Shiva Keshavan, the Indian luge rider, will carry the hopes of his country when the Winter Olympics open in Vancouver on Friday. The pity is that while he will be representing India in his fourth Games in Canada many of the cricket-crazy sports fans back home have still not heard of him.
The India media have never given Keshavan enough coverage for him to become a household name. His world must feel as cold as the atmosphere in which he showcases his skills. Even when he broke his sled just before leaving for North America it was left to a group of five of India's finest lawyers, Kottayan Venugopal, Abhishek Singhvi, Rohinton Nariman, Mukul Rohatgi and Nageswara Rao, to bail him out. They organised new equipment that cost them Rs 450,000 (Dh35,300) and Keshavan made the trip with new hope of returning home with honours.
Gopal Sankaranarayan, another lawyer, learned about Keshavan's problem and approached his colleagues at the Supreme Court to help the 28-year-old. "I am immensely grateful for the support I have received from these gentlemen. I am also deeply honoured to have the encouragement of such an eminent group of lawyers as I set off on my fourth Olympic campaign. I hope to make them and the country proud," Keshavan told The Times of India.
He is delighted to be at the Games, but the help provided could also put him under added pressure as the money will weigh heavily on his mind as he goes about trying to beat the best in the business. But his success or failure should be accepted sportingly. Success at sport is not the same as trying to have a good day at the office. The element of swinging fortunes is critical and destiny invariably plays a role.
India's sports fans should rejoice whether or not Keshavan succeeds. If a country has a sportsman who makes it to four Olympics, it has to be time for celebration. But there is a long road ahead and India's Winter Olympics story should not end with Keshavan. His exploits should help open up new avenues where participants are encouraged to the hilt. Winter sports may only be possible in the north of India but the boost should be well-rounded in that area.
The right sort of exposure can come about only with the right people in administrative and coaching positions. And with a strong media plan, sponsors could find it worthwhile to enter a new and exciting world. Keshavan could well become some kind of a brand ambassador. The inspiration factor could make a big difference. I remember Dean Jones, the former Australia batsman, telling me how he went to coaching camps showing youngsters his baggy green cap.
"Look, this is what I could achieve. You can do the same," he used to tell young cricketers. That went down well and Jones went home convinced that he had spread the right kind of message. There is no point in non-cricket associations complaining about how cricket is contributing to their stunted growth. For all its evils, cricket is quite well organised and other sports should get over their self pity and see the bigger picture.
It may be a good idea to approach cricket players to promote other sports. Most cricketers have experienced struggles themselves. India's lone Olympic gold medallist from a non-team sport, Abhinav Bindra, recently spoke about how cricket great Sachin Tendulkar wanted to know in detail about his last step towards winning the 10m air rifle title in Beijing two years ago. Virender Sehwag is on television every day promoting this month's Hockey World Cup in New Delhi. And captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's off-cricket interests are too big for us not to believe that he would not give other sports a helping hand.
Most cricketers have needed help at some time and they have not forgotten it. Even Tendulkar needed sponsorship to make his first trip to England and when someone suggested that Kapil Dev visit Australia to be trained before he became a great cricketer for India, an actor called Pran announced he would pay for Kapil's trip. Last year I was thrilled to do a story on how the former India wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer gave away some of his precious memorabilia for charity.
Back to Keshavan. "Cricket is big in India, but that does not mean everyone must only play cricket," he says. "I may not win a medal, but I take a lot of satisfaction from the fact that I have paved the path for the new generation of athletes who want to make a name in winter sports. I hope the country notices my achievements." India should, India must. Clayton Murzello is the Group Sports Editor of the Indian newspaper Midday.