When aces were rewarded

It was an evening of nostalgia and celebration when the Sportstar Aces Awards, celebrating excellence in sports, were given away in Mumbai.

Sportstar Aces 2020 awards function in Mumbai on January 12. It was indeed an august gathering of mainly sports VVIPs.   -  R. Ragu

Rohit Sharma was speaking for generations of sports-mad kids when he recalled, in his acceptance speech, what Sportstar had meant to him. “Sportstar magazine was a huge part of my childhood,” he said. “I remember competing in the Sportstar Trophy during my under-19 days, and collecting Sportstar posters. It was so much fun. This award means a lot.”

Kapil Dev’s reminiscences were not a whole lot different. “I also have lots and lots of Sportstar magazines (at home),” he said. “My wife has kept cuttings. When you see those pictures, it puts a smile on your face.”

Their words were in keeping with the prevailing sentiment on an evening of nostalgia and celebration at the Sportstar Aces Awards 2020 in Mumbai. Rohit was adjudged the Sportsman of the Year (Cricket) and Kapil feted for Lifetime Achievement while P. V. Sindhu was chosen Sportstar of the Year. Sindhu, who won a historic badminton World Championship gold in 2019, was also declared the Sportswoman of the Year (racquet sports) before an audience of some of the finest Indian sporting stars.

N. Murali (Chairman, Kasturi & Sons), honours a Jury member, who decided on the awards, Anjali Bhagwat, with a memento. The other jury members are (L-R) Aparna Popat, Sunil Gavaskar, N. Ram (Chairman, The Hindu Group Publishing) and M. M. Somaya. Jury member Viswanathan Anand could not make it to the function.   -  R. Ragu


“When she was playing in the final of the World Championships, the streets in India were empty. That was wonderful to see,” noted Vijay Amritraj, who hosted a part of the ceremony. Sindhu, who was away in Jakarta for the Indonesia Masters, was represented at the event by coach P. Gopichand. “It was a great performance by her at the World Championships. This award will motivate her further during an Olympic year,” he said.

Kapil, who led India to World Cup victory in 1983, expressed his happiness through a heartfelt message. “You feel happy deep down when people recognise your talent. My message to people in any field of life today is to be passionate in whatever they do. There is no Plan A and B. Plan B never works. Just work hard for Plan A,” he said.

N. Murali, Chairman, Kasturi and Sons Ltd, heaped praise on Kapil. “It's a testament to his greatness that 26 years after he retired, his aura remains undiminished,” he said. “He and his cricketing deeds are still in the public consciousness. Kapil shattered the myth that Indians were no good in the fast-bowling department. His catch to dismiss Viv Richards in the final of the 1983 World Cup is part of Indian cricket folklore.”

Tennis legend Vijay Amritraj presented the latter part of the function.   -  R. Ragu


Rohit held off competition from Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah to emerge on top in his category. The Mumbai man enjoyed a hugely successful year, topping the run charts at the World Cup while also making a roaring start to life as a Test opener.

Yuvraj Singh, who accepted the award on Rohit’s behalf, spoke of his appetite for runs. “It’s been a phenomenal year for Rohit. I remember when he came into the side he was a middle-order batsman. He still won a lot of games for India, scored seventies and eighties. Since he started opening, those seventies and eighties have become hundreds and double hundreds. He started to do really well (as an opener) in Test cricket this year, which was good to see. Hopefully he can smash some records in Test cricket like he does in one-day cricket,” he said.

Smriti Mandhana emerged the Sportswoman of the Year (Cricket), and was presented the award by Cricket Australia Director and former Australia women’s cricketer Mel Jones. “Last year was amazing for us in ODIs and T20s,” she said. “This year is exciting with the T20 World Cup coming up.”

The awards jury was chaired by Sunil Gavaskar and also comprised N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Group Publishing, Viswanathan Anand, Aparna Popat, Anjali Bhagwat and M. M. Somaya.

Cricket Australia chairman Earl Eddings collects the Sportstar Aces Chairman’s Choice Award from N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Group Publishing, on behalf of ace batsman Steve Smith who had a splendid Ashes series.   -  Vijay Soneji


Bhagwat summed up the difficulty the jury had faced. “We tried our level best to select deserving candidates,” she said. “We had a tough time selecting them because there was so much competition. We wish all the Tokyo 2020 aspirants good luck.”

Ekta Bhyan, who was the first individual award-winner of the evening (Sportswoman of the Year — Para Sports), left the audience in splits with her opening remarks. “Thanks to The Hindu not just for the award but also for helping me prepare for the Haryana Civil Services examinations; I cracked the exam,” she said.

Pramod Bhagat, who won the corresponding award in the men’s category, was overcome by emotion. “I have seen all these people only on TV before. I never thought I would get a chance to meet them,” he said, as the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Bhaichung Bhutia, Sourav Ganguly, Leander Paes, and Bishan Singh Bedi looked on.

Paes, who has announced that 2020 will be his final year on the circuit, was presented the Special Recognition Award. “This award is the most polite way someone has told me I’m old,” the 46-year-old chuckled. “This is my farewell year on tour. It’s been a great ride for the last 30 years. I’d like to humbly take my bow. You (the fans) have been the wind beneath my wings,” he said, to thunderous applause.

There was a light-hearted exchange on stage as Paes was joined by Yuvraj. “I’m way better than him at football but I definitely don’t want to face this southpaw on a tennis court,” Paes said of the latter. “I'm looking for a partner for Wimbledon. I’ll ask him as soon as we step off stage.”

Amritraj, who anchored the second half of the ceremony, lit the hall up with his wit. “Back when I was playing, people consistently asked me, ‘Yes, we know you play tennis, but what do you do for a living?’ How come nobody asks Rohit that today?” he said. “My late grandma used to ask me, ‘Why do you have to go so far to lose?’ To this day, I honestly haven’t understood that.”

Yuvraj Singh collects the Sportsman of the Year Award (cricket) on behalf of Rohit Sharma from Sourav Ganguly, President, BCCI.   -  R. Ragu


Sport was not all about winning, Amritraj pointed out. “Fifty years ago I went to London with three pounds in my pocket. I had to save my dinner money to get into Wimbledon. It’s taken us four or five decades to get to where we are today. Everyone can’t be a Federer or a Serena or a Kohli or a Rohit. But we all like to play and watch. The ones who sit on the couch and watch are the ones who remind me of the matches I’ve lost,” he said, prompting much laughter.

“Sport teaches you something about yourself. What can I ask of myself that is truly impossible? How can I be better than yesterday?”

Amritraj asked Ganguly what was harder, playing cricket or running the BCCI? “It’s tougher playing under pressure,” the Board President said. “I have one chance when I bat. If I nick a McGrath outside off, it’s over. But here, if I make a mistake, I can come back the next day and rectify it.”

The Chairman’s Choice Award went to Australian batsman Steve Smith for his remarkable performance in the Ashes, and was received on his behalf by Cricket Australia chair Earl Eddings. “We’re not chauvinistic; we recognise great achievements wherever they are made,” said Ram. “We honour him for his batting and his qualitative achievements of skill, courage and character on top of his famous — some would say obsessive — work ethic over the past year. Steve Smith came back from the cold from a life-changing and what at that time seemed a calamitous setback. In coming back he showed character by dominating the Ashes in England last year.”

That Smith’s award was as much for his strength of character as his batting was an accurate reflection of the spirit of the event. Rahul Bose, the actor and former rugby international, put it well when he spoke of the meaning of sport. “Gold, silver and bronze are great: if it comes off, it’s brilliant. But if it doesn’t it’s OK if you still did your best. We had a Maori rugby coach from New Zealand who used to tell us, ‘Leave your body, soul, and spirit on the field.’ That is all we can ask of an athlete.”