Indian sport had a good year in 2010. The government funding for the training of athletes for the Commonwealth Games was a big help, and also several initiative by the corporate world. But most of all, it was the efforts of individuals that bore fruit, as excellence in Indian sport remains a daunting task, in the absence of an effective grassroots or schools sporting project.
Let’s celebrate some of the achievers, beginning with sports other than cricket which, after all, remains a minor world sport, played seriously only by the Commonwealth countries.
The big star should be Sushil Kumar, the mighty little Hercules, who became the first Indian wrester to win a World Championship – he achieved this remarkable feat in Moscow in September with a 3-1 win over Alan Gogaev of Russia in the final of the 66 kg freestyle event. He also won the gold at the Commonwealth Games; he missed the Asian Games due to injuries, but by then he’d done enough to lay a claim to being the best Indian sportsperson of the year.
Another world champion would also be a worthy claimant to that title – Vishwanathan Anand. Forced by the Icelandic ash cloud to travel by road, he endured a 40-hour journey by road to reach Sofia to take on Veselin Topalov, the challenger. Anand lost the first game but after a tense battle in his opponent’s home territory, he emerged the winner, yet again.
Saina Nehwal also was at the top of her game in 2010. The 20-year-old won three titles in a row in June; she then won the crucial gold medal that put India above England in the medals tally at the Commonwealth Games. She failed to win a medal at the Asian Games, beaten in the quarterfinals. That spurred her on to greater determination, and her year ended on a winning note when she took the Hong Kong Super Series. She now No. 2 in the world and faces the challenge of ending the stranglehold of players from China on No. 1. It’s a challenge she can win.
Boxer Vijender Kumar remained the world No. 1 the whole of 2010. He failed to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games but won the gold at the Asian Games. The win was remarkable because he took on two-time world champion Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan in the final and won 7-0 – despite boxing with a dislocated thumb.
A high point in Indian sport was the Commonwealth Games, in which India finished at their highest ever position, No. 2, above England – another first. Before the Games began, the focus was on corruption, state of (un)preparedness and muck at the Games Village or venues, and last-minute activity to put everything into place. But when the Games began, there was no disaster.
India won 38 gold, 27 silver and 36 bronze; Australia were at the top at the top with 74 gold, 54 silver and 48 bronze. There were the usual CWG medals in shooting, boxing and archery. The wrestlers brought in a larger haul than expected.
The most remarkable medals were from athletics, in which Krishna Poonia led at 1-2-3 in discus throw. This, incidentally, was India’s first individual gold medal in CWG athletics after 1958. Indian women also won the 4×400 relay gold and 4×100 relay bronze.
At the Guangzhou Asian Games, India finished with its best performance at the Asiad since 1982 – with 14 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze medals. That’s a bit misleading, though. In 1982, India won 57 medals out of a total of 614 available; out of 199 gold on offer, India won 13. In 2010, the number of gold medals available was way up at 477 – India won 14. The total number of medals on offer was 1577, and India won 64. India’s share of medals has clearly fallen drastically.
But there were some very creditable winners, most of all in athletics –like Ashwini Akkunji, Preeja Sreedharan, Sudha Singh, Joseph Abraham and the women’s 4x400 relay team.
In boxing, apart from Vijender Singh, Vikas Kishan also won a gold, in the 60kg category.
There were two other remarkable performances: bronze medals for swimmer Virdhwal Khade and gymnast Ashish Kumar.
Now cricket – and Sachin Tendulkar. The 37-year continued to amaze, 21 years after he made his Test debut, retaining his love for the game and his determination to excel.
He got runs in Tests and ODIs, and two performance stood out: on 24 February at Gwalior, he became the first player to score a double century in One-day cricket; and towards the end of the year, in a losing cause, he scored an unbeaten 111 against South Africa at Centurion, his 50th Test century. He’s already got over 1500 Test runs this year, including a double century. It’s a measure of the expectations he raises that there still was criticism – that he didn’t shield the tail at Centurion (which was a hopeless situation anyway), and wasted too many balls in Gwalior (where he faced just 147 balls for 200!).
He also got 618 runs in the IPL.
The Indian cricket team had a mixed year. In Tests, it retained its No. 1 position, drawing series against South Africa and Sri Lanka and beating Australia and New Zealand at home and Bangladesh away. But the loss in the Centurion Test against South Africa displayed India is not competitive on difficult conditions away from home. More worrying is the early demise of promising fast bowlers and absence of pacers or spinners in the horizon.
In One-day cricket, India won the Asia Cup after 15 years. India also suffered defeat and an early exit from the T20 World Cup in the West Indies.
Off the ground, the year marked the exit of Lalit Modi from the IPL and the BCCI, after falling out with senior Board officials.
Indian tennis got some good news towards the end of the year when Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes announced their decision to pair up again; the duo won several titles with separate partners during the year.
Sania Mirza had a difficult year, with controversy over her betrothal and break-up with a fellow Hyderabadi, and subsequently marriage to Pakistan cricket player Shoaib Malik. She won the silver medal at the CWG, and ended the year on a happy note, with victory at the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge in Dubai.
Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan's Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the final of the US Open.