A wonderful year for India

Vijender Singh’s foray into professional boxing is in keeping with India’s coming of age as an all-round sporting nation no longer content to operate in the shadows of the bigger nations. The world is literally at India’s feet. On that note I would like to wish the readers the very best in 2016.

Vijender Singh   -  Sushil Kumar Verma

It has been a wonderful 12 months in 2015 for Indian sport across disciplines, both as teams and individuals. With this being the year of the World Cup, the cricket team was in even greater focus than normal, but there were glittering highlights elsewhere too, not least on the hockey turf, the tennis and badminton courts, and the golf greens where Anirban Lahiri took giant steps towards establishing himself as a top-notch professional.

Given their form in the preceding triangular series in Australia, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side went into the World Cup with not many giving them a chance of making a mark. But playing refreshingly fearless cricket and basing their attack on a steady diet of well-directed short-pitched bowling, the defending champions stormed into the semifinals where they were stopped in their tracks by Australia, the eventual winners. India’s surging run was as unexpected as it was exciting, the bowlers taking 10 wickets in each of the seven matches before Australia flexed their mighty batting muscle at the SCG.

A few months later, under new Test captain Virat Kohli, India embarked on another exhilarating journey. In Sri Lanka, in Kohli’s first full series as captain, they registered their first series victory in the Emerald Isle since 1993; then, South Africa were swept aside 3-0 in a four-Test series at home, a result that catapulted India to the second spot in the ICC Test rankings. Both triumphs were fashioned in the main by Ravichandran Ashwin, Man of the Series on both occasions and quickly becoming Kohli’s go-to man across conditions. If Ashwin stood tallest on the cricket field, then spearheaded by P. R. Sreejesh, the intrepid goalkeeper, India ended their 33-year drought for a global hockey medal at the Hockey World League Final in Raipur. India conceded a last-gasp equaliser in regulation play in the third-place play-off match, but Sreejesh was brilliant in the penalty shootout to give India their first senior world medal since the 1982 Champions Trophy in Amsterdam.

Away from cricket and hockey, Sania Mirza headlined a stellar show in individual events, winning the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles in the company of Martina Hingis and climbing to the top of the women’s doubles ranking. Capping off a wonderful year, Sania then went on to win the WTA season-ending tournament alongside Hingis and the pair was named the Women’s Doubles World Champions for 2015 by the International Tennis Federation.

Hingis also was one half of another hugely successful partnership with another Indian, the 42-year-old Leander Paes. The duo won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open mixed doubles crowns. With the Rio Olympics pencilled in for 2016, Indian fans have every reason to believe another Olympic tennis medal is in the offing.

Saina Nehwal also climbed to the pinnacle in women’s badminton, even if it was another year where a major proved elusive for the Hyderabad star. Beset by injuries towards the later stages of 2015, she couldn’t replicate her consistency of the first half and faded away towards the end. It was an excellent year overall for Indian badminton, men and women, reigniting hopes of an Olympic medal to go with the bronze Saina won in London in 2012.

A clutch of men from Bengaluru made their presence felt on the world stage. Pankaj Advani continued to add to his already impressive tally of world titles in cue sports while Lahiri set the benchmark for Indian golfers, making it to the President’s Cup and topping the Asian Order of Merit. Elsewhere, Vijender Singh, the Olympic medal-winning boxer, created history by becoming the first Indian pugilist to turn pro and has comfortably won his first three bouts in the United Kingdom.

Vijender’s foray into professional boxing is in keeping with India’s coming of age as an all-round sporting nation no longer content to operate in the shadows of the bigger nations. The world is literally at India’s feet. On that note I would like to wish the readers the very best in 2016.