So here we go ladies and gentlemen, signing off on another year of sporting thrills and spills. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that this was the year when Sania and Saina carried the banner of Indian sports, with rather moderate contributions elsewhere.
But then, it wasn’t a year that had too much to show in terms of competition, if you discount the various leagues, ranging from cricket to football to tennis to wrestling. But in terms of ‘real’ contests, there is no doubt that the two ladies, dominating their own versions of racquet sports to a large extent, were the newsmakers.
Sania Mirza: This article has to begin with Sania Mirza, simply because of her strike rate in terms of wins. I have never been a fan of people hopping on to the doubles or mixed doubles bandwagon instead of trying to make an effort in singles. But once they have opted for that as a career plan, it is as well that we applaud them for their achievements.
So we have Sania, who hit pay dirt when she decided to stitch a partnership with the rejuvenated and re-focussed Martina Hingis. Hingis was a star in her own right as a singles champion, so her comeback was welcomed and looked forward to by all. It was a very smart move on her part too, to get together with Sania, who is one of the best in the doubles business.
So that was it for the opposition for most part of the year.
This partnership began with the Indian Wells title and they did not look back. Sania was ranked No. 1 in doubles in April, and also seeded No. 1 for the French Open with Martina. But that crown eluded them as they went down in the final. However, Wimbledon and US Open crowns, plus the WTA Final were in the list of 10 title wins.
Saina Nehwal: Saina doesn’t need a partner to make her mark. Her efforts are laudable in that here is a sport where she has to, in contrast Sania, meet absolutely the top names in the world. For her to hold her own in this list is remarkable.
Badminton has often flattered to deceive. We have had good players right from the mid-1980s, but barring an odd Prakash Padukone or Pulella Gopichand, they have largely deceived. So Saina was quite the sensation right from the beginning.
This year was notable as Saina became, in April, the first-ever Indian woman to hold the No. 1 ranking in women’s singles. While she failed to hold on to that spot for long, she did climb to a high that may once again be elusive. Saina had a moderate year in terms of title wins, with three coming her way – the Syed Modi International, where she beat Carolina Marin of Spain, a rivalry that may yet see more chapters written in 2016.
Saina went on to win the Indian Open, but missed out on three titles when she finished runner-up in the big ones – the All England and the BWF World Championship – going down to Marin in both finals. Saina also made the China Open final but fell to home star Li Xuerui.
Saina may well have snared the top ranking for the entire year, but for her insistency. She was knocked out in the second rounds of the Japan and Denmark Super Series, as well as in the round-robin stage of the BWF Super Series Masters. She beat Marin in the Masters league contest, but didn’t do enough.
But it’s still quite a year for Saina Nehwal. It could have been better, but we in India should be happy with what we get, given that we barely get anything in most events.
Cricket: The news here was Mahendra Singh Dhoni and N. Srinivasan being out and towards the end of the year, Lalit Modi being in.
How can you keep politics out of something like the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). So Srinivasan got what was coming his way, Shashank Manohar again coming in on the basis of his ‘Mr. Clean’ image. Modi made it back into the Rajasthan Cricket Association, but Manohar wasn’t smiling. But that’s normal.
Dhoni realised he wasn’t much of a Test captain and if he wanted to extend his career, he would have to quit Test cricket. He did so, to the great delight of Virat Kohli. Dhoni didn’t exactly cover himself in glory as an ODI skipper wither this year, contriving to go down to Bangladesh in a series defeat which wasn’t acceptable. Wasn’t much better against South Africa at home either, as India went down 2-3 in the ODIs, including a 400-plus score by the visitors at the Wankhede Stadium, which germinated the doctored pitches for the subsequent Test series, which India won at a canter.
Kohli has done way better. He looks more aggressive, keener to win. He has made changes that have worked for India, with a 2-1 series with in Sri Lanka and then the whitewash of South Africa, whatever the pitches may have been.
Towards the end of the year, up came the tiff between the ruling Delhi Government and the Delhi & Districts cricket Association (DDCA).
That, however, is still a work in progress.
Hockey: Hockey doesn’t give too many great headlines nowadays. The news that India qualified for the Rio Olympics was greeted more with relief than enthusiasm. But to be fair to the side, they are looking good and the hear-earned victory in the Hockey World League bronze medal match with Holland was ample proof of that.
Among those we may not see in a competitive role after the Rio Games will be skipper Sardar Singh. But he, along with Roelant Oltmans, has done something right. Hopefully that will be the champagne story of 2016, garnished by successes that we so look forward to.