2017’s top 10 — India’s best: How they picked up the gauntlet

Sportstar celebrates the amazing champions who made 2017 very special for India.

The summer of 2017 began with a sporting fairytale in India. Little Aizawl FC, who had been relegated from the I-League the previous season before being reinstated, claimed the title in one of the greatest underdog stories in Indian sport. Khalid Jamil’s men kept going when everyone predicted they would run out of steam, edging Mohun Bagan by a single point. It all boiled down to the final day of the season, when Aizawl held on for a nervous draw against Shillong Lajong to spark delirious scenes in the fog at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium. Aizawl’s dash to the title, ahead of the might of Bagan, East Bengal and Bengaluru FC, was a victory for teamwork, discipline, and extraordinary spirit.

Jamil left for greener pastures afterwards, as did a number of the players, but Aizawl and its supporters will forever have this one season to look back on.

BFC may have endured disappointment in the I-League but Albert Roca’s men won the Federation Cup and acquitted themselves well on the continent, reaching the Inter-Zonal Final of the AFC Cup.

Glorious year for badminton

This was a glorious year for Indian badminton, with Kidambi Srikanth storming back from injury to secure four BWF World Super Series titles. The 24-year-old admits he was uncertain at one point about his recovery and comeback, but he need not have worried. Srikanth won the Indonesia, Australian, Denmark and French Opens, rising to No. 2 in the World rankings in the first week of November. P.V. Sindhu finished the year with defeat to Akane Yamaguchi in the Dubai World Super Series Finals, but this was a remarkable period for India’s top woman shuttler, who proved her silver medal in Rio was no flash in the pan.

The 22-year-old made rapid gains, winning the Syed Modi International Championships in January, before pocketing two Super Series titles — at the India Open, where she defeated old foe Carolina Marin in the final, and the Korea Open. She lost in the finals in Dubai and Hong Kong and in the semifinals at the French Open, performances that must not be forgotten. However, Sindhu’s year will be remembered best for her epic clash with the indefatigable Nozomi Okuhara in the final of the World Championships. Sindhu may have lost but her efforts in a gruelling, edge-of-the-seat contest will live long in the memory.

In cricket, the Indian men’s and women’s teams lost showpiece finals in the space of a month in the UK, but 2017 was a fine year for both sets of players.

Capturing the imagination

Mithali Raj and her side captured the imagination of the country with their run to the title clash of the Women’s World Cup. Captain, leader, and arguably the team’s finest batswoman, Mithali led from the front as India came within a whisker of the trophy.

The team returned home to a hero’s welcome, having managed to spark enormous interest in women’s cricket with its deeds.

Virat Kohli’s men stumbled against Pakistan in the final of the Champions Trophy — a result few predicted — but it must not take the gloss off a period of sustained dominance in the sub-continent. India prevailed over Australia in an ill-tempered Test series, beat Lanka home and away, and capped off the year with an eighth successive bilateral ODI series win.

Kohli missed the ODIs against Sri Lanka but still finished 2017 as the world’s leading scorer in the format, aggregating 1460 runs from 26 matches at an average of 76.84 and a strike rate of 99.11. Rohit Sharma (21 matches, 1293 runs, 71.83 average, 99.46 strike rate) is not far behind, having hammered the third double hundred of his one-day career against Sri Lanka in Mohali.

In Tests, Cheteshwar Pujara was India’s stand-out batsman. Meanwhile Ravichandran Ashwin became the quickest bowler to take 300 wickets in Test history, reaching the mark in only his 54th match to surpass Dennis Lillee’s record.

India’s hockey teams won the men’s and women’s Asia Cups, while M.C. Mary Kom returned to the ring in triumphant fashion, striking gold at the Asian Women’s Boxing Championships.

The relentless Pankaj Advani bagged his 18th world title, recording a World Championship double — back-to-back no less — in snooker and billiards in Doha. There was much to cheer about in 2017, for Advani and all fans of Indian sport.

P. V. Sindhu: A satisfying 12 months

K. Srikanth: Flexing muscle on the world stage

Mary Kom: This mom still packs a punch

Pankaj Advani: Smooth transition, sensational success

Mithali Raj: 20 years on, the fire still burns

Indian men's cricket team: Kohli & Co keeps fans' interest on the boil

Indian men's hockey team: Superior position in the continent

Indian women's hockey team: Asia Cup win was the high-point

Bengaluru FC: Making its mark in Asia

Aizawl FC: The club that slayed the Goliaths