When I read the news of Jonah Lomu's death today morning, the immediate emotion I felt was shock, then sadness... and then, my mind wandered to the 1990s, when the big man was in his pomp, scoring tries at will and bringing the sport of rugby to the spotlight.
Growing up in India, cricket was your obvious in-your-face-you-have-got-to-play-it-and-follow-it-religiously sport. While the other obvious ones like football, tennis, Formula One and more also got coverage, rugby was not a sport that many Indians followed, even the die-hard sports lovers (hey, I'm a die-harder sports fan).
But the good thing about the 90s, in sporting terms, was that the sports channels on TV – admittedly not a lot of them – was not India-centric. So, you did not have a channel or three only dedicated to cricket, with the others primarily showing sports that only Indian fans are interested in.
ESPN, as it was called then, would show Sports Center, the episodes from the US, which meant you could follow all the American sports, particularly the NBA. There were plenty of NBA matches shown as well, with my favourite team – Houston Rockets (remember with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler) -- particularly good at that time.
You also had various other sports shown live, because it was a generic, we-will-broadcast -whatever-live-coverage-is-there-to-all-territories kind of situation. Thanks to that, we did get to see a fair bit of rugby – way more than what is shown now in India – as well.
Rugby is such a glorious spectator sport isn't it – there is power, finesse, skill, excitement and of course that I-don't-know-who-is-going-to-come-under-a-thunderous-tackle excitement which makes this sport cannot-take-your-eyes-off-it-able.
Lomu was the rugby player who has all that and more – he was built like a tank, had the pace, skill and finesse to swerve away from any tackle and also the brute force to just keep running forward, even with a few opponents on his back, trying to bring him down (you know, kind of like in those movies, when the big man just keeps running as one opponent after another jumps on his back to try and stop him).
Watching Lomu play for the All Blacks in the 1990s turned me into a rugby fan, and I still follow the sport a fair bit to this day, even with the criminal lack of coverage in India.
Who can, after all, forget that stunning four-try effort against England at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, capped by that unbelievable solo try, when he picked up an errant pass, swatted away one England defender, and then the other, and then thundered over the final one (Mike Catt, if I'm not mistaken) as if he wasn't even there.
Here it is
You just knew, no matter what the match, if Lomu got the ball on the wing, he would score a try. You could almost sense the panic amongst the opposition defenders every time Lomu ran at them at full tilt, because on his day, when he was in full flow, he was not near-unstoppable, he was unstoppable.
Such was his skill, that the superman of rugby would have given the actual Superman a run for his money. An exaggeration, of course, but such is the sense of awe that Lomu created and brought to rugby.
Imagine playing so wonderfully well, even after being diagnosed with a serious kidney problem, which eventually got him in the end.
One can only imagine how great Lomu would have really been – as if he wasn't one already – had he not suffered from the kidney problems which eventually forced him to retire from the sport. Because nobody has and nobody will have the same impact that Lomu had or create that sense of excitement that Lomu could.
Rugby is a poorer sport without Lomu in it, but for all of us rugby fans, we will have those memories, memories of him running past defenders like they were mere flies, bothering him as he went about doing what he was born to do – score tries.