A look at Indian sport from various angles

Cricket always takes the major chunk of the pie, irrespective of who plays. But there are now attempts to pay attention to other disciplines, especially women’s events.

Dipa Karmakar, P. V. Sindhu and Sakshi Malik.   -  Mohammed Yousuf

It is ironic that the player who brought high class fielding as a benchmark to the Indian team is being dropped for similar reasons. Until 2000, good fielding and the Indian team could never have been spoken of in the same breath, but now, for the best part of 17 years, it is a natural phenomenon. Age is a ticklish thing in sports and can be debated for a long time, but one can never remove the emotion from it.

If one goes back to the period between 2009-2011, the then selection committee and captain too wanted a few seniors out due to their lackadaisical attitude to fitness and six years hence, history repeats itself. Then, the focus was on World Cup 2011 and now it is World Cup 2019.

If age was a factor in sports, then the likes of Viswanathan Anand, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi — all between 40 and 45 would have retired, but each sport has its own fitness and age requirements and we need to judge each one independently.

Sporting culture is directly proportional to the particular sport, the country and its history. The Board of Control for Cricket in India, like its hockey counterpart, too decided to drop seniors who had become iconic players over a decade.

While the world or half of it was focused on the cricket Champions Trophy (the Women’s World Cup as well) and it become the first page of newspapers and the digital and the broadcast media, another sporting event was being conducted simultaneously — the Men’s Hockey League (London) and the Women’s Hockey League (Johannesburg) and it was all but a footnote in the newspapers and the electronic media.

The only memory of the Hockey League was that India beat Pakistan twice in an otherwise disappointing tournament where they lost to Malaysia and Canada. This allowed Malaysia to progress to the semi-final and Canada to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 with India as hosts.

Hockey India has since taken measures where for a Europe tour (Belgium and Netherlands), they have dropped former captain Sardar Singh and a few other seniors. It is a bold move but won’t be a matter for debate because of its bell- curve like popularity in the country. Not surprising when Australia is No. 1 both in cricket and hockey and a nemesis for India in both sports.

The U-17 football World Cup is all set to change the attitude towards the respect Indian footballers need and want. For Indians, football means EPL, EURO Cup, Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, but the ISL did try to get viewers to understand Indian footballers as well.

The World Cups in hockey (2018) and cricket (2019) and Olympics 2020 should see new and fresh faces and one hopes things will improve.

The Indian women’s revolution in sports over the past few years has taken a turn for the good — be it the performances of P. V. Sindhu, Dipa Karmakar, Sakshi Malik and others in their respective fields in the 2016 Olympics as well as other memorable displays. One can also talk about the women’s cricket team entering the final of the World Cup and making one and all applaud the efforts. Harmanpreet Kaur became the first Indian cricketer — male or female to play in a non-Indian T20 League. This now warrants a stand alone women’s hockey, cricket, wrestling, football and kabaddi league. We can have both the men’s and women’s leagues also to run simultaneously.

The question is did we have to wait for this to start giving them recognition, as if before this they literally did not exist, or is that for the past one year we have started recognising achievements of the female sportspersons due to movies on them or is it the other way around? One can start with Dangal, Mary Kom etc.

Another pertinent question is that are financial rewards the only way to give them a fillip? While we were excited about the women’s World Cup, the women’s World Hockey League, which is an annual program in the calendar, was as always a footnote as the media continued its subtle discrimination. In the end, cricket would take the major chunk of the pie, irrespective of who plays.