Sunday, August 16, 2009

Being the Underdog

Every human always aspires to win- we are conditioned to believe that winning is everything. We love to Win; we admire only Winners. I guess that’s so because even without moving a muscle, you got to be someone by recognizing a winner.

So what happens to the one’s who are not numero uno on D-day??? Mostly we would like to even evade a situation being on the side which didn’t win. Who wants to be termed a loser- though officially, you might be a runner up? So how does it feel to be a part of a team- say Force India; just a second off the pace of the best- but not a winner.

I have actually been on both side of the divide quite a few times. But it’s been only a few times when I went home satisfied even when I did not win. It was the realization that on that day the under dogs earned more that what the winner walked away with.

This is one such incident that is etched on my mind, most simply because when I look back, I actually realize the power under dogs possess- the power of surprise. I have since realized what just the fact that people believe in you can propel you to.

I played badminton for some year while in school. It was basically a good way my parents found to channel my extra energy which was otherwise wasted in destructive activities in and around the house. I won’t say I was an Amateur level but did good enough to win a few times in Home tournaments and move up to a few rounds in other Open and Inter-School Tournaments. It was here that I learnt the valuable lesson.

Age 12 meant fit to play Midget group. But Home tournaments gave me the chance to play across Midgets, Juniors and Men’s draws. So while the first category was to excel, the rest were to boost experience. The challenge came in one such Men’s Doubles draws, me and Santosh Shetty (age 18) were against Milind Padgaonkar (age 23) and Raghu Raman (age 30)

On paper it was the most one sided match in the draw. Santosh and I were well aware, like, most that we were practically half the game the opponents were. My game was predominantly the first 5 feet from the net. So all we had on mind was at least score 10 points in each game and enjoy as much of the game as possible. “Don’t feel bad if I miss out on a smash or you miss a drop, we are out to play our best”, Santosh- that was the best piece of advice I have ever got.

Now came the surprise element- to keep our spirits high, the organizers (No one big really, but Vijay Nair it was) managed to get all of our age group to come over and support us through the game. All of a sudden it becomes a bigger stage with cheers, whistles all going around.

The opponents won the toss, wished to serve- if all went well for them, we would probably not even get a chance to serve. The game began with Milind serving and Santosh facing; two returns and came a smash from the other side that just seemed to indicate the difference in the playing level. But the cheers went on and support was still high. Next serve, Milind to me; frankly I was nervous.

I got one that went so fast across from above my head that I only managed to make a desperate attempt to touch it. I guess it was one of the wonders of being under dogs; it took the frame, lobbed in the air and went across the net practically touching it all the way down. The crowds erupted…. I was still at loss to understand what had happened. I still am- that’s why I recall it as if it was yesterday.

I don’t know how many realized that it was not skill that broke the serve; but all of a sudden we were in the game. The next 3 serves actually put us in lead- 3:1, something no one was even ready to speculate. But that was where the dream run ended. The next serve saw the opposition rally up to 8 points on a trot, with me and Santosh having no replies to the smashes across the net. But the cheering continued.

We broke back 3 more times, saw some brilliance from Santosh. I managed a few close drop shots and living up to my task of managing the first 5 feet from the net. By the time the last point was on, we managed to score 14 points. We had set out with 10 as our moral victory.

As we shook hands and walked off the court, every “well played” was a mark of achievement. We had managed something that no one was expecting. But how did this happen, I was still the same, so was Santosh. So what happened in those 30 minutes or so that we were so proud of?

I possibly found the answer very recently I guess. It was being the under dog. No one expected any thing, everyone was supporting us and cheering us to pull off a task too big, and we managed it to a decent extent. It was just that feeling that 30 guys are behind you that possibly took the shuttle across that net, or helped us go beyond the score of 10.

What ever it was, being an under dog is not such a bad thing; just hold on to your stong points and play your game- you just don't know how many invisible hands are actually pusing your shuttle across the net.