Indian sports in review: Cricket soap opera, Sania Mirza-Saina Nehwal super show dominated 2015
New Delhi: A phase of transition gripped India’s favourite obsession both on and off the field but tennis ace Sania Mirza and top shuttler Saina Nehwal ensured that sports other than cricket also had their moments of glory as they geared up for next year’s Olympics in a low-key 2015.
Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal
That cricket dominated headlines for most part of the year was hardly a surprise given the drama which unfolded in an episodic manner, be it on the field or inside the BCCI power corridors. Whether it was Virat Kohli starting his Test captaincy reign in the middle of a high-profile series in Australia or N Srinivasan waging a lone battle to save his chair before eventually bowing out from both the BCCI and the ICC, cricket was undoubtedly a soap opera that had the fans hooked.
The feisty and ferocious Kohli ushered in the new age Indian cricket team with an approach which had the purists divided. The sight of an Indian team unabashed about getting under the opponents’ skin as much with words and gestures as with sheer superiority of skill was met with mixed response from both the fans and yesteryear stars of the game.
It was also a year which marked the end of an era with the retirement of swashbuckling opener Virender Sehwag and pace spearhead Zaheer Khan. Away from the cricket field, it was a year in which Sania was unarguably the biggest success story with her staggering 10 titles on the tour — two of them Grand Slams.
Her pairing with Swiss legend Martina Hingis was near invincible through the year and the duo enjoyed a 55:7 win-loss ratio, clinching nine titles together in all. The stupendous success catapulted the duo to world number one spot in women’s doubles.
Among the men, India’s ‘ageless wonder’ Leander Paes continued to bring laurels for himself by winning three Grand Slam mixed doubles titles with Hingis being the common factor. If Sania ruled the tennis court, Saina rediscovered herself on the badminton court, becoming the first Indian woman shuttler to occupy the world number one spot, though for a brief period, before injury derailed her run to an extent.
The London Olympic bronze-medallist snared two titles and became the first Indian woman to make the finals of the All England and the World Championships. Away from the glaring spotlight, the shooters were on mark, bagging seven Olympic quota places through various events and they would once again be the country’s prime medal
hope in Rio de Janeiro.
However, as has been the case for several years, administration of sports in India remained woefully managed. While the men and women who matter got busy preparing for Rio Olympics next year, the politicking among officials, especially boxing, made for a depressing footnote. In fact, the sport does not have a national federation anymore and the effect is beginning to show inside the ring as well with none of the boxers managing to secure an Olympic berth so far.
However, Vijender Singh turned out to be one bright spot amid the gloom, stunning one and all with his decision to turn professional. He has so far been an unstoppable force, winning all his contests via knockouts. The year began with the cricket series against Australia well in progress. The team was recovering from the shock of
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s retirement after the Melbourne Test and there was eagerness to see Kohli’s approach to captaincy amid the dramatic turn of events.
The Indians lost the series but there was near unanimity that Kohli was the man to take Indian cricket forward. The Delhi batsman did not disappoint and delivered the first series win as captain in Sri Lanka, ending a 22-year wait. The young leader then made history when he led India to a 3-0 series win at home against No.1 Test side South Africa, who were made to taste an overseas loss after nine years.
But even in its moment of glory, controversy did not leave the Indian team with a furore on the pitches prepared for the series culminating into an ICC warning for the country. There were googlies being bowled inside the BCCI boardroom as well and after brazening out the 2013 spot-fixing storm for more than a year, Srinivasan was finally bowled out.
Shashank Manohar, under whom Srinivasan served as Secretary, managed to get the BCCI rally behind him for a second stint as President of the country’s richest sports body. Eventually, Srinivasan also had to give up on his ICC Chairmanship after the BCCI withdrew its support to the once all-powerful figure. It was Manohar again who replaced Srinivasan.
The Indian Premier League continued to churn out on and off field drama with Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals suspended for two years for involvement of their key officials Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra in betting-related activities during the 2013 season.
Meiyappan, the former Team Principal of CSK, and RR co-owner Kundra were suspended for life for indulging in betting and bringing the IPL and the game into disrepute. But the players of the two teams were not made to suffer even as they had to split ways with new inductees Pune and Rajkot pitching for the big guns from the suspended sides.
If Pune got the prized catch in Dhoni, then Rajkot bagged Suresh Raina, the two CSK veterans, who had seen the champion side win three editions of the cash-rich league.