2013: Emotional roller-coaster for sports lovers

Vishwanathan-Anand,-sachin-&-shreesanth

New Delhi, Dec 31: Cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar’s teary-eyed farewell to the game left a nation overwhelmed, while chess wizard Viswanathan Anand broke many a heart by surrendering the world title on home turf even as the brazen chicanery of administrators embarrassed the country in more ways than one in a roller-coaster year for Indian sports.

For lovers of sports, year 2013 was nothing short of an emotional roller-coaster with a liberal dose of frustration thrown in courtesy India’s continued suspension from the Olympic fold. Adding to the embarrassment was the IPL spot-fixing scandal which led to the arrest of cricketers, including former Test pacer S Sreesanth.

The shameful episode’s already disastrous impact on the game was worsened by the way it was handled by its administrators, who tried to brush things under the carpet with an internal inquiry before the Supreme Court of India intervened. In fact, Indian sports had very few success stories to talk of this year. One among them was rising shuttler P V Sindhu.

The 18-year-old from Hyderabad took the spotlight off Saina Nehwal by becoming the first woman shuttler to clinch a medal at the World Championships — a bronze. In contrast, Saina battled poor form and injury issues through the year to end up without a title. Not to forget the junior women’s hockey team, which also clinched a bronze in the World Cup. Led by Sushila Chanu, the girls won their first-ever World Cup medal by beating England in the third-place playoff via penalty shoot-out.

In wrestling, youngsters Amit Kumar, Bajrang and Sandeep Yadav scripted India’s best ever show in the World Championship in the absence of Olympic stars in a year, during which the ancient sport successfully fought off its Olympic exclusion. Twenty-year-old Amit, the youngest Indian wrestler to compete at London Olympics, fetched a silver in the 55kg division. .

On the other hand, 60kg freestyle grappler Bajrang, who got the opportunity to represent India at world championships in place of his mentor Yogeshwar Dutt, did the country proud by securing a bronze medal. A 25-year-old Sandeep then surprised many when he claimed bronze in the 66kg category of the traditional format of wrestling, the Greco Roman style.

The ground for this stellar performance by the Indian men was set up during the Senior Asian Championship where the hosts claimed the coveted freestyle team title ahead of heavyweights Iran and South Korea. Off the field, one of the biggest achievements for Indian sports was bagging the hosting rights of the 2017 Under 17 football World Cup after months of speculation and one rejection by the world governing body FIFA.

It was a rare instance of administrators getting it right given the mess that they mostly found themselves in through the year. Elsewhere, the Indian archers were also quite on the mark as the women’s trio stunned reigning Olympic champion Korean team by a four-point margin in the World Cup Stage 4 final in Wroclaw, Poland in a historic feat.

It was the Indian women team’s second World Cup gold medal this year after a similar achievement at Stage 3 in Medellin, Colombia where they had beaten China in the gold medal clash. The unassuming cueists also gave the country few moments of pride with Aditya Mehta clinching a gold medal in the World Games in Cali, Columbia and finishing runner-up in the USD 3,00,000 Indian Open in October.

But in boxing, the continuing administrative logjam worsened into a full-fledged factional tug-of-war while Indian boxing’s poster boy, Vijender Singh, found himself at the center of a devastating drug scandal in what was a thoroughly tumultuous year for the country’s pugilists.

Suspended internationally last year, the Indian Boxing Federation remained a pariah this year too, preventing the country’s boxers from competing under the national flag. To top it all, Vijender, the man who attained nationwide stardom after bringing home India’s maiden Olympic and World Championship medals, was implicated in a drug scandal, tarnishing his reputation even though no evidence was found against him after the initial brouhaha. In fact, there was not much to cheer for in Indian boxing this year barring a fine show in the Asian Championships, where Shiva Thapa, the latest star on the horizon, fetched the country a gold medal for the first time since 2009.

But if there was one defining moment in Indian sports this year, it was Tendulkar walking into the sunset after 24 glorious years in international cricket.

It indeed was a ‘Farewell to Remember’ when Tendulkar played his 200th and final Test match at his homeground Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. His last innings in Test cricket bore testimony to legendary status — an innings that was high on quality and aesthetic value for those who had loved the ‘Game of glorious uncertainties’.

200 Test matches, 100 international centuries, more than 50,000 runs across all formats at the senior level are not just numbers or milestones for the cricket crazy Indians.

His farewell speech at the Wankhede on November 16 will forever be etched in the memory of his fans as there was hardly anyone who didn’t wipe a tear on that emotional afternoon.

Tendulkar left a legacy but with his departure a new chapter unfolded in Indian cricket as the ‘transition phase’, which had been a buzz word since the retirement of Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly was completed.

The ‘Gen-Next’ under Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s able stewardship took over quite successfully with Virat Kohli easily being the best of the lot in terms of talent transformed into performance.

On the flipside, S Sreesanth, whose ability to swing the ball had helped India win their first Test in South Africa, was arrested along with Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila for alleging in spot-fixing while playing for Rasjasthan Royals in the sixth edition of Indian Premier League.

Although released on bail, Sreesanth had been handed a life ban by BCCI after their internal probe found the Kerala cricketer guilty. Once a prodigious talent, Sreesanth will now have to live with the ignominy of being a tainted cricketer rather than being called a World Cup winner.

If Sreesanth has been confined to oblivion because of his misdeeds, BCCI president N Srinivasan had a tumultous year as he came under the eye of storm.

His son-in-law and Chennai Super Kings’ former Team Principal Gurunath Meiyappan was arrested by the Mumbai Police on allegations of placing bets on his team’s matches along with failed Bollywood actor and former reality show contestant Vindoo Dara Singh.

While a section in the BCCI called for Srinivasan’s head, the Tamil Nadu strongman who has fought many boardroom battles managed to keep his citadel intact.

The other bad news in Indian sports was the scrapping of the Indian Grand Prix from next year’s Formula One calendar.

The race has been pulled off the F1 roster for scheduling and ‘logistics’ problems but the organisers are bullish about its return in 2015.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone cited ‘political’ problems in conducting the race in the country but the Jaypee Group is hopeful that they will bring the race back to India in 2015.

In tennis, an unprecedented players’ revolt shook the sport in a controversy-marred beginning of the year but when the dust settled Sania Mirza, Somdev Devvarman and Leander Paes brought cheers to the fans by their on-court successes.

In a dramatic move, 11 top players presented a united front against the All India Tennis Association (AITA) to bring about changes in the way the game is being governed and forced the national tennis body agree to some of their demands.

On the brighter side, a 40-year-old Leander Paes was still able to add to his Grand Slam collection. The victory at US Open men’s doubles with Radek Stepanek was Paes’ 14th major title. He is still not done and is eager to continue at least till the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Even as the athletes presented their best before the world, the administrators embarrassed themselves routinely.

The most talked about of the lot were the ones at the helm in the Indian Olympic Association.

Having blatantly violated the International Olympic Committee’s diktats on more than one occasion throughout the year, the Indian Olympic Association was finally left with no option but to amend its constitution as per the world body’s directives following an ultimatum by it.

The decision to amend the IOA constitution in line with Olympic Charter was taken at its Special General Body Meeting on December 8 after the IOC served an ultimatum stating that it would de-recognise India if “charge-framed” persons are not barred from contesting polls, among other directives.

Their defiance for most of the year made a mockery of the attempts by the Sports Ministry to resolve the situation with the IOC.

But with the IOA finally bowing to pressure, things promised to brighten up for India next year when the country’s athletes are expected to get their right to compete under the national flag back.

In fact, with the Asian and Commonwealth Games lined up, 2014 promises to be a blockbuster one for Indian sports if the administrators manage to sort out the current mess. PTI