Best of 2010s: From Virat Kohli breaking batting records to PV Sindhu's unprecedented success; top Indian athletes of decade

Sports in India is still not a priority. But that doesn't mean that the country lacks when it comes to producing world class athletes. Over the decade, the Indian athletes have broken the barriers and performed at the highest levels to return with medals and titles. In a popularity contest, Indian cricketers might still win the biggest prizes but a bunch of athletes from others sports have made sure that they get their due share of fame because of their exceptional achievements.

This is a list of best Indian athletes of this decade in no particular order. Obvious names like Virat Kohli and PV Sindhu feature, but the likes of Pankaj Advani and Apurvi Chandela also make their way.

Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli's stardom was born even before the start of the decade, when he led his colts to victory in the ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup in 2008. However, it is in 2010s that the cricketer from Delhi has gained a reputation as the most consistent batsman and an aggressive leader.

Although he was part of the World Cup-winning side in 2011 and the team that won the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013, the one thing that still eludes him is the Men in Blue winning an ICC trophy under his captaincy. The most recent being India's heart-breaking loss to New Zealand in the ICC World Cup semi-final this year.

He has even fallen short of leading Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) to an Indian Premier League (IPL) triumph since taking over as skipper in 2013.

However, arguably Kohli’s best achievement as skipper came only last year when India defeated Australia 2-1 to clinch a historic Test series triumph.

Not surprisingly, the 31-year-old has been breaking records and achieving milestones for himself as well as the team wherever he goes.

Having been named as one of the cricketers of the decade by Wisden, the right-handed batsman has been successful across formats. He is the leading run-scorer in the 50-over format this decade, with 11,125 runs, and has established a name for himself by slamming 42 centuries and 52 fifties – the most by any batsman in the last 10 years.

With two consecutive T20 World Cups and the next 50-over World Cup in 2023, the major task for Kohli in the next decade will be leading his team to triumphs in every ICC event possible.

PV Sindhu

Saina Nehwal had been dominating the Indian women’s circuit around the time she broke into the international scene, but PV Sindhu’s feats this decade, including her silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics as well as a gold medal in the 2019 BWF World Championships, have easily made her the face of Indian badminton today.

Sindhu had taken up the racquet sport after getting inspired by the feats of Pullela Gopichand, and would later join his academy. After making her international debut in 2009, it was three years later that she started making headlines by breaking into the top 20 for the first time.

The year 2013 saw her become the first Indian shuttler to win a BWF World Championships medal in women’s singles by collecting bronze, and would become the first Indian to win back-to-back medals in the prestigious tournament by winning the same medal the following year.

However, it was her silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics that catapulted her to the status of a superstar. Sindhu defeated Tai Tzu-ying and Wang Yihan along the way, and beat Japanse shuttler Nozomi Okuhara in the semi-finals, before being overpowered by Spaniard Carolina Marin in the three-set final showdown. Sindhu thus went one better than Saina, who had won bronze in London 2012.

The next three years saw her avenging her Olympic final defeat to Marin by beating her in the India Open Super Series final in 2017, reach the 2018 All England Open semis, win silver in the 2018 Commonwealth Games singles event as well as gold in the inaugural edition of the BWF World Tour Finals.

However, the finest moment of her career arrived in the form of a gold medal in the 2019 World Championships, beating Nozomi Okuhara in straight sets in the final at Basel, becoming the first Indian to win a singles gold in the tournament, after having come close on several occasions in the past.

Heading into the new decade, all eyes will be fixed on Sindhu in the biggest event of the year — Tokyo 2020 — as she prepares to upgrade her medal to gold and end India’s 12-year wait for a second individual gold medal.

Mary Kom

 Best of 2010s: From Virat Kohli breaking batting records to PV Sindhus unprecedented success; top Indian athletes of decade

Mary Kom is the gift that keeps on giving, and as this young and ambitious India ventures into the new decade, we hope she continues to inspire. AFP

"Magnificent Mary" is a must-have on this list, like she was for the athletes of the decade list for 2000s. The pugilist from Manipur's indefatigable career has not only been almost two decades long but also highly productive, consistently. After all, it was for nothing that she emerged as the 'most admired women' in India according to an annual survey conducted by YouGov, beating mega Bollywood celebs and political heavyweights.

Her unbelievable journey at the world stage began in 2001 when she grabbed the silver in World Championships and it was followed by gold medals in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008. Her first World Championship gold of this decade came in 2010, the second one in 2018. In between, she also claimed Olympics medal, gold at Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. She is also the only boxer to win eight World Championships medal.

She has been an inspiration for the nation off the ring as well. Apart from being nominated as Rajya Sabha member, she also had Priyanka Chopra playing the boxer in her biopic. One of the most touching moments came in 2014, when she opened up about her experience with sexual assault, emboldening the resolute of the other victims.

Mary Kom is the gift that keeps on giving, and as this young and ambitious India ventures into the new decade, we hope she continues to inspire.

Sunil Chhetri

football has seen major upheavals in 2010s, some good, some bad, but despite everything, Chhetri has firmly remained the face of the sport in India. PTI

football has seen major upheavals in 2010s, some good, some bad, but despite everything, Chhetri has firmly remained the face of the sport in India. PTI

Fans have a moniker for their favourite Sunil Chhetri – captain, leader, legend – and these three words perfectly embodies what the 35-year-old means to Indian football. It will be a tiring exercise to collate all those times when on cue Chhetri found that inspiring moment, turning what would've been a bitter defeat into an exhilarating win.

Indian football has seen major upheavals in 2010s, some good, some bad, but despite everything, Chhetri has firmly remained the face of the sport in India, at times even dragging it along, all alone, on his shoulders. Chhetri accounted for over 50 goals in the decade at the international level in just over 80 matches which also witnessed India qualifying for the 2011 and 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The Indian captain is the joint-highest goalscorer among currently active players at international level, only behind Cristiano Ronaldo. He also scored a brace against Thailand in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup edition as India recorded their first victory in the tournament since 1964.

At the club level, he has been the fulcrum around which the successful Bengaluru FC wheel revolves. Under his leadership, the Sree Kanteerava Stadium based team has won two I-League title and one ISL trophy while also becoming the first Indian team to reach the final of AFC Cup in 2016.

Pankaj Advani

Pankaj Advani has 23 world titles in cue sports behind him; yet, the Bangalore native exhibits the same unflinching dedication which characterised his younger years. Reuters

Pankaj Advani has 23 world titles in cue sports behind him; yet, the Bangalore native exhibits the same unflinching dedication which characterised his younger years. Reuters

Pankaj Advani has 23 world titles in cue sports behind him; yet, the Bangalore native exhibits the same unflinching dedication which characterised his younger years. From his mother having to use the funds in her fixed deposit to bankroll Advani’s first international tournament when he was 18 years old to today, when the 34-year-old is piling up world titles with ridiculous ease, Advani has become the face of cue sports in India.

Advani rang in the start of this decade in spectacular fashion, winning India’s maiden gold medal in English billiards at the 2010 Asian Games held in Guangzhou, China. In fact, Advani’s otherworldly achievements in cue sports can be summarised by a singular bit of trivia: he has won a world title in either English billiards or snooker, every year of this decade, barring 2011 and 2013. In fact, most years have seen him bag multiple world titles in both the disciplines.

This year was also remarkable for Advani. He won a brace of world titles – in English billiards and team snooker – in Mandalay, Myanmar.

Further, the Padma Bhushan awardee says that he is no mood to focus on a single discipline of cue sports. That separates Advani from his contemporaries as he is the only player to have won world titles in both formats of billiards – time and point – and both formats of snooker – 15-red and 6-red.

Aside from his performances professionally, Advani is also invested in nurturing a future line of talent for cue sports in India. Hence, his initiative, Cue Schools by Pankaj Advani, is looking to tie up with schools and bring the sport closer to the youth. He finds a place in our list of best athletes of this decade for being a glorious extension to India’s rich legacy in cue sports.

Bajrang Punia

Bajrang Punia is one of the brightest medal prospects for India for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, and an easy pick for our best athletes of the decade list. Image Courtesy: Twitter @wrestling

Bajrang Punia is one of the brightest medal prospects for India for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, and an easy pick for our best athletes of the decade list. Image Courtesy: Twitter @wrestling

A 19-year-old Bajrang Punia held his own to bag the bronze medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships, back in 2013. He followed that up by winning the bronze medal at the World Championships in the same year, proving to most that he was here to stay.

That he did and spectacularly so, for the next few years saw his star rise rapidly, with silver medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and at the Asian Games in Incheon in the same year. Four years hence, he went one better – after switching from 60 kg to 65 kg freestyle – clinching gold at both the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast and the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018.

The 25-year-old Punia was India’s only multiple medallist at the World Wrestling Championships – he won silver in 2018 and bronze in 2013 – heading into this year’s competition. That only bolstered his confidence to win his maiden gold at the Worlds. However, a controversial call from the match referee meant that Punia lost his semifinal bout in the 65 kg freestyle against Daulet Niyazbekov. A disheartened Punia said that he didn’t even feel like contesting the bronze medal bout after being wronged by a contentious call from the match referee. However, egged on by his coaches, Punia beat Ochir, the Under-23 Asian Champion 8-7 in the bronze medal bout, to win his third medal at the Worlds.

That podium finish also sealed his spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

In the run-up to the World Championships, Punia, who’s a native of the Jhajjar district in Haryana, won titles at all four competitions he participated in – Dan Kolov in Bulgaria, Asian Championship in China, Ali Aliev in Russia and Tbilisi Grand Prix in Georgia – highlighting the purple patch he’s experiencing.

To celebrate his stellar achievements throughout the year, Punia was bestowed with the Padma Shri award by the Government of India this year.

Understandably, he is one of the brightest medal prospects for India at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, and an easy pick for our best athletes of the decade list.

Vinesh Phogat

The Phogat in her name represents the famous wrestling family from Haryana that produced world class grapplers but Vinesh has carved out an identity for herself. AFP

The Phogat in her name represents the famous wrestling family from Haryana that produced world class grapplers but Vinesh has carved out an identity for herself. AFP

The Phogat in her name represents the famous wrestling family from Haryana that produced world class grapplers but Vinesh has carved out an identity for herself. She stands tall among the pupils of her uncle Mahavir Singh Phogat and easily one the best athletes the country has produced in this decade.

Vinesh was just 19 when she got a taste of winning medals at the big stage. In the 2013 Asian Wrestling Championships, which was held in New Delhi, Vinesh won the bronze medal in the women's freestyle 52 kg category. Next year, Vinesh went on to clinch the gold medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and then added a bronze from the Asian Games. Her consistent performances made her one of the possible medallist at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She went to Rio with a dream but left the mega event on a stretcher. After winning the first round bout, Vinesh injured her knee in the quarter-final clash resulting in her ouster.

Physical recovery from injury is one thing, but the real test of an athlete is when he or she overcomes the psychological barrier. Vinesh's strong mentality played a vital role in her rehabilitation and she made a successful return to mat. She clinched gold medals at the both Commonwealth and Asian Games, bronze at the 2019 Asian Championships and also a maiden medal at the 2019 Worlds. Apart from the bronze at Nur-Sultan Worlds, she also booked her ticket to Tokyo where she will look to complete the unfinished business.

Neeraj Chopra

This is a country where only one individual has ever won a gold medal at the Olympics. Only 15 athletes could clinch an Olympics medal. No Indian has ever won a medal in the track and field events at Olympics.

Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra has never participated in an Olympic Games. In fact, he has never won a medal at senior level World Championships. But Neeraj has ignited a hope, a dream to see an Indian winning a track and field medal at the Olympics and that's enough for him to feature in this list.

Neeraj announced himself on the big stage when he broke the junior world record at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships. His throw of 86.48m fetched him a gold medal and he became his country's first ever world champion. Over the years, Neeraj proved that his exploits in the U-20 Championships were not one off and that he has what it takes to perform at the highest levels. He won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and at the Asian Games, each time improving his distance of the throws. The Asian Games gold medal throw of 88.06m is a national record.

At the end of 2018, Neeraj suffered an elbow injury that hindered his progression. He had to miss the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships because of a surgery on his elbow and he hasn't qualified for the Olympics yet. Still, there's no doubt about his exceptional talent and once he makes to the Tokyo Games, there's a real chance of him coming back with a medal.

MS Dhoni

In the last ten years, Dhoni has gone on to become arguably the greatest ODI captain India have ever had. Reuters

In the last ten years, Dhoni has gone on to become arguably the greatest ODI captain India have ever had. Reuters

MS Dhoni: The Untold Story – the biopic on the former Indian captain tells his story from his birth to that glorious night in 2011 when India lifted the World Cup in Mumbai. The films ends with Dhoni hitting the six to clinch the title for India. However, The MS Dhoni story just does not stop there. In fact, Dhoni's most dramatic happenings have taken place after that, in the 2010s. The decade has also seen the brand Captain Cool become stronger.

In the last ten years, Dhoni has gone on to become arguably the greatest ODI captain India have ever had. He took India to the World Cup title in 2011, led the team to a Champions Trophy win in 2013. In 2015, under his leadership, India reached the semi-finals of the ODI World Cup. Not to forget, India won two Asia Cup titles between 2010 and 2019 under him. Dhoni has won two ICC titles in this decade, a rare feat for an Indian.

On batting front, Dhoni has scored a total of 9,601 runs across formats. The decade also saw him affecting 500 dismissals behind the stumps, across formats.

There are rumours about Dhoni wanting to play next year's T20 World Cup in Australia. If he plays and if India goes on to win the Cup, he would add one more title in his bag for the next decade.

But even if that does not happen, he has already bossed the 2010s.

Apurvi Chandela

Chandela’s impressive showing in international competitions this year also saw her rise to the World No 1 spot in the rankings. AFP

Chandela’s impressive showing in international competitions this year also saw her rise to the World No 1 spot in the rankings. AFP

From winning gold in the 10-metre air rifle event at the 2012 National Championships as a 19-year-old to repeating the feat at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, few would have doubted that there were bigger things in store for Jaipur’s Apurvi Chandela.

However, Chandela suffered a setback of sorts at the Rio Olympics in 2016, finishing at the 34th position in the qualification round, when many were expecting her to bring a medal back home. Nevertheless, she didn’t let the debacle upset her spirits, and paired with Ravi Kumar to win a bronze in the 10-metre air rifle mixed team event at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

But the best was yet to come for Chandela, as she performed at the zenith of her potential this year.

The 2019 ISSF World Cup Series opened in New Delhi, before moving to Beijing, Munich, Rio de Janeiro and Putian in China. India topped the medals tally with 30 medals, of which, 21 were gold medals.

Chief among those exploits was Chandela’s gold medal in the women’s 10 metre Air Rifle event in New Delhi, for it saw the Jaipur native shoot a world record score of 252.9 on her home turf.

Chandela, who’s a TOPS athlete (Target Olympic Podium Scheme), followed up on that performance by bagging another gold medal in the Munich tournament of the series. While a podium finish eluded her in the individual events at the other tournaments, she did bag a brace of silver medals along with Deepak Kumar in the mixed team 10 metre air rifle event in Munich and Putian, besides winning the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.

Chandela’s impressive showing in international competitions this year also saw her rise to the World No 1 spot in the rankings, while compatriot Anjum Moudgil was ranked No 2.

Chandela is ranked No 3 while fellow Indian Elavenil Valarivan is at the No 1 spot. More importantly, her world record score in the 10-metre air rifle still stands.  Chandela has already booked her spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She is one of the foremost medal prospects in what many are expecting to be a bumper Olympics for Indian shooters.

Honourable mention: Dipa Karmakar

Dipa put Indian gymnastics on the world map by finishing fourth in the women’s vault final at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Reuters

Dipa put Indian gymnastics on the world map by finishing fourth in the women’s vault final at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Reuters

Dipa put Indian gymnastics on the world map by finishing fourth in the women’s vault final at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She did so, by successfully landing the Produnova vault jump, also called the ‘vault of death’, as it is one of the most difficult vaults for any gymnast. In doing so, 26-year-old Dipa became only the fifth woman in the history of the sport to perform the Produnova vault in an international competition.

However, since then, Dipa, who hails from Agartala in Tripura, has had it hard. She was sidelined for most of 2017 owing to a knee injury, for which she had to undergo surgery.

In 2018, Dipa made a successful return to competitive gymnastics by winning the gold medal at the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup, a first for an Indian gymnast at a global event.

She also won a bronze at the vault event of the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup in Cottbus, Germany in November, after she couldn’t compete at the Jakarta Asian Games owing to a knee strain. For much of 2019, Dipa’s nagging right knee injury flared up again, putting her chances of qualifying for Tokyo Olympics in jeopardy.

Nevertheless, Dipa, who’s known for defying adversity, might just recuperate in time to compete in the three World Cups lined up for next year and give herself the last chance of qualifying for the Olympics. She deserves a special mention in our list of top Indian athletes of this decade for being a trailblazer for Indian gymnastics.

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Updated Date: Dec 30, 2019 14:10:47 IST