Sportstar Aces Awards: Achievers take centre stage

A galaxy of sport stars got together for the Sportstar Aces Awards in Mumbai on Thursday.

Manu Bhaker receives Sportstar Aces award from Anjali Bhagwat in Best Young Athelete (Girls) category.   -  Vivek Bendre

Prakash Padukone was honoured for lifetime achievement while Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah shared the Sportsman of the Year (cricket) accolade at the Sportstar Aces Awards ceremony supported by Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy, in association with MRF at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai on Thursday.

As it happened: Sportstar Aces Awards

It was to warm, heartfelt applause that Padukone received his award before an audience of stars on a grand evening. “This is an absolute fanboy moment,” confessed Sunil Gavaskar, chairman of the awards jury, as he fêted Padukone on stage. “For me you’re the greatest Indian sportsman ever. You paved the way for the badminton generation we now see.”

READ| Badminton legend Prakash Padukone wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Padukone, while being typically self-effacing, hailed the growth of Indian badminton. “I don’t think I deserve that much of praise. There are so many who’ve done so well. But I accept the award with all humility,” he said, before he was joined on stage by wife Ujjala, daughter Deepika and son-in-law Ranveer Singh. “Around 10-15 years ago, Indian players would look at the draw for major tournaments and worry about facing the Chinese and Indonesians. Today, it’s the other way around.”

The Sportstar Aces Awards, supported by the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and MRF, recognised the wonderful sporting year Kohli and Bumrah had enjoyed. “As a child, I used to buy Sportstar every month for the posters. So, getting this award fromSportstar is like reviving childhood memories,” Kohli said as he received his award, in absentia, from Shane Warne.

The former Australian leg-spinner and Rajasthan Royals brand ambassador hailed the fact that Kohli placed primacy on Test cricket. “Virat is a very inspiring cricketer all around the world. He stands up for what he believes in and speaks his heart,” he added.

READ| Sportstar Aces Awards: Kohli, Bumrah joint winners

It was a golden 2018 for Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, who became the most successful pace trio in a calendar year in Test cricket. “That an Indian pace trio broke the record of the great West Indies pacers is a very proud thing for us,” said Bumrah. “We wanted to win abroad. For that, you have to have a good bowling attack.”

The awards, which were previously conferred between 1994 and 2003 in their first avatar, were revived as Sportstar completed 40 years in 2018.

Alongside Gavaskar on the awards jury were sporting legends M. M. Somaya, Anju Bobby George and Anjali Bhagwat, and N. Ram, chairman of The Hindu Publishing Group.

READ| Sportstar Aces Awards: Pujara wins Chairman's Choice Award

Cheteshwar Pujara became the first recipient of the Chairman’s Choice Award, for his exploits in the historic Test series win for India in Australia. “Pujara is the last of a dwindling tribe of pure Test batsmen,” said Ram. “He has shown that he has all the credentials to step into Rahul Dravid’s shoes.”

Pujara spoke of his parents’ role in moulding his life. “I lost my mother to cancer at 17. When I was young, she told me, ‘You’ll have a great career, but it’s important to be a nice human being. It hardly matters whether you are famous or not.’ My father has been a strict coach, but I’m grateful he has been there for me.”

Sunil Chhetri, P. V. Sindhu, Neeraj Chopra, M. C. Mary Kom, Hima Das, Smriti Mandhana, A. Sharath Kamal, Bajrang Punia, Manu Bhaker and Deepa Malik were some of the other awardees on the occasion, an event graced by sporting greats of the likes of Viswanathan Anand, Gagan Narang, Mithali Raj and Kamlesh Mehta, and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, whose state was declared the best for the promotion of sports.

Ayon Sengupta, editor, Sportstar, welcomed the awardees, while N. Murali, chairman, Kasturi and Sons Ltd, also addressed the gathering.