One of the many fun ways to spend lazy winter mornings towards the end of the year is making lists (not ones related to Christmas shopping, New Year parties or what one wants from Santa Claus). Which, for example, were the top five movies of the year? The top five TV shows? The top five songs? The top five Donald Trump quotes? The top five reasons why demonetization is totally awesome?
While we’ll let that last one go with the same steely eyed determination with which a top batsman deals with deadly outswingers, what we can’t resist is going after the juicy half-volley—drawing up a list of the top five Indian sporting achievements.
5. Aditi Ashok
The 18-year-old golfer swung her way into the spotlight at the 2016 Olympic Games, where she remained in contention for a medal till the halfway stage. But those two special days in Rio were just a small part of what has been a spectacular 12 months which saw her win back-to-back titles on the Ladies European Tour (in Gurgaon, near Delhi, and Qatar), finish second on the Ladies European Tour Order of Merit, and win their Rookie of the Year award. The great thing about her performances are that they seem like the beginning of something special rather than the icing on a cake.
4. Virat Kohli
Over the last few months, the most important story on the Indian cricket landscape has been the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s Goliath vs Goliath battle against the Lodha committee report in the Supreme Court. The only reason that battle has been overshadowed occasionally is the monotonously gargantuan rate at which Virat Kohli has scored runs: 1,215 in Tests (at an average of 75.93), 739 in One Day Internationals (average, 92.37) and 641 in T20 Internationals (average, 106.83). The Virat Kohli vs Sachin Tendulkar debate is fast becoming irrelevant.
3. Bengaluru FC
To say that the Bengaluru FC has taken Indian football by storm would be an understatement, like saying Diego Maradona was a decent footballer. In their three years of existence, the club has won two I-League titles (missing out narrowly in 2015 to Mohun Bagan) and built a fanatic fan base, but it was their run to the finals of the Asian Football Confederation Cup earlier this year that caught the country’s imagination. In Indian football, where things swing between extreme administrative incompetence and the manufactured glitz of the Indian Super League, the Bengaluru FC’s rise truly comes as a breath of fresh air.
2. Thangavelu Mariyappan
His journey from an accident victim (hit by a drunk bus driver) at age 5 to the top step of the podium at the Rio Paralympics at age 21 has been well documented. While those achievements are superhuman, more important was the fact that his achievements (and those of Devendra Jhajharia, Deepa Malik and Varun Singh Bhati, his fellow medallists at Rio) shoved disability sport into the limelight in a country where the disabled are largely treated like second-class citizens.
1. P.V. Sindhu
The lasting memory from Rio 2016—an event which was largely disappointing keeping in mind India’s trajectory in recent Olympics—will be that of 21-year-old P.V. Sindhu, yelling, screaming, pumping her fists, taking us on a magical, unscripted, emotional roller coaster on her way to a silver medal. By the time she collapsed on her back, having lost the final to Spain’s Carolina Marin, she had left an entire country exhausted—and an entire generation inspired to treat badminton as more than just an after-school pastime.
Those who missed making it to my list: Deepa Malik (Paralympics shot put silver), Sakshi Malik (Olympic wrestling bronze), Vijender Singh (extended his pro-boxing win-loss record to 8-0), Sania Mirza (rose to No.1 in women’s doubles tennis), the junior hockey team (won the Junior Hockey World Cup), Ravichandran Ashwin (the top-ranked all-rounder in world cricket), Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (the first Indian to play in the Europa League) and the World Cup-winning kabaddi team.
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for nearly 20 years, now runs an events space, The 248 Collective, in Goa. He tweets at @deepakyen