In 1996, David Foster Wallace wrote a great essay on tennis player Michael Joyce, and the sacrifices and virtues required to become a great athlete. The piece made a splash at the time because Wallace — and I’m over-simplifying here — basically said Joyce, like most athletes, was, um, stupid. Or as he put it:
We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up close and personal” profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence.
No, the genius of Sehwag lies in his near-yogic ability to live in the moment, to separate one ball from the other, to purge his mind at the moment of impact, of useless meta-information like his innings score or the match score or the state of his average, or his place in the history of cricket…The game he’s playing is everything and within that game, the ball he’s about to face. Our carefree buccaneer, if only we had the eyes to see, is modern cricket’s Zen Master.