Olympians who could have been IPL stars: Usain Bolt an all-rounder, Yohan Blake a speedster!
While cricket’s place in the Olympics Games' history has so far been limited to a solitary appearance at Paris 1900, the game was the first love for many athletes who went on to become Olympic and world stars.
With the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 starting in the United Arab Emirates from Saturday, here’s a look at some Olympic greats who might have donned an IPL jersey had their careers taken a different path.
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore: A Rajasthan Royal
Born into a royal family in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, a young Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was exposed to multiple sports including cricket, volleyball, basketball and many more. And given the exceptional athlete that Rathore was, the shooter who won an Olympic shooting medal, excelled in most of them.
Though Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore would go on to represent his school in both discus and cricket, it is the latter that had fetched him his first accolade.
“When he was in the ninth standard, we were in Jabalpur and he went to Indore to participate in a cricket tournament,” Rajyavardhan Singh’s mother Manju Rathore told The Tribune.
“That was the first time his photograph appeared in a newspaper. I still have the clipping of the photograph,” she added.
An excellent cricketer, Rathore had even gone for the state trials before he stopped playing as it was hampering his studies.
Rathore’s love for shooting grew in 1998 as he started practising professionally while serving in the military and eventually became the first Indian to win an Olympic silver medal at the 2004 Athens Games.
Rathore was 38 when the inaugural edition of the IPL in 2008 and had he continued playing cricket, the Twenty20 league, known for throwing up surprises, would have had a shooting star. After all, Shane Warne too was 38 when he led Rajasthan Royals to the maiden IPL title.
RCB or KKR for fast bowler Yohan Blake
Hailing from the land that produced some of the finest cricketers across all three formats of the game, Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake’s favourite sport during his childhood wasn’t a surprise. Interestingly, it was during a cricket match that Blake’s true prowess had first come to the fore.
Blake was a fast bowler at St. Jago High School, and it was during one of the matches that the principal observed how quickly he ran to the wicket. Blake was consequently urged to try his luck in sprinting.
And he did. World champion Yohan Blake would go on to become the second-fastest man on earth and a two-time Olympic gold medallist.
Blake never left playing cricket though as he is a fast bowler at the Kingston Cricket Club during athletics’ off-season. He also holds the club bowling record of taking four wickets for just 10 runs.
The 30-year-old Blake hasn’t hidden his intentions of returning to the game either -- especially in the IPL -- post his retirement.
“I would love to feature in franchise cricket; I would even love to own a franchise in India,” Yohan Blake told Mid-Day last year. “And most importantly, play for either Kolkata Knight Riders or the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
“I have two more years left in track and field and then it's cricket for me,” the sprinter had added.
Cricket scholarship for Jamie Dwyer
Having grown up watching the likes of Allan Border, Steve Waugh, David Boon, Merv Hughes and many other Australian cricketers dominating world cricket, field hockey star Jamie Dwyer had little choice but to fall in love with the game.
Dwyer wasn’t just passionate about the game but talented too. As a teenager, he scored an unbeaten 199 and 125 in two A-grade finals in Rockhampton that had fetched him a cricket scholarship at a major country college in Brisbane.
However, with both his parents being former hockey players and cricket unable to offer Dwyer a chance to compete at the Olympic Games, the Australian eventually traded his cricket bat for a hockey stick.
Jamie Dwyer would go on to become a midfield maestro for the Australian hockey team, taking the Kookaburras to the Olympics thrice and ending their gold drought at the Athens 2004 Games.
James Dwyer retired a legend from Australia’s national hockey team following the 2016 Olympics in Rio after scoring 215 goals in 326 appearances.
Can bat, can bowl, can run
Usain Bolt’s early encounter with cricket started with his father’s admiration for West Indies fast bowlers Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh.
However, after playing cricket throughout his school days when it was time to choose a sport, Bolt’s father took the decision of asking his son to step into athletics.
“My father is a huge cricket fan, but when I got to higher secondary, I had two options - cricket or athletics," Usain Bolt recalled during an interview with AFP. “My dad said because of the system in Jamaica, it would be better to take up athletics.
“He said, 'You just have to run fast in athletics while it's tougher to get into the national (cricket) team'," Bolt added.
The decision paid dividends as Bolt went on to become the fastest man on earth. He has won an Olympic gold medal a staggering eight times.
However, the Jamaican returned to fulfil his dream of playing cricket in 2014 when he featured in an exhibition match with India’s 2011 World Cup-winning superstar and IPL fan favourite Yuvraj Singh against him in Bengaluru.
He had scored a memorable match-winning 19-ball 45 that included five sixes, showing traces of the Caribbean pedigree that is so venerated in IPL.
Usain Bolt is good with the ball too. In a charity match in 2009, he uprooted swashbuckling batsman and friend Chris Gayle’s stumps.
"I liked his first delivery to Chris Gayle, short and very surprising - he's an athlete and he loves cricket and football and obviously he can't fit it all in but he looks good,” observed West Indies’ legendary pacer Curtly Ambrose.
“He's good with the bat too — after his six I asked him, 'Where did that come from?' and he said, 'It's all coming back now'. He's a good, decent cricketer,” he recalled.
All Ian Thorpe wanted to do is hit sixes
Unlike Usain Bolt, who shared his dad’s enthusiasm for cricket, Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe was the odd one out in his family.
Ian Thorpe’s father Ken was a batsman in Sydney’s district team and even trumped former Australia captain Bob Simpson in the season’s batting averages.
Ken Thorpe wanted his son to fulfil his cricketing dream and Ian Thorpe was taught to be a traditional batsman but he had other ideas.
“As a kid, all you want is to hit sixes over the fence,” Thorpe told the Asian Age. It’s a trait that sits just right in the IPL.
However, after his initial years of playing cricket in high school, Ian decided to move on from the sport and make a splash.
“I was okay with it … but I wasn’t passionate about it,” Ian Thorpe admitted. “As a kid, I used to watch my father play and it wasn’t a good experience to watch while fielding.”
However, Ian Thorpe’s decision to move away from cricket bore fruit as he went on to win five gold medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 in swimming and become a legend.
But had he been allowed to smash a few sixes, Ian Thorpe perhaps could have been vying for the Orange Cap - the recognition for the top run-getter - in the IPL today.