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When you gotta go, you gotta...
Sunil Gavaskar famously said it's better to quit when people ask 'why?' rather than 'when?' But sportsmen around the world often fail to understand their time is up. Dwaipayan Datta trawls the pension files to draw up a list of greats who went on a high and others who missed the moment.
He was 38 years old and in his last Test innings in Bangalore on an absolutely unplayable track, scored a 96 in the fourth innings against a topclass Pakistan attack which had Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed. He followed that up with a century for Rest of the World against MCC XI at Lord's in the MCC Bi-Centennial match and in the 1987 World Cup (after which he retired), the Little Master came up with his first ODI century. All of India wanted him to carry on, but Gavaskar said he had had enough and preferred the cooler climes of the commentary box
The Swede master was just 26 when he had already won 11 Grand Slams and was looking good for more. But his aura of invincibility was broken by John McEnroe, who beat him in the Wimbledon final of 1981. Borg hoped to turn the tables on his American nemesis at US Open, a title that he had never won. But it was not to be and he lost the final and left the court even before the prize distribution ceremony. That was the last Grand Slam final he played and after a barren 1982, decided to quit in the following January leaving the tennis world shocked. Even his great rival McEnroe tried to persuade the great champion back, but it was not to be. Much later in the late '80s though, forced due to failed business ventures, Borg tried to make a comeback but the game had gone ahead and the man with the wooden rackets was clearly out of time.
Thorpedo, the Aussie swimmer was an unstoppable force in the early and mid 2000s as he blazed through the pools across the world. After his five gold medals in Sydney 2000, he won the 200m and 400m in Athens, along with a bronze in the 100m freestyle that made him the only male to have won medals in the 100-200-400 combination. After Athens, Thorpe took a year away from swimming, scheduling a return for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. However, he was forced to withdraw due to illness. Subsequent training camps were interrupted, and he announced his retirement in November 2006, citing waning motivation, at the ripe age of 24. Thorpe, like Borg, tried to make a comeback for the 2012 London Olympics, five years after his retirement, but failed to make the cut.
WHEN THE TIMING WAS POOR
The best Indian allrounder of all time didn't leave the arena the way he entered it. After the Australia series in 1991-92, where Kapil went past the 400-wicket mark, he lost form and with Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad knocking on the doors, the pressure mounted on the Haryana Hurricane to go. But Kapil was adamant that he would retire only after he breaks Richard Hadlee's record of 431 Test victims. It took him close to three years to get the 30 wickets that were required and his bowling average too, took a toll as a result. However, given Kapil's batting credentials, there was some logic behind the delay, because he could always walk into the ODI side only as a batsman, something that Imran Khan did towards the latter half of his career.
His 2002 US Open triumph as his swansong may make the die-hards argue about his inclusion in this list. But many of those who adored Sampras when he ruled the '90s, didn't like the humiliation that he had to go through in the last two years of his career. After his 2000 Wimbledon win, Sampras didn't win a Slam for two years. If a Wimbledon quarterfinal defeat against a then temperamental Swiss called Roger Federer in 2001 was not enough, the US master was relegated to Court 2 - the graveyard of champions at Big W. It was here he played his last Wimbledon match, losing to world No 145 George Bastl. But the champion that he was, he played the US, won his 14th Slam, and then announced his retirement a year later.
The Punter was a bit un-Australian in the way he left. His game was on the wane for the last two years and had it not been for the charitable Indian bowling, he might have been forced to quit a year earlier. Ponting had lost his captaincy, the runs were not coming and the Aussie media was almost urging him to go. Ponting had lost his century race to Sachin Tendulkar by that time and it was quite surprising why a proud and gutsy cricketer like him was going through the struggle of the last phase. He probably eyed his retirement after the 10-Test long Ashes from August 2012 to January 2013, but the runs simply dried up for him.
It was the lust for a final blaze of glory and the need to pay off bills that robbed the Greatest of a great swansong. In the process, it showed a human side of the champ. After dominating the ring for more than a decade, he was clearly losing his prowess when he won his third WBA belt beating Leon Spinks in July 1979. His decision to retire soon after was judicious, but Ali believed he could win the belt an unprecedented four times and decided to come back and fight Larry Holmes. It was around this time that he started struggling with vocal stutters and trembling hands. He checked himself into the Mayo Clinic for checkup, later declaring him fit to fight. Ali fought against Holmes on October 2, 1980 with Holmes easily dominating the weakened Ali. Despite pleas for retirement, Ali fought one last time in Dec 1981 against Trevor Berbick losing a ten-round decision.
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