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.
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.
“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.
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