An evening that glittered with champions!

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

Badminton legend Prakash Padukone receives the Sportstar Aces Lifetime Achievement Award from Sunil Gavaskar. The cricket icon said that this was a “fan boy” moment for him as he had adored Prakash’s skills.   -  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 in Mumbai recently. It was to warm, heartfelt applause that Padukone received his award, before an audience of stars on a grand evening at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. “This is an absolute fanboy moment,” confessed Sunil Gavaskar, chairman of the Awards jury, as he feted Padukone on stage. “For me you’re the greatest Indian sportsman ever. You paved the way for the badminton generation we now see. You’re a role model on and off the court.”

Padukone, while being typically self-effacing, expressed joy at 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. “I started playing badminton at a time when it was not very popular. In south India, badminton meant ‘ball badminton’; you had to say ‘shuttle badminton’ to qualify it. From there to where we are today...I’m happy to have played a small part in the evolution of Indian badminton. Around 10-15 years ago, Indian players would look at the draw for major tournaments and worry about facing the Chinese and the Indonesians. Today, it’s the other way around.”

N. Murali, Chairman, Kasturi & Sons Ltd., hailed Padukone as an “adornment” to Indian badminton. “Padukone played a pioneering, transformative role,” he said. “He’s a true ambassador for the sport at a time when sport itself is getting rather aggressive. He is a throwback to a gentler time. Padukone has shown that nice guys too can win big time.” Murali had headed the special Jury panel to decide the Lifetime Award winner.

The Sportstar Aces Awards, supported by the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and in association with 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 from Sportstar is like reviving childhood memories,” said Kohli as he received his award, in absentia, from Shane Warne. The former Australian leg-spinner and Rajasthan Royals brand ambassador lauded 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.

It was a golden 2018 for Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Md. 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 held 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, Anjali Bhagwat, and N. Ram, Chairman, THG Publishing.

The stylish and consistent batter, Smriti Mandhana, is given the Sportswoman of the Year (Cricket) award by Kamlesh Mehta, the noted table tennis player of yesteryear.   -  Vijay Soneji

 

Cheteshwar Pujara became the first recipient of the Chairman’s Choice award, for his exploits in a 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. He has coached me from the time I was eight. He never let me celebrate any festivals; he wanted me to be focused on cricket. I practised for hours and hours. But I’m grateful he has been there for me throughout my career.”

The first of the awardees on the evening was Deepa Malik, who at the age of 48 claimed two bronze medals at last year’s Asian Para Games. “Post the Rio Olympics, everyone thought I was retiring. Thank God I have not been given the ‘lifetime’ award but ‘Sportswoman of the Year’(Para Games)," she said, prompting much laughter. “Sport not only empowered me but also erased the wheelchair and the disability behind it. It became a medium to convey the message loud and clear that any disability cannot limit our dreams. Above all, sport has been my anti-aging cream.”

Odisha was declared the ‘Best State for the Promotion of Sports’, an award that was accepted by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Odisha Chief Minister Navin Patnaik receives the award in the Best State for Promotion of Sport category, from chess legend Viswanathan Anand. “Ministers are used to giving away awards. It must be surprising to see me receiving one,” Patnaik quipped.   -  Vivek Bendre

 

“Ministers are used to giving away awards. It must be surprising to see me receiving one,” he said. “Sport is not that different from politics. We have to run, duck, jump, catch and sprint too. “Sometimes you don’t even know which direction you’re running in. Sometimes you throw, sometimes you’re thrown out. But jokes apart, you need passion to succeed in both sports and politics. A competitive spirit is the hallmark of both disciplines. To invest in sport is to invest in youth; to invest in youth is to invest in the future. I dedicate this award to the 4.5 crore sports-loving people of Odisha.”

The Vidarbha Cricket Association, which recently completed back-to-back Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup victories, was adjudged Team of the Year. The VCA was represented by President Anand Jaiswal. “Vidarbha’s journey has not been an easy one,” he said. “The seeds were sown 10 years ago by the then-President Shashank Manohar. Our win has fired the imagination of youngsters all over the region.”

Sunil Chhetri, P. V. Sindhu, Neeraj Chopra, Mary Kom, Hima Das, Smriti Mandhana, Sharath Kamal, Bajrang Punia, and Manu Bhaker 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 dignitaries like CoA member Diana Edulji and ICC Chairman Shashank Manohar.

Ayon Sengupta, Editor, Sportstar, welcomed the awardees, while K. C. Vijaya Kumar, Sports Editor, The Hindu, proposed a vote of thanks.

What the judges said

It was a tough task for the jury to choose the right candidates for the Sportstar Aces Awards, supported by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, in association with MRF. But the five-member panel, comprising chairman and former India cricket captain, Sunil Gavaskar, former hockey captain, M. M. Somaya, former international shooter Anjali Bhagwat, former international long jumper, Anju Bobby George, and N. Ram, the Chairman of The Hindu Group of Publishing, ensured that the best candidates got their due recognition. After the long and intense panel meeting in Mumbai, this is what the jury members had to say…

Sunil Gavaskar

Firstly, congratulations to all the winners. This is such an encouraging thing as youngsters should be able to take up the sports they love playing. What has helped is the media — both electronic and print — which has created heroes and role models in various sports for youngsters to emulate and follow.

The areas that could help develop sports is to create a sports culture and better infrastructure and accountability at all levels from administrators to players.

For me, it was a tremendous honour to be asked to chair the jury with such eminent sporting personalities like Anju Bobby George, M. M. Somaya, Anjali Bhagwat and of course the huge sports lover with abundant knowledge of all sports Mr. N. Ram. There was the Sportstar team led by (Editor) Ayon (Sengupta) and K. C. Vijaya Kumar (Sports Editor, The Hindu, whose inputs were invaluable. That made the jury’s task easier.

(Gavaskar is a former India cricket captain and was chairman of the jury.)

M. M. Somaya, Anjali Bhagwat, Sunil Gavaskar (the chairman of the jury), Anju Bobby George and N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Group Publishing, at the pre-award deliberations in Mumbai.   -  Vivek Bendre

 

M. M. Somaya

In the last couple of years, India has excelled in various disciplines and not just cricket. One saw the last Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, and how we have excelled in many disciplines. So, the jury had a lot of options. The choice was good and most importantly, the committee had a broad outlook.

The good thing was that we had a separate category for cricket, which ensured that cricketers don’t run away with all the awards. Lesser mortals like hockey players and other sportspeople also came up for consideration.

As a former player what is immensely satisfying is the fact that these days, the opportunities are more in the country. Structure has been formed in most of the sporting disciplines where young talent is encouraged.

It is good to see Indian sports come a long way and the fact that there are so many talents across disciplines prove that the future is bright indeed. Heartiest congratulations to all the award winners!

(Somaya is a former India hockey captain.)

Anjali Bhagwat

India has got a large pool of talent and that was proven as we sat down to pick the right candidates for the awards. There was so much competition and it was difficult to choose the best. This defines what a year our athletes had.

It is interesting to see that not just in cricket, our young guns have done so so well in other disciplines as well. Not just shooting, even table tennis has got a facelift and so many people are now taking up the sport. It is same with boxing, wrestling and badminton. That’s a positive for Indian sports. There is a big support from the corporate organisations and now one doesn’t need to hunt for anything as everything is taken care of. That’s a boost.

Our junior shooters have done immensely well and I am glad that Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker bagged the awards for Best Young Athlete (Male) and Best Young Athlete (Female) respectively. My best wishes to all the other award winners.

(Anjali Bhagwat is a former international shooter.)

Anju Bobby George

Now, there is a large pool of young talents in the country and it is a good thing for the country. Not just cricket, more and more youngsters are coming up in various disciplines. Be it athletics or table tennis, there are so many talented players. This is a very good trend.

For the jury, it was easy to pick the right talents because their performances said it all. In some disciplines like racquet sport, the competition was intense and it got a bit difficult to make the right choice. But it was good to see so many Indians performing so well, consistently.

With the Tokyo Olympics lined up next year, all the major events will be held this time around and it is important for the athletes to focus on their performances and deliver the goods consistently. I wish them all the luck!

(Anju Bobby George is a former international athlete.)