The Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam notwithstanding, this has been an astonishingly good year for Indian sport. At the CWG itself, India finished with a best-ever medals haul in a multi-discipline, mega event. As if to prove that this was no fluke, the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, that followed saw a similarly impressive showing.
For good measure, the Indian cricket team reached the top of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test rankings, with at least three players—Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar—touching peak form and contributing substantially to this rise to pre-eminence.
Tendulkar was to scale new records too. He became the first man to score a double century in a One Day International at the start of the year, and before the sun sets on 2010, has also scored his 50th Test ton to spark fresh comparisons with Sir Donald Bradman and a renewed countrywide clamour for the Bharat Ratna to be awarded to him.
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This upsurge in performance shows that while the country still lacks administrative accountability, and is still way behind others in training/coaching facilities and sports medicine expertise, it is not short on talent.
Stepping into the new decade, this is a most heartening development.
My best Indian sports 11 of the year:
The era of superstar wrestlers seems to be back, though even Dara Singh might concede that Sushil Kumar is the real McCoy. A bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics marked Kumar out as a precocious talent, and this year he validated this rating by winning a gold at the World Championships in the 66kg freestyle, and a gold again at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. He skipped the Asian Games because of injuries, but has set his sights on the London Olympics.
He had his most productive season in 21 years of international cricket, scoring 1,564 Test runs with seven hundreds, the last of which was his 50th. As if this was not impressive enough, he also became the first man to score 200 in a One Day International (ODI). His form and footwork belied his 37 years, giving rise to speculation about how long he would continue. By all accounts, he has got his second wind. If this is what it means in terms of runs and tons, who dare ask him to quit?
She could lay claim to the title of India’s supermom. Two of her five world boxing titles—one of these won in 2010—have come after she delivered twins. Being a boxer is unusual enough for an Indian woman, but what sets her apart is the hardship she had to overcome. An impoverished childhood would have stymied the ambition of most people; in Mary Kom it kindled a fire to excel and achieve.
Indian shooters have been on a roll in the past year. Among the rising stars was this slender lady from Kolhapur, who became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the World Championships in Munich in the 50m Rifle Prone. She couldn’t quite match the feat in the Commonwealth Games, but a silver and a bronze proved her credentials.
There is not much that can be said about Viswanathan Anand which is not already known. In many ways, he has been India’s most dependable performer over the past two decades. Even so, his triumph in the 2010 World Championship over Veselin Topalov was melodramatic, edge-of-the-seat stuff. Just to reach the venue in Iceland, Anand had to undertake a 40-hour bus journey after volcanic ash made several flights impossible. The final went neck-and-neck till 5.5-5.5 before Anand spotted a Topalov error and went for the kill. In the first week of November, Anand beat Magnus Carlsen to regain the No. 1 ranking and all was well with the chess world once more.
Two big tennis stories this year pertained to the exploits of the “Samjhauta Express” duo —India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi—and the patch-up of the “Indian Express” of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. In between these was perhaps the bigger story—of Somdev Devvarman’s rise to eminence. Devvarman won the singles gold at the CWG, and the singles and doubles golds at the Asiad. He also broke into the top 100 in the ATP rankings, which holds out promise for the future on the pro circuit too.
Considered by many to be Abhinav Bindra’s gofer, Gagan Narang showed himself the hero this year, especially in the Commonwealth Games, winning as many as four shooting golds. Before this splurge of medals in Delhi, he had a bronze medal in the World Championships in Munich and wound up the year with a silver at the Asian Games. Narang says he is yet to reach his peak, and is aiming for an Olympic gold. The future beckons.
His initials spell out his very, very special talent, but even that description would be mild for his sublime form this season, especially when helping his team out of a hole—as he did most remarkably against Australia at Mohali to help win the Test. A stylist who has drawn oohs and aahs from the sternest critics, it is Laxman’s unflappable temperament and indomitable spirit that have marked him out this year.
Three Super Series titles plus gold at the Commonwealth Games made it an extraordinary year for the Haryanvi shuttler who has made Hyderabad her home. Dedication, discipline and a burning ambition to be the best in the world oozes from her body language on court and cut-and-dried words off it. Just 20 and now ranked world No. 4, the top slot seems a cinch if Nehwal can retain her form.
His Mad Hatter ways have a method about them that experts have now begun to recognize as the mark of a genius. As always, Sehwag scored his runs at stunning speed, leaving bowlers and fielders from all teams demoralized. Having finished 2009 with that spectacular 293 at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) against Sri Lanka, he showed that his appetite for runs remained unsatiated, notching up more than 1,000 runs with five centuries this year to lead India’s charge to the No.1 ranking.
When he cribbed and laid blame on the referee after failing to win gold at the Commonwealth Games, Vijender Singh’s critics were quick to decry his tantrums. It was alleged that he had worked too hard on becoming a star in tinseltown and had become soft in the ring. But at the Asian Games, Singh recovered his composure and form to show his best, beating two-time champion Abbos Atoev for the gold to prove that the fire still rages in him.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at email@example.com