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A Roller Coaster Year


Indian sport in 2016 lived the life of a liftman, so to say, full of ups and downs, what with Kohli roaring, BCCI getting stumped, AITA subjugated, and four medals at the Rio Paralimic Games, writes veteran sports scribe Harpal Singh Bedi
HARPAL SINGH BEDI | Issue Dated: February 5, 2017, New Delhi
Tags : ICC | Shashank Manohar | Rio Olympics | BFI | IOC | T20 World Cup | Virat Kohli | MS Dhoni | Sri Lanka | Zimbabwe | New Zealand | Garfield Sobers | John Simpson |

On the field, Indian sports could not have asked for a happier ending of 2016, which saw many highs than lows.

The Men in Blue finished at the top of the ICC’s test cricket ranking, number two in T20 and three in ODI’s. Karun Nair became only the third batsmen in Test history to convert his debut tonne into a triple tonne.

Anurag Thakur succeeded Manohar as the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The cash rich board was involved in a bitter legal battle following its refusal to accept the Supreme Court appointee Lodha Committee’s recommendations. Off the field, Shashank Manohar was unanimously elected as the first independent Chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC) .

The Indian hockey team regained the Junior World Cup after 15 years. Hockey India chief Narender Batra became the first Indian to head the International Hockey Federation (FIH), and the world boxing body (AIBA) recognised Boxing Federation of India (BFI) after a gap of four years.

The Kabbadi team retained the world title, boxer Vijender Singh held on to his WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight crown as the year closed.

Nita Ambani, wife of Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani, surprised everybody by being nominated to the International Olympics Committee (IOC). She repudiated the once-claims of former Indian nominee Raja Randhir Singh of the IOC being a “private members’ club”.

However, there were many heartbreaks as well, including India’s failure in the T20 World cup, disastrous showing by the largest ever contingent in the Olympics where shuttler PV Sindhu and wrestler Sakshi Malik’s heroics saved it from a total washout.

But for brief interlude due to Olympics, cricket continued to dominate the sports pages. Team India under Virat Kohli won nine out of the 12 test matches -(2-0 against West Indies, 3-0 against New Zealand and 4-0 against England, while three tests ‑ two against West Indies and one against England ‑ ended in draws) - that they played this year

The MS Dhoni-led squad in the T20 and ODI’s gave an uneven performance. They threw away the ODI series (1-4) against Australia and then stumbled against West Indies in the semi-final of the T20 WC.

However, they did compensate for the losses to some extent by reclaiming the Asia Cup, and recording series wins against Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, and making a clean sweep of T20 series against Australia (3-0).

Batsman Karun Nair emulated likes Garfield Sobers and John Simpson while scoring unbeaten 303 in the fifth test against England in Chennai. The 25-year-old also became only the second Indian batsman after Virender Sehwag (309,319) to score a Test triple century.  India also recorded their highest score in Tests, 759/7 in the same test, previous highest was the 726/9 declared against Sri Lanka in 2009.

Kohli piled up 1,215 runs in tests this year at an average of 75.93 ‑ which also includes three double hundreds, a record for an Indian batsman. Off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin finished with 72 wickets and 612 runs and for the second consecutive year ended up being the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket .He was declared the ICC Cricketer of the Year to win the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy.

Earlier in the year the 12th edition of the much delayed South Asian Games (SAG) were held from 5 February to 16 in Guwahati and Shillong. A total of 2,672 athletes from eight countries competed in 226 events over 22 sports. India once again stamped its dominance bagging 308 medals (188 gold, 90 silver and 30 bronze)

For Rio Olympics the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) fielded a team of 117 athletes-, 63 men and 54 women, across 15 sports at the Games. This huge contingent had three Olympic medallists from London: shuttler Saina Nehwal, freestyle wrestler and four-time Olympian Yogeshwar Dutt, and rifle shooter Gagan Narang.

Tennis star 1996 bronze medallist Leander Paes set a record for his seventh Olympic appearance, while air rifle marksman Abhinav Bindra, the nation’s first and so far the only individual gold medallist (2008), was the flag bearer in the opening ceremony at his fifth consecutive Games.

Before the Games, sports officials kept asserting that this edition would be the turning point for the sports of the second most populous nation on the planet. Some even went on the say that country will win at least 10 medals this time.

But at the end India managed a chalk up a tally of just two medals; a silver and a bronze and was ranked 67th among the participants at Rio. The fact that we did not finish last among all the participating countries provides small consolation.

Sindhu won a silver and Sakshi bagged a bronzer to save the big squad blushes, and gymnast Dipa Karmakar missed a bronze by 0.15 points but her clean finish in the high-risk Produnova vault made her the darling of the nation.

Archery, boxing shooting, tennis, and wrestling were slated as major medal hopes. All of them flopped. Furthermore, athletes like Saina Nehwal, Yogeshwar Dutt and few others carried injuries.

The track and field squad formed the largest component of the squad and their showing (but for a few) was nothing less than scandalous.

The most travelled Indian hockey team raised hopes of glory at the Olympics by making it to the finals of the Champions Trophy for the first time at London a month before. But the team let down its legions of fans by finishing a poor eighth, while Indian women, who had qualified after a gap of 36 years, performed even worse. They were eliminated in the group stage, where they were placed last. However, in the last two months of the year, hockey team(s) salvaged some reputation and pride. The men’s team beat Pakistan 3–2 in the final to win the Asian champions trophy for the second time; and in the process took revenge of the defeats it suffered at the hands of its arch rivals in the league stage and in the final of the SAG. Women also chipped in by winning the Asian Champions trophy for the first time, overpowering fancied China 3-2.

In Para Olympics too, the country sent its largest ever delegation: 19 competitors in five sports. They did India proud by winning four medals - two Gold (high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu, Javelin thrower Devender Jhajharia), one Silver (shot putter Deepa Malik) and one Bronze (high jumper Varun Bhatti). It was country’s best ever performance in the history of these games.

The icing on the cake was the superb showing by the colts who won the Junior World Cup at Lucknow beating powerhouses like England, Australia and Belgium and in the process erased the painful memories of the last edition of the cup held in New Delhi in 2013 where the hosts had finished 10th.

In Badminton, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu proved that her showing at Rio was no fluke. She had started the year by winning the Malaysia Masters Grand Prix for the second time and at the fag end clinched the prestigious China Open before closing the year by finishing runners up at the Hong Kong Open.

Eighteen-year old Aditi Ashok emerged as new golfing sensation. She made history by being the youngest and first Indian to win the Lalla Aicha Tour School. She became the first and the only Indian golfer who played the Asian Youth Games (2013), Youth Olympic Games (2014), Asian Games (2014) and Rio Olympics (2016). She earned the distinction of being the first Indian to win a Ladies European Tour title when she claimed the Hero Women’s Indian Open with a score of 3-under-par 213. Mhow-based 51-year-old Mukesh Kumar became the oldest golfer to win an Asian Tour title when he lifted the Panasonic Open.

Indian boxing’s poster boy Vijender Singh had a dream run as professional this year. Having won his 6th professional win in a row, all coming by way of knockout he defeated Australian Kerry Hope to clinch WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight title and, moved up to number 10th spot in the WBO rankings. He retained the title by thrashing former world champion Francis Cheka of Tanzania at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex here.

Pankaj Advani defeated multiple time world champion Peter Gilchrist in the world billiards final (150-up format) to claim the only major title of the year to take his overall tally to 16.

There were controversies galore starting with BCCI’s defiance of the Lodha Committee’s recommendation which forced the Supreme Court to step in. Following allegations of corruption, match fixing and betting scandals in cricket, the highest court of the country appointed a three-panel member led by Justice R M Lodha in January 2015 to look into the functioning of BCCI and suggest reforms.

The Lodha Committee, in January 2016, recommended series of reforms including one state, one vote , restriction on ministers and civil servants and those above 70 from becoming its members and cooling off period It also suggested the setting up of a players’ association. On July 18, the Supreme Court passed its judgment and asked BCCI to implement a majority of the Lodha Committee proposals within four to six months. The court appointed Justice Lodha to oversee the implementation process. Mumbai Cricket Association President Sharad Pawar stepped down from his position. Defying Lodha Panel recommendations, the BCCI conducted its AGM, picking a five-member selection panel for the men’s, women’s and junior teams as opposed to a three-member panel.

Chief Justice of India TS Thakur warned the board saying “BCCI thinks it is law unto itself. We know how to get our orders implemented. BCCI thinks it is the lord. You better fall in line or we will make you fall in line.”

For the first time the cash rich board is feeling the heat as the recommendations directly hit at the foundations of the vested interests who have been ruling the roost without accountability and transparency. As if that were not enough, the once “invincible” BCCI was being targeted by its own former chief who is now chairman of the ICC. Manohar, however, insists that he was the independent ICC chairman, “so I have to look at the best interests of the ICC. It’s for the BCCI representative to look after the best interests of the BCCI”.

India was also shamed when Narsingh Yadav was banned for four-years by the Court of Arbitration of Sports, throwing away the clean chit given by the National Anti-Doping Agency into the dustbin. Before Olympics, there was an ugly spat between Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and two-time Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar, who wanted to go to Rio. He sought a retrial and match with Narsingh Yadav. His plea was rejected by WFI. The matter was taken to the court which decided in favour of WFI. The whole episode left a lot of  bitterness behind.

Sports Minister Vijay Goel was cautioned by the Olympic organisers for the “aggressive and rude” behaviour of his entourage. The organisers even threatened to cancel his accreditation in a letter written to Chef-de-mission.

The All India Tennis Association, reeling under the government’s direction to go strictly by the National Sports Code was forced to name a new acting president in place of Anil Khanna, who “voluntarily opted out in the interests of the sport in the country”.

However AITA sprang a surprise when it named “estranged” Mahesh Bhupathi as non-playing captain of Davis Cup team, terminating the services of Anand Amritraj. AITA also dropped two times Olympian Rohan Bopanna from the team who cried foul and wanted to know the reasons for getting the axe.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017