SPORTS TRIBUNE
 

MAGNIFICENT ’07
Indian players gave the country plenty to cheer during the year. Combining killer instinct with  a steely resolve, they made the world acknowledge their brilliance. Vikramdeep Johal looks at the superb performances in team sports, while M.S. Unnikrishnan profiles the individual achievers

India’s major sporting achievements over the decades have been so few and far between that there’s hardly any particular year that can be called “magnificent”. A top contender for this epithet is 1952, during which India recorded their first-ever victory in Test cricket (against England), wrestler KD Jadhav bagged the first individual Olympic medal for the country after Independence.

Triumph of teamwork
Team India clinched the Twenty20 World Cup against all odds

The hockey team was unstoppable in the Asia Cup; Baichung Bhutia & Co gave Indian football a much-needed fillip by winning the Nehru Cup
WHAT A Year: (top) Team India clinched the Twenty20 World Cup against all odds; (left) the hockey team was unstoppable in the Asia Cup; Baichung Bhutia & Co gave Indian football a much-needed fillip by winning the Nehru Cup

Winners all the way
Their sporting disciplines might not match the mass appeal of cricket and football, but their performances during 2007 were truly world class. Viswanathan Anand, Dola Banerjee and Pankaj Advani showed yet again why they are regarded as the best.

Dola Banerjee
WORLD CLASS:
(from left) Dola Banerjee hit the bullseye at the archery World Cup; Sania Mirza humbled
several top-ranked players and
Sania Mirza humbled several top-ranked players and broke into the top 30 of world tennis; Pankaj Advani successfully defended his world billiards title; Narain Karthikeyan guided India to their maiden triumph in the A1 Grand Prix
broke into the top 30 of world tennis; Pankaj Advani successfully defended his world billiards title; Narain Karthikeyan guided India to their maiden triumph in the A1 Grand Prix 



 





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MAGNIFICENT ’07

Indian players gave the country plenty to cheer during the year. Combining killer instinct with a steely resolve, they made the world acknowledge their brilliance. Vikramdeep Johal looks at the superb performances in team sports, while
M.S. Unnikrishnan profiles the individual achievers

Triumph of teamwork

India’s major sporting achievements over the decades have been so few and far between that there’s hardly any particular year that can be called “magnificent”. A top contender for this epithet is 1952, during which India recorded their first-ever victory in Test cricket (against England at Chennai), wrestler KD Jadhav bagged the first individual Olympic medal for the country after Independence, and the men’s hockey team clinched the Olympic gold at Helsinki.

However, 1952 pales in comparison with 2007, a year for which any superlative would be appropriate. For a change, India’s trophy cabinet became rather crowded, adorned with — hold your breath — the Twenty20 World Cup, men’s hockey Asia Cup, men’s football Nehru Cup, women’s Shastri hockey title, A1 Grand Prix crown, archery World Cup gold medal and world titles in chess and billiards.

The year saw the rise of Team India — in every sense of the term. The big triumphs in cricket, hockey and football were achieved by players who displayed killer instinct and the will to win, no matter how formidable the rival. Every individual was a vital cog in the wheel, who knew what was his place in the scheme of things. Of course, some outshone their team-mates with their brilliance — such as Yuvraj Singh (Twenty20 World Cup), Prabhjot Singh (Asia Cup) and Sunil Chetri (Nehru Cup) — but the others chipped in with useful contributions at crucial moments. Individualistic pursuits took a back seat as teamwork became the mantra for success.

Super September

It was a dream-like ninth month for India. The men’s hockey team bagged the Asia Cup, Tania Sachdev triumphed in the Asian Women’s Chess Championship, “Dhoni’s Daredevils” clinched the Twenty20 World Cup, Pankaj Advani retained the world billiards crown, and last but not least, Viswanathan Anand became the undisputed world chess champion.

It seemed to be the “end of the world” for Indian cricket when Rahul Dravid’s men crashed out of the ODI World Cup within the first fortnight of the seven-week-long mega event. The whole nation vented its anger in various ways on the “overpaid, underperforming” players. Not to be left behind, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) cracked the whip on the cricketers.

With such a nightmarish beginning, cricket lovers shuddered at the thought of what the rest of the year would bring. However, all their fears and doomsday predictions were confounded as Team India rose from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix. Led by a young and dynamic skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, they won the Twenty20 World Cup against all odds.

In the Test arena, Dravid-led India won a series in England for the first time since 1986. His successor, Anil Kumble, made a flying start as skipper by guiding the team to a series win over Pakistan — their first at home in 27 long years.

From “villains” to “heroes”, the cricketers got a taste of both extremes. Importantly, they performed well despite all the off-field goings-on — Dravid’s decision to quit captaincy, Dilip Vengsarkar’s showdown with the BCCI, the launch of the Indian Cricket League and the Indian Premier League, and the Great Indian Coach Hunt. “All’s well that ends well” — that’s how one can sum up this tumultuous year for Indian cricket.

After a nightmarish 2006, Indian hockey made significant strides on the road to recovery. Under the guidance of no-nonsense coach Joaquim Carvalho, India steamrolled one opposition after another on their way to the Asia Cup triumph in Chennai. Prabhjot Singh was in magical form, pumping in 15 of the 56 goals scored by India.

By an amazing coincidence, India’s three key victories in team sports came within a six-week period following the release of Chak De! India. It’s debatable as to what extent the film inspired the teams, but what’s beyond doubt is that the players displayed “picture-perfect” coordination and determination.

Ironically, the hockey girls couldn’t do a real-life Chak De!, ending up fourth in the Asia Cup in Hong Kong. The Mamta Kharab-led team, however, finished the year on a positive note by emerging victors in the four-nation Shastri tournament.

Regarded as an also-ran even at the Asian level, the Indian men’s football team was not expected to do much in the Nehru Cup, which was revived after a decade. However, coach Bob Houghton and captain Baichung Bhutia had other ideas. The players capped their consistent show with a fine victory over formidable Syria in the final.

Taking a cue from the seniors’ triumph, the under-16 team qualified for the main event of next year’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Championship.

Not surprisingly, cricketers got the lion’s share of the largesse bestowed by the powers that be. Some members of the Asia Cup-winning hockey team expressed their resentment at the “step-motherly treatment” meted out to non-cricketing achievers. The strong message did hit home, and hopefully the trend of honouring and rewarding performers in any sport would continue.

After such a glorious year, the expectations are naturally sky-high. It would be too much to hope for a repeat of 2007, but it’s vital to maintain the momentum. For the cricketers, the biggest challenge of 2008 is the Test and one-day series Down Under, besides the ICC Champions Trophy. The men’s and women’s hockey teams have to go all out in their Olympic qualifiers. The road ahead is tough, but there is every reason to be optimistic and say in unison — Chak De! India. — V.J.

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Winners all the way

Their sporting disciplines might not match the mass appeal of cricket and football, but their performances during 2007 were truly world class. Viswanathan Anand, Dola Banerjee and Pankaj Advani showed yet again why they are regarded as the best.

Viswanathan Anand
Viswanathan Anand won the unified World Championship to be crowned the undisputed chess champion

Anand emerged as the undisputed world chess champion, regaining the crown after seven years. He pocketed a prize of around Rs 1.5 crore. Anand, who became the world No. 1 in April after his title win at Linares, also cracked the coveted 2800 ELO points mark for the second time.

There was another success story in chess as Delhi girl Tania Sachdev became the Asian women’s champion. Her splendid performance also helped her qualify for the World Cup for the first time, and become an International Master.

Dola Banerjee did India proud by lifting the gold in the grand finale of the women’s recurve event at the archery World Cup. The 27-year-old Dola became the first Indian woman to taste such success in a sport considered to be a male preserve. Anand and Dola were sanctioned Rs 10 lakh each by the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

In cue sports, traditionally an Indian stronghold, 22-year-old Pankaj Advani successfully defended his world billiards title for the first time.

Sania Mirza had one of her best years, despite an injury break, as she reached her all-time best ranking of 27 following some amazing wins on the WTA circuit. She also had a third-round finish in the US Open and four doubles titles to her credit.

Though Narain Karthikeyan did not set the track ablaze when he made his Formula One debut a few seasons ago, he gave his career a new dimension by winning the A1 Grand Prix race.

Karun Chandhok staked his claim to the 2009 Formula One season. Part of the Red Bull Junior Team programme, Karun had an impressive debut season with Italian team Durango in the GP2 series.

There were some other key “players” as well. Liquor baron Vijay Mallya entered the Formula One field with the acquisition of the newly christened team Force India, while “the richest Indian”, steel tycoon Laxmi Mittal, invested in 20 per cent shares of third division London club Queens Park Rangers in a bid to take it to the Championship League.

Indian sports, indeed, was on a roll in 2007. — M.S.U.

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