The euphoria in the Eden Gardens in the run-up to the "Sachin" series has been enormous and the warmth that the extraordinary cricketer has received has been well deserved. The champion has been at the heart of Indian cricket for well over two decades, and this has been long overdue. However, at the same time, a silent warrior is about to battle through one of his most important world championships ever.
Viswanathan Anand has been the country's foremost sportsman for well over two decades. He is a five-time world chess champion and one of the legends of the game. He has been carrying the Indian flag high for well over two decades. Anand's achievements include the receipt of the first Khel Ratna award and the Chess Oscar innumerable times. He is the only player who has won the World Chess Championships in all formats of the game. Even as we celebrate Tendulkar's success, Anand has been the beacon of hope for the rest of the sports in the country.
Chess is played in more than 120 countries across the world - unlike cricket, chess is a universal sport. More than any other sport, it has served as a beacon of socio-economic might. The Russians used their supremacy to extend their intellectual clout even during the post-USSR period. They were unstoppable, until the young Anand pierced through the dominance of both Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov in the early 1990s. He continued his quest and eventually displaced Vladimir Kramnik, who was expected to follow the other Ks to the summit of chess. Consider that Anand did all of this without any institutional support, and his achievement becomes all the more grand.
In the 1980s and 1990s, chess was barely present in India. Anand was the first grand master in the country; there were but a handful of international masters when he was challenging Kasparov and Karpov in the early 1990s. The impact of Anand's rise in the game on Indian chess has been nothing short of phenomenal. Today, India has had 34 grand masters, 76 international masters and hundreds of FIDE masters. India is now ranked eighth in the world, with an average rating of 2664, according to the latest FIDE rankings for countries. In addition, numerous Indians have won major international events, including the World Youth Chess Championship. All of this is attributed to the inspiration that Anand has provided over the years. The trigger and hope that Anand provided have been remarkable - from being a nonentity in the early 1980s, India is on the verge of being considered one of the best chess-playing nations today.
Apart from his extraordinary achievements, Anand has been one of the greatest ambassadors for India in the global arena. He has been often described as one of chess' most gentlemanly world champions ever. This attribute has been clearly visible at various points in Anand's career.
Take, for instance, the way he handled the World Championship defeat to Karpov in Lausanne. Anand had gone through a gruelling qualifying campaign and lost to Karpov on tie-breaks. The world recognised that this was unfair, considering that Karpov was directly seeded into the final and was much fresher than Anand, who had gone through the qualifiers. Anand, his usual self, didn't make a fuss; he merely went on to win numerous world championships in the years that followed. In a game such as chess, famous for geniuses behaving erratically, Anand was a champion who had a smile to show to everyone at any point of time during his career. He has served as a perfect ambassador, unlike many of his contemporaries in the game.
Even as we celebrate the legacy of Tendulkar, we should also appreciate the longevity and brilliance of Anand. There have been very few people who can match him in terms of his global supremacy in the game, and India has never produced such a world beater in a game that is played by millions. His journey is as inspiring as Tendulkar's - in fact, in some ways, it is even more so, considering the obscurity of the game when he started playing it.
Give Anand his due, embrace the King of the 64 Squares, and understand that he is as precious to India as cricket's Little Master.
The writer tweets @Sriram316
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