Goodbye, champions!

The year 2021 witnessed deaths of several members in the sports fraternity, be it the legendary Indian sprinter Milkha Singh passing away after a month long battle with COVID-19 or the demise of several Indian hockey Olympic medallists such as M. K. Kaushik, Ravinder Pal Singh and Keshav Datt. Here are some of the players, athletes and coaches who left us in 2021.

FILE PHOTO: The Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh left an indelible imprint on the sporting history of India.   -  THE HINDU

Feb 7: Akhtar Ali (Tennis): Indian tennis legend Akhtar Ali passed away on February 7, 2021 (aged 81), following prolonged health issues. Born on July 5, 1939, Akhtar tasted success in 1955 when he became the National junior champion and reached the junior Wimbledon semifinals. Having represented India in eight Davis Cup ties between 1958 and 1964, Akhtar became the national coach from 1966 to 1993, training players such as the Amritraj brothers, Leander Paes and Somdev Devvarman.

M.K. Kaushik   -  Sushil Kumar Verma


May 8: Maharaj Krishan Kaushik (Hockey): Olympic gold medallist and former India hockey coach Maharaj Krishan Kaushik passed away at a city hospital on May 8 (aged 66). A member of the hockey team that won gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, he won the Arjuna Award in 1998. Kaushik coached both the men’s and women’s teams, assisting them to podium finishes at the Asian Games and Asia Cup, thereby receiving the Dronacharya Award in 2002.

May 8: Ravinder Pal Singh (Hockey): Member of the 1980 Moscow Olympics winning squad, former Indian hockey player Ravinder Pal Singh passed away in Lucknow on May 8 (aged 61). Born in Sitapur, Ravinder Pal is a two time Olympian. He was part of the Olympics gold medal-winning team in 1980 at the age of 20 and went on to take part in the 1984 LA Olympics, where India finished fifth.

May 12: V. Chandrasekar (TT): Three-time national table tennis champion and Arjuna awardee V. Chandrasekar, aged 63, passed away in Chennai on May 12 due to COVID-19 related complications. His major achievement, besides winning nationals, was reaching the semifinals of the 1982 Commonwealth Championships. He was instrumental in guiding the Indian men’s team from Group II to I in the 1983 World Championships in Tokyo. In his coaching career, Chandrasekar had groomed many top-level players including S. Raman and G. Sathiyan to name a few.

May 21: Om Prakash Bhardwaj (Boxing): First from the boxing discipline to receive the Dronacharya award in 1985, legendary boxing coach Om Prakash Bhardwaj passed away following prolonged illness and old-age issues at 82 on May 21. Having coached the national team for several years up to the early 1990s, Bhardwaj played a decisive role in starting the boxing course at NIS Patiala in 1975. Under his training, Indian boxers won medals in Asian championships, Asian, South Asian and Commonwealth Games.

May 21: Sakti Mazumdar (Boxing): Indian boxer Sakti Mazumdar, who participated in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, died after suffering a heart attack in Kolkata (aged 90). Competing in the 1952 Olympics men’s flyweight event, Mazumdar won against Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Cua by walkover before being eliminated by Han Soo-ann of South Korea.

Jun 11: Surat Singh Mathur (Athletics): Surat Singh Mathur, the first athlete from independent India to complete a marathon at the Olympics, passed away in Delhi on June 11. He was 90 years old. Mathur participated in the marathon race at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and was placed 52nd with a timing of 2:58.92s. Before the Olympics, the Delhi-born Mathur, who was a two-time national champion, also won bronze at the first-ever Asian Games in 1951.

Jun 18: Milkha Singh (Athletics): Indian sprint legend Milkha Singh, aged 91, fondly known as the ‘Flying Sikh’, breathed his last on June 18 after a month-long battle with COVID-19. Having won the 200m and 400m events in the 1958 National Games of India, Milkha went on to win gold in the same events at the Asian Games. He became the first gold medallist of independent India at the Commonwealth Games when he won the 400m competition (440 yards at that time). He is most remembered for missing an Olympic medal in the 400m event at the 1960 Rome Olympics by one-hundredth of a second and finishing fourth with a time of 45.73 seconds. Recovering from the disappointment of not winning a medal, Milkha won gold in the 400m and 4x400m relay at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta. However, his 4x400m relay team failed to make it big in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Honoured with Padma Shri in 1959, Milkha and his daughter co-wrote his autobiography ‘The Race of My Life’, which inspired the movie ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, a biographical film on Milkha’s life.

Keshav Chandra Dutt   -  THE HINDU


Jul 7: Keshav Datt (Hockey): Two-time Olympic gold medallist in hockey, Keshav Datt aged 95, died on July 7 due to age-related ailments. The former centre-half back was a part of the Indian squad that defeated home team Britain 4-0 at the 1948 London Olympics, the first hockey gold post-Independence. The Lahore-born player was also a part of the 1952 Helsinki Games, where India beat the Netherlands 6-1 to become the Olympic champion for the fifth consecutive time. Having made 22 international appearances for India, Dutt received the Major Dhyan Chand lifetime achievement award in 2020.

Yashpal Sharma.   -  AFP


Jul 13: Yashpal Sharma (Cricket): Best remembered for his exploits in the 1983 World Cup, 66-year-old Yashpal Sharma succumbed to a massive heart attack on July 13. Yashpal played for Punjab (47 matches), Haryana (14) and Railways (6) in the Ranji Trophy during his career from 1973-1993. Yashpal was never out for a duck in his 42 ODIs, with an international career spanning from 1978 to 1985. In his 37-Test career that started at Lord’s, Yashpal’s 140 against England in Chennai in 1982 was his best score, which came in a 316-run stand with G. R. Viswanath.

Gerd Muller   -  Getty Images


Aug 15: Gerd Muller (Football): Nicknamed ‘Bomber der Nation’, Germany great Gerd Muller, regarded as one of the game’s greatest goal-scorers, passed away at the age of 75 on August 15. Having scored 68 goals in 62 international matches for West Germany, Muller helped in winning the 1974 World Cup and the 1972 European Championship. After joining Bayern Munich in 1964, Muller played 607 games while scoring 566 goals for the club. Having won four league titles and three European Cups with Bayern, he set a record of 365 goals in the Bundesliga for a single season, which was broken by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski in 2021.

Ted Dexter   -  REUTERS


Aug 26: Ted Dexter (Cricket): Ted Dexter, former England captain, passed away at the age of 86 in Wolverhampton on August 26. A middle-order batter and medium-pacer, Dexter scored 4502 runs at an average of 47.89 and picked up 66 wickets in his career, which spanned 62 Tests, from 1958 to 1968. He was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame as one of the special inductees to mark the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final in June 2021.

Oct 13: Agnes Tirop (Athletics): Two-time World Championship bronze medallist and Kenyan distance runner Agnes Tirop was found stabbed to death at her home on October 13. She won the junior title at the 2014 African Cross Country Championships. However, Tirop caught public attention when she won bronze at the 2017 and 2019 World Athletics Championships.

Tarak Sinha   -  S. Subramanium


Nov 6: Tarak Sinha (Cricket): Renowned cricket coach Tarak Sinha succumbed to cancer in New Delhi on November 6 at age 71. Having coached for over 50 years, he has trained players across generations. Ashish Nehra, Aakash Chopra, Shikhar Dhawan and Rishabh Pant have trained under him. He is the fifth cricket coach after Desh Prem Azad, Gurcharan Singh, Ramakant Achrekar and Sunita Sharma to receive the Dronacharya Award in 2018.

Ray Illingworth   -  AP


Dec 24: Ray Illingworth (Cricket): Former England captain Ray Illingworth died on December 24 aged 89. Illingworth, who led England to a Test series victory in Australia in 1970-71, had played 61 Test matches for England between 1958 and 1973, scoring 1,836 runs at an average of 23.24, and claimed 122 wickets. He captained England 31 times, winning 12 of those matches.