The line is often a blur. The line that separates the game's legends from those next in line. What puts a Adam Gilchrist or a Malcolm Marshall in a league of their own – is a question yet to be unraveled by the most discerning mind. In a game besotted with the virtues of number crunching, there is yet to emerge a conclusive set of statistical benchmarks that provide an elementary definition to the term 'legend'. Why else would Virender Sehwag never evoke the same kind of awe that an Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards would, despite the former enjoying a superior test average?
Victor Trumper, the Australian batting legend of whom the noted English cricket writer CB Fry said "He had no style, and yet he was all style", has had his name taken with utmost veneration in spite of a most humbling test average of 39.04. This in complete contrast to fellow countryman – Donald George Bradman, who is widely regarded as the most iconic cricketer of all time and averages a freakish 99.94 runs in test cricket. More recently, in spite of many a tall claim with bat and ball, would Jacques Kallis ever be picked ahead of any from that famous quartet of all rounder's that graced the game in the 1980's - Kapil Dev, Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee or Imran Khan? And yet, what puts Garfield Sobers right in the forefront of this distinguished lot?
Saqlain Mushtaq's novelty with the 'doosra', Gavaskar's prowess in taming a fiery West Indian pace attack and Wasim Akram's repertoire with the ball are a few pointers to the circumstances leading up to the dichotomy between the 'nobles' and the 'also ran's' of cricket. Even then, sheer ability or aesthetics alone do not serve as the only means into the Promised Land of the game's elite. For if it did, there would be no explaining the presence of giants like Steve Waugh and Anil Kumble in this august gathering. Certainly, the twin virtues of tenacity and strength of character, nurtured over the course of a professional career, gave both cricketers exclusive access to the league of extraordinary gentleman.
There is also the concept of what ordinary mortals rather cruelly view as within the boundaries of everyday possibility and what they consider as beyond their reach. Hence, Ricky Ponting may actually own every possible batting record in a few years from now, but how many would risk his eminence ahead of Tendulkar and Lara. How often has Ponting successfully confronted the impossible vis-à-vis the other two? Rahul Dravid may well stand taller than Sunil Gavaskar side by side, but if one has to choose between the two in batting for dear life, the Little Master towers over the so called Wall of Indian cricket.
The other astonishing thing is the stage at which a player makes a crossover to that haloed other side. Is there a precise moment when a cricketer, to paraphrase Beethoven, 'seizes fate by its throat' - to make the journey into the realm of immortality? It could be effectively argued that Tendulkar's legendary status was pre ordained before he played a ball in international cricket, but for most people it was cast in stone after he passed his trial by fire at Perth in 1992 with flying colours. The same could be extended to Javed Miandad whose never say die attitude was best epitomized by his last ball six against the Indians at Sharjah in 1986. This defining moment, in the lifetime of a legend, is an act so special that in many ways it is almost akin to a divine revelation. How else would one explain Shane Warne getting rid of Mike Gatting in 1993?
It has been our good fortune since we were introduced to the beautiful game of cricket, to witness the coming of many a stalwart in flesh and soul. There may be no rational explanation for Curtly Ambrose's unrelenting accuracy and Glenn Mc Grath's nagging line and length, but the joy in watching these men ply their trade has been unequivocal. Perhaps it is just best, that we continue to be taken in by these supremely gifted athletes without question. I guess, sometimes, ignorance is indeed bliss.