When is a sport most thrilling?

Newsday

The Rumble in the Jungle is often called the greatest sporting event of the 20th century.

What is the greatest sight in any sport? Is it the spectacle? The passion for an individual or team? Maybe it’s the skill that mesmerises us. So, what is it for me? I’ll attempt to answer that through two stories.

Over the weekend, I found myself watching a video of Muhammad Ali’s 1974 fight against George Foreman in Kinshasa. Foreman was fearsome – one of the hardest punchers in history, he had knocked out Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, both of whom had beaten Ali.

Ali, meanwhile, had nothing going for him. He was attempting a comeback after a three-year ban and the title stripped of him because of his refusal to serve in Vietnam. He was older, slower and clearly the underdog.

The fight started predictably. Foreman struck at will as Ali kept falling back on the ropes, covering his face and body. It seemed only a matter of time before Ali was knocked out but, as the fight wore on, Foreman exhausted himself. His punches didn’t land cleanly and his power ebbed fast. Soon, Ali began countering, landing a fusillade of punches amid the crowd’s frenzied shouts of “Ali, bumaye!” (Kill him, Ali!)

In the eighth round a left hook snapped Foreman’s head back, setting him up for a lightning right to the face that sent him crashing to the canvas. A drained, frustrated Foreman couldn’t get up in time and Ali was champion again. The ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ was the unlikeliest of victories, a come-from-behind Ali special that was called the greatest sporting event of the 20th century.

Next, I watched another video – of VVS Laxman’s innings in Kolkata, following on against Australia in 2001. India had gone into the Test trailing 1-0 and seemed a goner after it was shot out for 171 in reply to the Aussies’ 445. India was well and truly on the ropes as Australia enforced the follow-on.

Enter Laxman and Rahul Dravid. Together they helped India post 657, Laxman caressing the ball down the legside and through cover to a glorious 281.

Harbhajan Singh joined the fightback, taking 6 for 73 to spin the team to victory –one of the most stunning comebacks in cricket history. From there, India went on to win the series against a team that was considered invincible.

DNA

The fightback by VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid set up India’s greatest ever Test win.

So, where am I going with this?

For me, the greatest sight in sports is an individual or team counter-attacking. In sports, as in life, there is nothing more uplifting than someone seemingly out for the count but finding the reserves and determination to fight on, claw back, spit fire at the rival… and prevail.

It’s inspiring because it shows we can reach deep within ourselves to a place we didn’t know existed. It tells us that it is possible to come back no matter how tough the opposition is or how down we are.

Fightbacks are proof that we can overcome mental blocks – often the toughest obstacles – and look beyond our doubts. After all, even in life, we face several barriers – physical, emotional and sometimes because of the environment in which we exist. But Ali and Laxman show us we can still win.

Sports tell you more about yourself than you will find out in any classroom. They are not a sideshow; they have the same human qualities as life: courage, grit, fear, confidence, collaboration…

When is failure at anything final? It is when you let it define you. Life, like sports, offers us chances for redemption. It’s these moments that are pivotal.

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