Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli and world champion weightlifter Mirabai Chanu were on Monday jointly recommended for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, while star javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra was among 20 sportspersons picked for the Arjuna Awards.
Besides Chopra, other prominent names recommended for the Arjuna Awards were junior world champion sprinter Hima Das and Asian Games gold-medallist middle distance runner Jinson Johnson, cricketer Smriti Mandhana, hockey players Manpreet Singh and Savita Punia, multiple Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Manika Batra and Asian Games doubles gold-medallist tennis player Rohan Bopanna.
These recommendations are subject to approval by Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Once ratified by him, President Ram Nath Kovind will present the awards on September 25 at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Kohli will become the third Indian cricketer after the legendary Sachin Tendulkar (1997) and the talismanic former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (2007) once the sports ministry officially accepts the committee’s recommendation.
“Yes, Virat Kohli and Mirabai Chanu’s names have been recommended by the awards committee,” a top source said.
It is learnt that India’s top male shuttler Kidambi Srikanth was also in Khel Ratna contention for his good show in the Super Series Circuit last year but lost out to the 24-year-old Chanu, who is the reigning world champion in the 48kg category.
Asian Games gold-medallist boxer Amit Panghal was discussed but the committee decided against recommending him due to a failed dope test back in 2012, a source said.
Former Asian Games bronze-medallist and Commonwealth Games silver-medallist Satish Kumar was the lone boxer to get the Arjuna honour this year.
Three shooters - Ravi Rathore, Ankur Mittal and Shreyasi Singh - also figured in list of 20 recommended sportspersons while there were two from para-sports - Ankur Dhama and Manoj Sarkar.
This year’s award ceremony was postponed to September 25 from the usual August 19 National Sports Day event due to clash of dates with the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang in Indonesia.
The Khel Ratna awardees are entitled to a cash prize of Rs 7.5 lakh, while the Arjuna winners are given Rs 5 lakh.
Kohli, the world’s No.1 Test batsman as per the ICC rankings, has been in stupendous form for the past three years and missed out despite nominations in the years 2016 and 2017.
The 29-year-old currently has 6147 runs in 71 Tests with 23 centuries and 9779 runs in 211 ODIs, including 35 tons.
With a combined 58 tons in international cricket, he is second only to Sachin Tendulkar (100) in the list of India’s top century-scorers in international cricket.
The BCCI has been nominating Kohli for the Khel Ratna for the past three years but in 2016, it was given to Sakshi Malik, P.V. Sindhu and Dipa Karmakar for their good show at the Rio Olympic Games.
Last year, the Khel Ratna was awarded to former India hockey captain Sardar Singh and para-athlete Devendra Jhajharia.
Kohli is one of those rare sportspersons, who has received Padma Shri award (2017) before Khel Ratna.
This year, Kohli was a favourite after having led India to victories against England and Australia at home and away wins against West Indies and Sri Lanka.
The Indian team has also won limited-overs series in South Africa under Kohli’s leadership.
He is a member of the 2011 ICC World Cup and the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy winning team. He also led the team to the finals of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy.
Kohli has also been the recipient of ICC’s ‘ODI Cricketer of the Year’ in 2012 and 2017 along with the sport’s highest honour - the ICC Cricketer of the Year. Kohli has won the Indian Cricketer of the Year on five occasions.
He ended the recent England series with a phenomenal 593 runs even though it was not considered in the selection cycle.
For Chanu, the award comes as a massive morale-booster as she is currently recovering from a lower back injury, which forced her to skip the Asian Games in Jakarta.
She is the current Commonwealth Games gold-medallist and India’s only medal hope in weightlifting going into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.