Mixed fortunes

A STAR IN THE MAKING. Saina Nehwal has raised the hopes and expectations of the Indian badminton buffs.-PTI

While the Indian cricketers took a beating, especially in the one-day format, athletes from other disciplines brought some cheer to the nation. A recap by K. Keerthivasan.

In a country of more than a billion that attaches enormous pride to the performance of its cricketers, it is only natural that the other games have remained in the background, partly due to the ineptitude of the officials and partly because the fans and the sponsors have refused to look beyond cricket. Amidst the sombre setting of a below-par display by our cricketers, especially in the limited overs format with the World Cup only a few months away, and Indian hockey's continuing abysmal run, sportspersons from other disciplines have brought some cheer with their exploits.

A dispassionate look at Indian sports in 2006 reveals that athletes in individual sports have done exceedingly well, getting all the publicity, and raking in the moolah too.

Perseverance, grit and determination do bring in rewards. While cricketer Sourav Ganguly is a more popular example, golfer Jeev Milkha Singh is a genuine and ideal case in point. He showed how a sportsperson can change his destiny with positive energy and, of course, a subtle change in strategy.

Unsung heroes? Samaresh Jung and Sharath Kamal (below) had a memorable Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.-RAJEEV BHATT

For seven long years, Jeev was among the also-rans in most of the tournaments he took part in. He kept playing with passion and purpose but the results weren't forthcoming. There was nothing seriously wrong with his style or approach. His interest and knowledge of golf and his attitude were also not in doubt. The problem was that he concentrated more on the results than the process of achieving the results.

The first Indian to become a member of the European Tour, Jeev found the going very tough until the year 2006, which changed his perspective. The four titles he won, including the Volvo Masters on the European Tour, catapulted him to the 16th position in the Order of Merit and No. 45 in World rankings — the highest by an Indian golfer. The success pushed his earnings to Rs. 13 crores in 2006. He thereby earned the right to play in three majors in the US PGA Tour including the Augusta Masters in April 2007.

Jeev thus opened the doors for the young Indian golfers aspiring to make it big on the international scene.

While Jeev's case was a result of perseverance and hard work, badminton player Saina Nehwal's was a tribute to youth and exuberance. In a short span of time, the 16-year-old has created quite a flutter. From reaching the finals of the National Championship to winning two International titles — the Philippines Open and Indian International Open in Mumbai — she has raised the hopes and expectations of the people of India.

Daughter of Haryana state players, Harvir Singh and Usha Rani, Saina has badminton in her blood. Supported by Mittal Trust, she is coached by Pullela Gopichand, the All-England champion in 2001. If Saina concentrates on the process, rather than the results, more success is bound to come her way.

For Sania Mirza, a winner of the Padma Shri award, the year 2006 was a learning curve. After a high of 35 last year, her WTA ranking plummeted to 66. Many reasons were attributed to her dip in form and ranking, from her choice of coaches to her fitness. Hopefully, she should be able to turn things around next year.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, after a lot of posturing in the media, won the doubles gold at the Doha Asian Games. The two have perhaps played for the last time as a team. Individually, Leander and Mahesh fared well, both in the Davis Cup and the Grand Slams. While Leander won two doubles titles including the US Open with Martin Damm, Mahesh clinched the Australian Open mixed doubles title with Martina Hingis. Mahesh also won two ATP titles with Mario Ancic as his partner.

The Indian shooters excelled at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and the Asian Games in Doha. With not much encouragement and guidance from the system, the shooters, through their individual brilliance, have caught the attention of the world.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi at the podium after winning the doubles gold at the Doha Asian Games.-AP

Samaresh Jung was adjudged the best shooter at the Commonwealth Games, while Jaspal Rana, with three gold medals and a silver, led India's campaign at the Asian Games in Doha. India won a total of 14 medals in shooting in Doha.

Perhaps there could be no better choice for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award than cueist Pankaj Advani, who has won goodwill and numerous trophies.

The World billiards and snooker champion, quite expectedly, won the billiards singles gold at the Doha Asian Games. If only the National federation had allowed Pankaj to participate in snooker too, India could have won another gold medal.

Paddler Sharath Kamal emerged as India's star at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. The former National champion went up the ranks slowly, but his rise at the international level has been rather quick. Ranked No. 113 in the world, he now aims to break into the top 100. To do that he has to overcome players from China, Japan, Korea and Europe, which is not an easy task.