Indian stars: Signing off 2016 with a promise of brighter 2017

If one were to take a micro view of the performances of Indian sportspersons, what stands out is the growing self-belief of those pursuing lesser-followed sports in the country. Thanks to the increased financial support from the government, and from the corporate sector.

Backed by the results, Virat Kohli’s captaincy in Test cricket also attracted obvious praise. more importantly, Kohli appeared to have matured as a cricketer and as a leader, with captaincy mellowing him down to the necessary extent.   -  PTI

P. V. Sindhu (in pic, with Sakshi Malik) clearly stole the thunder in the second half of the year. The week in Rio was the best of her career. Meanwhile, Sakshi, an unknown quantity for most sports lovers in the country, became the darling of the nation after wining a bronze medal.   -  PTI

The year 2016 saw several performers and path-breakers. Some lived up to the expectations, a few others exceeded them. From popular sports like cricket to not-so-followed gymnastics, there was something to cheer about. But this hasn’t happened too often in the past.

In team disciplines like cricket and hockey, there was plenty to feel excited about. India dominating the home Test series against New Zealand and England did not come as a surprise, but the number of performers contributing to the triumphs was more than just an encouraging sign.

The triumph in the junior men’s World Cup was obviously the high point of Indian hockey this year. India was not expected to prevail over teams like Australia and European rivals such as England and surprise-finalist Belgium. But the team picked itself up at the end of the league phase and showed character when the situation demanded.

Across the country’s sporting spectrum, cricketers like Virat Kohli, R. Ashwin, badminton player P. V. Sindhu, wrestler Sakshi Malik, cueist Pankaj Advani, chess Grandmasters P. Hari Krishna, D. Harika, golfer Aditi Ashok and gymnast Dipa Karmakar formed the galaxy of ‘shining stars’ this year.

Kohli, with his consistency in all three formats, caught the eye of the cricket pundits. Some even jumped the gun, calling him a ‘great’, while some others maintained that he was a legend in the making.

Backed by the results, his captaincy in Test cricket also attracted obvious praise. More importantly, Kohli appeared to have matured as a cricketer and as a leader, with captaincy mellowing him down to the necessary extent.

Ashwin, carrying the expectations of the country, showed remarkable persistence in emerging as the world’s No. 1 in his craft. He was expected to trouble New Zealand and England at home, but the year saw him reaffirm the label of being a ‘handy’ all-rounder in the longer format of the game, both at home and away.

In individual sport, Sindhu clearly stole the thunder in the second half of the year. The week in Rio was the best of her career. Her journey to the final at the Olympics was a tale of fierce grit and some spectacular effort. The final against the World No. 1, World champion and the eventual Olympic champion, Carolina Marin of Spain, attracted more television audience in the country than other events in the year.

Sindhu went on to win her first World Super Series title and reached a career-high ranking. A semifinalist in the World Super Series Finals, Sindhu made up for the absence of Saina Nehwal from top-flight badminton due to a knee-injury that needed surgery.

Sakshi Malik, an unknown quantity for most sports lovers in the country, became the darling of the nation for a few days before Sindhu won the silver medal.

Sakshi’s medal came at a time when India seemed resigned to the prospect of returning empty-handed from the Games. From the brink of defeat, Sakshi scripted a fairytale comeback to snatch the bronze that made her the toast of the nation. A wrestler from rural Haryana winning a medal for India lifted the spirit of the nation and made her a household name overnight.

Before Sakshi and Sindhu gave the country medals of different hues, it was Dipa who captured the nation’s imagination. She improved upon her last-place finish in the list of eight qualifiers for the final in vault and produced her best to end up fourth. This awesome talent from Tripura had grown in stature with her final vault in Rio and the nation celebrated her performance like few other fourth-place finishes in the Olympic Games.

 

Advani added a record 16th World title this year by winning the World billiards (150-up format) in Bangalore in December. In terms of world titles, Advani has the biggest collection in the country. What more, he is not done yet!

In chess, Hari and Harika broke into the World’s Top-10 this year. As a result, on November 1, for the first time two Indians in their respective sections were among the world’s elite. Viswanathan Anand and Hari were in the open Top-10 list, like K. Humpy and Harika in the women’s list.

Aditi Ashok, 18, not only made history by becoming the country’s first lady golfer to qualify for the Olympics when the sport made a comeback but also went on to win her first Ladies European Tour (LET) title by claiming the Hero Indian Open. She added the Qatar Ladies Open title to finish second in the Order of Merit. This ‘Rookie of the Year’ also gained the LPGA Tour card for 2017 after making the grade through the final qualifying tournament.

Apart from these, there were individual international winners in various sporting disciplines, much like the years gone by.

If one were to take a micro view of the performances, what stands out is the growing self-belief of those pursuing lesser-followed sports in the country. Thanks to the increased financial support from the government, and from the corporate sector, performances are improving.

Similarly, the medal-or-nothing mentality of the Indian audience is also showing a shift for the better. The way the country embraced Dipa’s performance and the accolades were showered on the gritty performer proved that the emotional connect of our sports lovers with those representing the country in the Olympic Games is very much alive.

Even Abhinav Bindra’s farewell performance in the Olympics received the dignity and respect it deserved.

In the coming years, these shining stars promise to usher in brighter times. Sindhu, in particular, has it in her to break new ground. The dynamics in world badminton among the ladies is changing. Since Sindhu has beaten almost all the new aspirants for the World No. 1 crown, she has the confidence to perform at the highest level.

Aditi can be expected to add to her titles and hoist India’s flag at the major events of the year. No doubt, the teenager lacks the experience but has the spirit to match the best on her day.

Overall, some exciting times await us in the New Year.