India and cricket. One would think the two rhyme, if we had to go by the global perception of sports in the country. And yet, an array of sports in the country have slowly crept into the media, paving the way for non-cricket heroes in a cricket-crazy nation. It would be difficult to ignore the drastic change in the sports arena in India: from the youth following the FIFA World Cup to the T to the English Premier League being monitored closely by jersey-donning twentysomethings, football for instance, has well found its way in the sports section today. It does not end there: with recent Bollywood movies bringing hockey and football to the fore, it does not come as a surprise that incessant media coverage on these sports are now seeing dawn with sports academies as well springing up in different parts of the city.
However, it is not all hunky dory for the world of sports in the country: the now-tainted International Olympic Committee, which suspended the Indian Olympic Association after the Commonwealth Games fiasco, forced Indian athletes to perform independently at the recent Winter Olympics Sochi Games. That, to the country, represents yet another step backward in its quest to cast its net over other sports, making the "how hard is it to find a handful of sportspersons in a country of a billion?" rhetoric very much extant.
Nonetheless, the winning spirit in India is one that anyone can validate, where the face behind the win is always venerated, shedding light on the person in question and adding value to the inconspicuous sport. Three of those heroes have made now oiled the works for the world of sports.
Age : 26 yrs.
THE TOUGH Queen
A World Cup trophy, two gold medals at international events, member of the national team and training for the Inter-Railway Kabaddi tournament, Abhilasha Mhatre is not your regular senior clerk at the Central Railway. She has a list of credentials to flaunt. Having trained for over 12 years in Mumbai, she will also be participating in this year's Kabaddi World Cup that should be jointly hosted by Pakistan and India, in Lahore and Ludhiana respectively. In a country that worships the ground that cricket players walk on, Mhatre has successfully earned a spot as one of the sportspersons of the year having won the Kabaddi World Cup against Iran in 2012 at the Pataliputra Stadium in Patna. Kabaddi is a sport native to the country, representing the soul of rural India. With no equipment whatsoever needed but mere lines to be drawn, Mhatre's wins are a step forward for a sport of swiftness and intelligence that should be revived amongst the Indian youth today.
Age : 15 yrs.
The Little Master
To earn such a sobriquet for many equates in years of striving and a truck load of luck on their side. For right-hand batsman Prithvi Shaw, however, it is a well-deserved moniker that is laced with a 546-run record, including 85 boundaries, five sixes and 4,000 runs in a three-year career. Having secured a record-breaking score at an Elite Division match of the Harris Shield at Azad Maidan in Mumbai last November, Shaw can now officially be called the highest scorer in India and the third highest in the world in a single innings in competitive cricket. He was also nominated as the captain of the Mumbai Under-16 cricket team.
Shaw's humble beginnings started in Virar; the young boy would travel up to two hours every morning to play cricket in Bandra. Having lost his mother at the age of four, Shaw's potential was pre-empted by scouts and he moved to Santacruz with his father. Having been a vital figure in the documentary Beyond All Boundaries about cricket in India, Shaw was selected to travel to England to further his training and education related to cricket. During his travels, the 15-year-old played for Cheadle Hulme School in Manchester and for Gloucestershire's second team.
Age : 23 yrs.
Yuvraj Walmiki, a professional hockey player is part of the Indian national hockey team and member of the Delhi Waveriders in the Hockey India League. Bought by the Delhi franchise for $18,500, he was also a member of the 2011 Asian Men's Hockey Champions Trophy winning Indian team. This year, he scored the only goal of the Delhi Waveriders and guided the team to their second consecutive final. He is said to have the right insight on being at the right place at the right time during matches, finding ingenious ways to be unmarked when needed. While India might not have performed as well as expected in the Hockey World League earlier this year, Walmiki is hell-bent on clinching on to the sport after having contemplated leaving it altogether for the lack of support it receives from government bodies and fans alike. Hockey certainly has to be given the credit it deserves given the sprout of talented youngsters who have been a part of the sport recently. It is the national sport of the country and yet, the fast-paced action, hard hits and sporadic but great goals, seemingly do not make the cut for being an entertainment-worthy game to watch. Walmiki's humble background—having grown up in the slums of Mumbai, and his drive to reach nationals, should be good enough incentives for Mumbai's youth to take interest in the sport, believes the sportsman.
Sports of the times
"I feel that there has been a dramatic change in the field of sports. This change has definitely been for the better. Even though India is still a one-sport country, there is a huge awareness about other sports too. India has seen a rise in badminton players, shooters, tennis players among many others. I believe that if we don't start encouraging other sports now, we will never start."
Ayaz Memon, sportswriter
Hockey has evolved!
"It is inevitable for youngsters to come into the Indian team because, let's face it, hockey is getting more and more fitness-oriented, strength-oriented and has become a high fitness game. Only youngsters can play at that level of fitness. So you will see that happening more & more. That's just the way hockey has evolved."
Viren Rasquinha former India hockey captain