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The great Indian sports 'tamasha' of 2011

Brouhaha over the Sports Bill, doping scandal and never-ending power struggle between the two hockey bodies overshadowed all developments in 2011.

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Mihir Vasavda

Updated: Sep 29, 2017, 06:18 AM IST

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The first-ever Indian GP was a roaring success; shooters and boxers too kept their pride intact. However, brouhaha over the Sports Bill, doping scandal and never-ending power struggle between the two hockey bodies overshadowed the rest, writes Mihir Vasavda.

Bull’s eye!
Indian shooters continued to assert their presence on the international stage, with as many as nine marksmen making the cut for the London Olympics. While Gagan Narang and Hariom Singh had qualified for Olympics last year itself, seven others emerged as medals prospects in the last one year. Beijing Olympics gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, Guangzhou Asian Games gold winner Ronjan Sodhi, Sanjeev Rajput, Hariom Singh, Vijay Kumar, Rahi Sarnobat, Annu Raj Singh and Shagun Chowdhary are the ones who have hopes of winning medals at the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza. Double trap marksman Sodhi reached yet another milestone in his decorated career when he was ranked No. 1.

Turf war
It seems no lessons have been learnt from the past. It was a year when the tussle for power between Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation reached its pinnacle. It saw the Champions Trophy tournament being taken away from India and a promising city-based league, World Series Hockey, being postponed. The sports minister tried to play the mediator but he too seems to have lost all hope. On the field, India continued to remain as inconsistent as ever. After the flop show at Azlan Shah, Hockey India appointed Australian Mike Nobbs as the chief coach. India won the Asian Champions Trophy in what was his first assignment but managed to finish second at the Champions Challenge, where everyone expected them to win.

Green pastures
If, and that’s a big if, India manage to reach a football World Cup — as the AIFF hopes it will in the next 15-20 years — 2011 will be looked upon as a path-breaking year. A lot of effort has gone into improving the grassroots. In Rob Baan, we have a highly-reputed technical director. Numerous academies (AIFF/FIFA, Baichung Bhutia Soccer School, Liverpool/Man Utd Soccer Schools) have come up. The AIFF is already reaping benefits of its youth development programme, with the likes of Jeje and Dika coming up the ranks. On the field, India started the year with a gritty performance at the Asian Cup — its first appearance in more than two decades — and ended with a bang by retaining the SAFF Cup. Three coaches were changed after Bob Houghton resigned amidst the allegations of racism while Bhutia’s retirement will remain a watershed event.

Wrest assured
Expectations were high from the wrestlers after an overwhelming show in 2010. However, they had a forgetable time in the year’s biggest event — the world championships. The tournament was also a gateway to London 2012, but the grapplers managed to squander the opportunity. Sushil Kumar was the biggest let down. He lost his world title after crashing out in the second round. The rest, too, didn’t do much to impress except for Mausam Khatri, who made it to the pre-quarters. The women wrestlers, too, matched the performance of their male counterparts. The saving grace was the performance of the not-so-known wrestlers in the Commonwealth Championships, where India returned with 40 medals. Competition at that level, though, is far less compared to the Asian or world stage.

Packing a punch
With their stellar performances throughout the year, the pugilists have given hope of at least one medal at the Olympics. Several new names have come up, with the old ones still going strong. With his bronze medal at the world championships, youngster Vikas Krishan led India’s march into the international arena. He, along with, four others — Jai Bhagwan, L Devendro Singh and Manoj Kumar — booked berths for the 2012 Games. Vijender Singh shocked us with his early exit from the Worlds, so did Suranjoy Singh. India also entered the big league of boxing after sports management firm TransStadia bought a franchise, Mumbai Fighters, in the World Series of Boxing. Thirteen Indians including Akhil Kumar are part of Mumbai outfit that also has four overseas recruits.

Quiver full of hope
Archers have been achieving a steady and continuous growth over the last few years. And with outstanding performances in the world championships this year, archery has become one of the disciplines where India can realistically hope for a medal. One of India’s biggest achievements came this year when the recurve trio of Deepika Kumari, Chekrovolu Swuro and Laishram Bombayala Devi finished runners-up in the World Championships in Turin, Italy. Kumari went on to win her second individual gold in World Youth Archery Championships.

Hall of shame
Truly shameful, this! India’s Golden Girls dramatically fell from grace, having been caught for consuming banned substances and being suspended for a year. Three members of the 4x400m relay team, Ashwini Akkunji, Sini Jose and Mandeep Kaur, tested positive while the fourth, Manjeet Kaur, is still conspicuous by her absence. This has effectively ended India’s hopes in the relay event of the Olympics, one of India’s strongest points in athletics.  Their coach, Yuri Ogorodnik, was sacked. Three other athletes, Juana Murmu, Priyanka Panwar and Tiana Mary Thomas tested positive in the test conducted by NADA and were handed one-year suspensions.

‘Kill Bill’
Even as the Lokpal issue continues to force the decision-makers to work extra hours, another contentious bill threatens to take the House by a storm if passed by the cabinet at the turn of the year. Ever since the Sports Bill was introduced by Ajay Maken, he has been at the loggerheads with various associations, including the IOA and BCCI. The initial proposal was outrightly rejected by the cabinet in November and Maken is expected to present the revised version of the bill soon. The International Olympic Committee, too, has threatened to bar India from the Olympics if the bill is passed, saying that it infringes the federation’s autonomy.

Doubles fault!
An ordinary year ended on a sour note when Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi decided to split once again. The duo, who went on to win the Chennai Open, made the finals of the Australian Open before winning the Masters 1000 titles at Miami and Cincinnati. They even reached the semifinals of the World Tour Finals. Their split resulted in the breaking of Rohan Bopanna’s successful partnership with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. The Coorgi ditched the Pakistani so that he could partner Bhupathi at the Olympics next year. The year also saw Sania Mirza come up with a few stellar performances partnering Russian Vesnina. Somdev Devvarman had a decent first half but he couldn’t do much in the second half of the season. In the Davis Cup World Group (first round) tie held in March, India lost 1-4 to defending champions Serbia.

Checkmate
Such is the curiosity over his form that even the New York Times ran an analysis story, headlined: “Is there something wrong with Viswanathan Anand?” His recent exploits suggest so. In the last three tournaments of the year, the Bilbao Masters, the Tal Memorial and the London Classic, Anand has only three wins, has lost as many times and drawn 21 games, including a never-ending streak of 11 continuous drawn matches. His current form overshadows the three titles he won in the later half of the year (at Leon (June), the Botvinnik Masters (September) and Corsica (November). Koneru Humpy, meanwhile, lost to Yifan Hou of China in the World Championships.

Vrooming ahead
Whatever pride was lost by the disastrous organisation of the Commonwealth Games last year, India managed to recover a bit of it by hosting a highly successful Formula One race at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida. A lot of credit for that has been attributed to the fact that it was a privately-organised affair, with minimal government intervention. About 90,000 turned up for the inaugural race, which was won by Sebastian Vettel. Among the Indian representation in F1, Force India managed to finish a creditable sixth among 11 teams. Mid way through the season, Vijay Mallya sold 44 per cent stake to Sahara’s Subrata Roy, making him the team’s co-owner. Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok did not manage anything noteworthy, but at least Karthikeyan had the satisfaction of driving in front of the home crowd. In MotoGP, Mahindra had an impressive debut. They managed a pole position and a third-place finish in the 125cc category. Later in the year, Machdar Motorsports launched an ambitious i1 Supercar Series, a city-based league that will begin early in 2012. A very productive year this, indeed!

Riding on a sledge
Winter sports are not so popular in this part of the world but India’s flag-bearer has made sure that the tricolour flutters high. Last week, Shiva Keshavan brought a little known sport into limelight by winning the gold at the Asia Cup luge event. The 30-year-old from Manali, who is also the only Indian to take part in the Winter Olympics, clocked 134.3 kmph at the Japan meet to set an Asian record and get India its first gold in an international winter sports event.

Chinese checkers
How Saina Nehwal will crack the Chinese code continues to remain a mystery. She had a disappointing year, bowing out early in the world championships, not doing much in the various super series events as well. And just when hopes of her winning an Olympic medal started to fade, she came up with a solid performance in the World Superseries Finals. She became the first Indian to reach the singles final of the year-ending event, losing to China’s Wang Yihan in the title clash. In doubles, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa created history by clinching bronze in the worlds.

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