Across the spectrum, 2011 was yet another year filled with a myriad of happenings in the Indian sporting world. A bit of history and a bit of mystery, some hits and some misses, a few controversies and a few coveted victories.
We won the World Cup!!! After a void of 28 years, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni led the Indian team to victory against the Sri Lankans on home soil. The mood was euphoric.
As was also when Virendra Sehwag smashed a spectacular 219 runs against West Indies to set a new world record for the highest individual score in an ODI match.
Further, in cricket we had Ramakant Achrekar being awarded the ‘Lifetime achievement’ award by Sports Illustrated India. This was a richly deserved recognition for a man who has honed young cricketers for decades with his most famous pupils being Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli amongst other first class cricketers.
We also lost one of our beloved cricket captains, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi who succumbed to a lung disease. Our heart goes out to the ‘Tiger’ who with his dynamic personality led the Indian team at the tender age of 21 years.
Let us not limit our imagination and information to cricket alone. Indian sport seems to have evolved and finally other sports are being recognised.
Speaking of recognition, Gagan Narang, our ace shooter finally got his due. This year he was awarded the country’s highest sporting honour – the Khel Ratna award. A shot in the arm for him surely.
Indian tennis has been steadily looking up. Indian tennis star, Rohan Bopanna, pairing up with Pakistani Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi, became one of the top 10 doubles teams in the world. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi finally set aside their differences and decided to pair up again. They found outstanding success at the ATP World Tour Finals when they upset three-time champions, the Bryan brothers, in straight sets. Yet, at the end of the year Lee-Hesh announced their decision to split. Mahesh shall now partner Bopanna next season. Yet another match up!
Badminton is another sport where Indians delighted. Apart from Saina Nehwal who has commendably maintained a top-five world ranking this year, we saw brilliant performances by Ajay Jayaram and Guru Sai Dutt at the Hong Kong Open and Saurabh Verma at the recently-concluded Indian Open Grand Prix. But the highlight was most definitely the World Championship bronze medal of the Jwala Gutta-Ashwini Ponnappa pairing. They put up an inspiring performance and created history of sorts.
Hockey is our national sport. Yet, the sport caused enough worry this year with the tiff between rival factions Hockey India and the Indian Hockey Federation gaining steam. Despite several warnings and attempts from the government and the International Hockey Federation, there is no solution in sight. However, this did not deter our boys who put up a grand show winning the Asian Champions Trophy for the first time.
Success at the Asian level also came to Luge athlete Shiva Keshavan from Himachal Pradesh who set a new Asian speed record of 134.3 kmph to win the gold medal at the 2011 Asia Cup. He thus became the first-ever gold medal winner for India in an international winter sports event and the first non-Japanese to win the crown.
The crown prince of football, Lionel Messi, graced the football crazy city of Kolkata in September for a friendly match between Argentina and Venezuela. That was, I’m sure, a dream come true for thousands of fans.
A few years ago if someone said that India would have their own Formula 1 Grand Prix soon, it was surely because they were dreaming. The Buddh International Circuit was built at a cost of around Rs 2,000 crore and found praise from one and all. The event was a speedy success.
Success came to two of India’s profound sons – P Gopichand, All-England champion and Abhinav Bindra, Olympic Gold medallist in shooting. The success stories of these two great champions were penned down. Therefore, we saw the release of two sports biographies on these Indian greats (i.e. other than cricketers).
The year was not sans controversy. The ‘donkeys’ comment by Nasser Hussain was criticised. During a T20 international, Hussain referred to some Indian fielders saying “there are one or two donkeys in the field still” causing a furore. The arrest of prominent sports administrators, Suresh Kalmadi, Lalit Bhanot and VK Verma in connection with the CWG scam also made big news. So did the unfortunate incident of our CWG medal winning athletes testing positive for dope and facing a one-year ban.
But yet there is a definite ray of hope. The Sports Development Bill that was rejected in Parliament once this year has been revised and is ready to be reintroduced. The bill proposes to help promote and ensure transparency in Indian sport. Also, the recent consideration of sportspersons for the Bharat Ratna is a distinct boost.
On a lighter note, Andrew Symonds entered the Big Boss House. So now, its not only the real entertainment of IPL for the foreign cricketers but the reality of shows too.
I would like to conclude with the brilliant speech Rahul Dravid delivered in Australia. He was the first non-Australian cricketer invited to deliver the Bradman Oration and he scored articulately. Somewhere in the speech, he put up a defence against the clichéd image of cricket – the money and power. He said “I cannot take all of you into the towns and villages our players come from, and introduce you to their families, teachers, coaches, mentors and teammates who made them international cricketers. I cannot take all of you here to India to show you the belief, struggle, effort and sacrifice from hundreds of people that runs through our game.” This retort I think applies not only to cricket but to sport and sportspersons all over India.
Therefore, come 2012, we must stand up and take notice of not only the elite sportspersons but also the upcoming struggling ones and give them their due. After all, the sporting world is tough.