Cricket has always been the first love of this country and there are no other sports which come close to it when it comes to popularity. In the last few years, India’s champion badminton stars have done excellently to stay in public eye. They have even put the cricketers in the shade.
Cueist Pankaj Advani, winning both the billiards and snooker world titles and Chess King Viswanathan Anand defying age and critics by taking the World Rapid Chess Championship title, saw to it that the year ended on a high even though the hockey team struggled to stay among the elite.
For both cricket and badminton, the year has been phenomenal and plenty is expected in 2018, what with India taking on South Africa, England and Australia in tough encounters.
Orgnaisationally, the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) can pat itself for hosting the Under-17 World Cup, never mind that the Indian footballers have a long way to get anywhere near international standards.
The Indian cricket team has proved that they are the best at home across all formats. They have been so good that they could experiment with their playing eleven, by shuffling, resting and rotating players at will, quietly keeping out two principal spinners of the side, and yet remaining unbeatable.
The Test team for the second year remains the Number One, while the Indians are behind South Africa at the second spot in the One-Day Internationals (ODI) and a rung below top dogs Pakistan in the Twenty20 format.
They can look back with satisfaction even if they are reminded that they did it all playing at home. If they had not lost the first ODI to Sri Lanka in difficult conditions at Dharmasala, they would have been the toppers in the format as well. Statistics can be maddening in cricket, every small detail or a figure magnifying a performance.
Be it Kuldeep Yadav becoming a third Indian to get a hat-trick after Kapil Dev and Chetan Sharma and Rohit Sharma cracking a third double hundred and also equalling the fastest hundred in the One-Dayers, or Virat Kohli hitting double centuries for the asking in Tests. To explain the team’s excellent showing in figures, they have won 37 of 53 matches they played in all formats, working out to a fraction less than 70 percent of victories.
What it does not say is that they have not lost any of the Test series they played. They have played 11 Tests in the year and won seven to equal Australia’s record of taking nine series. They had one bad loss, against Australia at Pune, before rallying to win the series 2-1.
The win percentage in ODIs has been a shade over 70 percent, winning 21 of the 29 matches while they played 13 Twenty20s and won nine. One ODI loss that has hurt India is to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final in England by a staggering 180-un margin and disappointingly for them the man who hammered a hundred, Fakhar Zaman, returned to bat after his dismissal for three runs was off a Jasprit Bhumrah no-ball.
That loss also turned out to be the last match for coach Anil Kumble as he put in his papers after terming as untenable his differences with skipper Kohli. Ravi Shastri, who had lost the job to Kumble, is back in the saddle. Not to be left behind, Mithali Raj’s women’s team came very close to winning the World Cup and the captain herself became the highest run-getter in the ODIs.
So much so, Mithali shot back at a media person when asked who’s her favourite player in the men’s team with a counter-question whether he ever asked the men players who their favourtie woman player is! Women’s cricket has come of age. Srikanth became the player to beat in badminton world after he became the fifth player to win four Super Series titles in a calendar year.
If he wanted he could have won another title but he decided to rest and prepare for the year-end World Super Series finals in Dubai. Shockingly, he made an early exit from the group stage itself. Saina Nehwal, soon joined by Sindhu, took Indian badminton to great heights. Now the men have joined them, not one or two but four players.
If Srikanth, Bhamidipati Saipraneeth and Sameer Verma have all won international titles, Haseena Sunil Prannoy did everything short of winning a final by paving way for Srikanth in two tournaments by eliminating top guns Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long. Srikanth won his four titles in pairs of back-to-back.
Sindhu added to her Rio Olympics silver, the world championships and the World Super Series finals, raising doubts about her temperament and propensity to choke. She won two Super Series titles.The two finals she lost were too close to call till the last point.
Advani is another star who said he wanted to prove to himself that he can win both world titles in the same year as it has never been done before.
Just as badminton coach Pullela Gopichand said that he always believed that India can produce worldbeaters, Advani also feels that India has an enormous talent pool of billiards and snooker players and all they need is the right infrastructure and encouragement.
Anand has proved that age is only a number and he is still good enough to pull a move or two to checkmate the best in business.
(With inputs from IANS)