By Akshay Modi:
In a country as diverse as ours, there is very little common ground that defines our DNA. I can count laziness, corruption, and of course, sports. But the sad fact remains that though we score really high in the first two categories (ranked as the 87th most corrupt nation in the world), we have been unable to stamp the same kind of authority in the sporting arena, which we are so passionate about. For a nation with a population of 1.2 billion people, we have been embarrassingly poor performers in sports as a whole.
It must be noted that our cricket team has always been a world-beating side. In the Davis Cup, India has always gone with a psychological advantage of being virtually assured of a 1-0 lead. Our old war horses, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati, have a 25-2 win record in the tournament. Chess genius Vishwanathan Anand has been a champion in the sport for quite a long while now. Thus we see that we are not a nation devoid of sporting talent. Rather, we have been unable to scout for more talent in our country.
But the year 2010 has been nothing less than revolutionary in Indian sports. A string of impressive performances in various disciplines has certainly put India on the world sporting map. In a year marked by corruption scandals, uneven rainfall, phone-tapping, and Rajinikanth jokes, the Indian sporting story has brought a welcome relief to a nation thirsting for positive news.
The Indian cricket team had a good year, despite a poor show in the T20 world cup. They retained the number 1 rank in test cricket, even beating Australia 2-0 in the 2-match series, and were unbeaten at home. They also proved themselves to be the champions of the sub-continent by winning the Asia Cup.
But it was the events off the field that brought Indian cricket in bad light. The fiasco surrounding the allegations of misappropriation of funds by Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, his unceremonious axing and all the issues surrounding it, including the political repercussions (Shashi Tharoor was made to tender his resignation owing to charges of corruption), captured the imagination of the country. But Team India ensured that the country’s flag in the cricketing world would fly high for the right reasons only, thanks to consistent performances throughout the year.
The hockey team had given a better performance compared to previous years. Things are once again looking bright for the once taken-for-fallen giants. In F-1, India’s second ever driver took the seat, as Karun Chandhok took the wheels behind the Lotus team. Though his stint was short, Vijay Mallya owned team Force India had a good season, finishing 7th.
But the real launch pad, where sports dominated all the headlines, was the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Another event marred by high-level corruption allegations, the Games were, prior to the opening ceremony, seen to be an embarrassment to the nation. When the chips were really down, who comes to our rescue but our athletes! An unmatched performance by them, winning 38 gold, 27 silver and 36 bronze medals, took India to the 2nd place in the medals tally, our best performance in the Games.
The overall success of the CWG is composed of many smaller success stories, which shows tremendous promise for the future. Boxing, archery, shooting and wrestling contributed to the medal tally in a big way. Krishna Punia led India to a 1-2-3 victory in the discus throw event. The women’s 4×400 relay gold is also fresh in our memories.
The Indian contingent continued its good showing a month later in the Guangzhou Asian Games. 64 medals, comprising of 14 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze; once again our best showing in the Asiad. Virdhwal Khade became the first medal winner ever from India in swimming with a bronze. The women’s 4×400 relay team repeated their gold-winning performance. Ronjan Singh Sodhi, a relatively obscure shooter, had a tremendous Games, bagging gold in almost all the possible categories he participated with world records.
Vijender Kumar, the Olympic bronze-medalist boxer, had a good year too. Failing to win the gold at the Commonwealth Games spurred him on to win 2 gold medals at the Asian Games. Along with Akhil Kumar, Vikas Kishan and others, Vijender is to lead India’s charge at the 2012 Olympic Games.
It has been widely said that India is already assured of a gold at London 2012. MC Mary Kom, a mother of two, epitomizes the spirit of India. She has now won five consecutive World Boxing Championships.
The year saw the coming of age of Somdev Devvarman. From helping to script historical wins in the Davis Cup to beating higher-ranked players on the tour, Somdev is showing the promise Indian men’s tennis has been lacking for decades now. The Asian Games gold is another feather in his cap. There is no doubt that young Somdev will only get better.
It has been a memorable year for the other famous Indian tennis celebrity, Sania Mirza. This may not necessarily be because of her exploits on the court, but because she got hitched this year to Pakistani cricket Shoaib Malik (this too not without its controversies). But she did surprise us all with a silver medal in the CWG, showing she still has amazing tennis left in her.
Saina Nehwal had often complained of being confused with Sania. But her recent performances have helped her develop an identity of her own. With four Super Series wins this year, she is the 2nd ranked badminton player in the world. She also won the gold at the CWG. She marked off the disappointment at the Asiad by winning the Hong Kong Super Series, thus ending the year in style.
Ever since Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal at Beijing, shooting has all of a sudden come to the limelight. Leading India’s shooting stars, in a year of mixed results, was Gagan Narang, who certainly had a great year. He was India’s top medal winner in the Commonwealth Games, with 3 golds.
It was perhaps Sushil Kumar who had the best year. With the World Championship win in Moscow and also the CWG gold, he has put India on the world wrestling map.
But if I had to pick my favourite sportsperson of the year, I would go back to cricket. While ordinary mortals like myself can just keep counting, there is a man who has been playing the game for 21 years, and is the holder of most of the records for batsmen the game of cricket can offer. Just when we think that Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has achieved all that he could, he proves us wrong with another gem of an innings and another record. 200 runs in an ODI was inconceivable before the Master conquered this Mount Everest of cricket. And now completing 50 test centuries. I have now stopped guessing.
But as things are, the year wasn’t all that rosy. There have been unflattering moments too. The controversy surrounding the Indian women’s hockey time, the alleged sexual harassment, shocked the nation into disbelief. Also, many weightlifters brought shame to the nation after testing positive for banned substances.
Thus we see that Indian sports is a mixed bag at the moment. We are performing well even in those disciplines where we have really underperformed in the past. Things are really looking up for us now. Though we cannot call ourselves sporting superpowers yet, we do have the potential and the spirit to be there. All it takes now is that “extra push”.