, he got a call from the Royals who asked him to fly to Jaipur for trials. An elated Tambe joined the trials and with his variety, impressed the captain Rahul Dravid. The India veteran had no doubts about Tambe’s talent and immediately drafted him in the side.
His stint at the IPL though, didn’t work out the way he would have liked. He got limited opportunities and on batting friendly wickets, couldn’t manage to grab the eyeballs. Then came the Spot-fixing saga. Rajasthan Royals made the headlines for all the wrong reason and Tambe’s debut got pushed to the background.
But as they say, success comes to them who waits and Tambe had been waiting for his share for more than 20 years now. The Champions League T20 came beckoning and the match against Highveld Lions put Pravin Tambe in his rightful place on the cricket map.
Chasing a competitive 180 plus score put up by the Royals, the Lions captain Alviro Petersen and Hardus Viljoen put the 50-runs partnership. Just as when the match seemed tilting towards the Lions, Rahul Dravid introduced his secret weapon, Pravin Tambe.
The first over saw Viljoen fall victim to a flipper. The 2nd over changed the complexion of the game. Tambe accounted for Jean Symes and Sohail Tanvir and derailed the Lions’ chase. The third over saw a perfect leg-spinner disturb Petersen’s furniture and Tambe ended the game with figures of 4 for 15 and grabbed the Man of the Match award.
Tambe continued his mastery in the next game and the Perth Scorchers had no answer to the old man’s bag of tricks.
Rajasthan Royals have made their way into the semifinals of the Champions League T20 and Tambe has already shown that he will be Dravid’s main weapon in the knock out stages.
Will these performances open a few more doors for Tambe? Will he get to play his first first-class game? Will the national selectors be tempted?
May be he will, maybe he won’t, but it doesn’t even matter. It doesn’t matter whether Tambe finally makes his debut for Mumbai or goes on to play for India. It doesn’t matter even if he never dons the Indian jersey, because all Tambe wanted was to live his dream of playing cricket.
If Rajasthan goes on to win the Champions League, Tambe would have achieved his dream and even if they don’t, Tambe would still be standing with his head held high because at 41, Tambe is busy weaving his own tale that will not only encourage the thousands of not-so-good cricketers who vanish into the oblivion of Indian cricket, but his story might even inspire the famed 40-year-old superstar to mount one last salvo.
In a country that boasts of Piyush Chawla as their best hope as a wrist spinner, Tambe is a surely a realistic option, but then again, that’s a story for another day because to the Tambes of the world, playing cricket is more important than the colour of the shirt they wear.
“I enjoy playing cricket and that’s what I am doing now. If I had such ambitions, I would have been frustrated long back and would have quit. I never expected to be playing in the IPL, but I am doing it now. If I am destined to play First Class cricket, I will.” – Pravin Tambe