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Tribune Special

Posted at: Dec 30, 2018, 1:53 AM; last updated: Dec 30, 2018, 1:53 AM (IST)SPORTS

Charge of the young brigade

Indian sport got younger and a new generation of sportspersons did the country proud

Rohit Mahajan

Shooting is simple,” says Manu Bhaker. “Even you can also do it very easily”. Easy to shoot at a target the size of a pinhead? From 10 metres away? We’re chatting with Manu in Gold Coast, and a week has passed since April Fools’ day, but surely, Manu is making fools out of poor old journalists who can barely hold their beer mugs steady? 

But Manu was serious that April day, and there was a reason for that — at 16, she didn't yet fear failure. Her right arm, her hand, her forefinger don’t quiver in nervousness when she’s about to press the trigger.

Shooting is best done with a free mind. That’s what you’d learn from observing Anish Bhanwala, too — after he won his own gold at Gold Coast, he was back to being a child, gorging on ice-cream as he chatted with the media.  Manu won most medals among Indian teens this year and thus, rightly, won the most accolades, but another 16-year-old, Saurabh Chaudhary, won a very significant gold — at the Asian Games, where the level of competition is much higher than at the Commonwealth Games.

On the right track

Hima Das brought the biggest cheer to India — an Indian world champion in any athletics event is unheard of. Hima, 18, became the first Indian athlete to win a track gold (in the women’s 400m) in the junior World Championships. She’s a tough girl with a constant grin on her face, belying the tough times she’s faced as an athlete who has beaten poverty with talent and hard work.

Oh, there was an Indian world champion in athletics before Hima — Neeraj Chopra, who turned 21 on December 24, won the javelin throw gold at the World Championship in 2016. Chopra is our greatest hope in athletics — he holds the junior world record and improved his personal best to 88.06m this year. Chopra needs support if he is to touch the 90m mark, and then keep hitting it regularly, which he must to contend for a medal at the Olympics.

Let’s not forget Swapna Burman, she of a sweet tooth and six toes in each foot. Burman, at age 21, became the first Indian to win a heptathlon gold medal at the Asian Games — despite a toothache that troubled her over several days at Jakarta.

It’s Shaw time

Prithvi Shaw (19) has been marked for greatness from a young age — not since Sachin Tendulkar has the spotlight been so bright on a cricketer from his pre-teen days. Brought up by a father consumed by the desire to make a great cricketer out of his son, Shaw has risen, done very well at every step he’s taken up the ladder — centuries in first class debut, Duleep Trophy debut and then, this year, on Test debut. 

These are some of the youngsters who came to the fore this year — and that brings us to a sport that’s not physical, and to Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, India’s youngest chess Grandmaster. Praggnanandhaa — they call him Praggu —  became a Grandmaster at 12 years, 10 months and 13 days this year, the second-youngest GM ever. He’s tipped to become a world champion at some stage — talk about pressure!

Indian sport has other youngsters too — for instance, Manika Batra, PV Sindhu and Amit Panghal are 23, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Mirabai Chanu only 24. They’ve all achieved a lot, yet they're on the cusp of greater things — they’re the ones who must continue to inspire the babies of Indian sport.

Adventures of Capt Kohli

It is well known that Indian captain Virat Kohli is driven by passion and confrontation, and many fielders and bowlers believe it's wise to leave him alone when he’s batting — if you rile him, he’d get more determined. He made lots of runs this year in the three formats, and Test 100s in the three toughest places to score runs in — South Africa, England and Australia. India won Tests in these countries this year, and credit must go to his batting and captaincy, apart from India’s strong fast bowling attack. Yet, he's made selection blunders, and his captaincy seems to lack nous and maturity. Maybe there will be more signs of that in the second decade of his international career. Kohli, who has turned 30, has been playing for India for 10 years, but retains his childlike passion for the sport — his delight at seeing the opposition wickets fall often seems manic. His wild celebrations is one sore point all his critics point out at when they say that his behaviour in the field is unacceptable. However, it must be pointed out that all he does is celebrate wildly, and is not known to use abusive language. In the current series in Australia, too, in which he’s come in for some criticism, no one has accused him of using bad language on the field. 

Disgrace on field
A comeback & an outburst

It was to be Serena Williams’ night in the US Open — she was going for her 24th Grand Slam title. But, on September 7, Serena spectacularly combusted. She was being beaten by a youngster, Naomi Osaka, who had won the first set easily, 6-2. As she tried to work herself up to launch a fightback, Serena got involved in a fight with the referee, Carlos Ramos, after she was penalised for being coached by her coach from the stands. She broke her racquet and got another penalty. After this, she launched a verbal attack at Ramos. She was again penalised, this time the whole game, and the night ended in disgrace. The partisan crowd booed the referee, reducing Osaka to tears. Later, Serena played the motherhood and sexism cards but found little sympathy from non-partisan observers.

Shubhankar springs a surprise

What an amazing 12 months Shubhankar Sharma (22) has had! In Dec. 2017,  he was ranked No 462. Then, out of the blue, he won the Joburg Open. In February, he won the Maybank Championship. He played in all four Majors, was named European Tour Rookie of the Year, and became the youngest Indian to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit.

Top of the game

When Bajrang Punia became the world No 1 in the 65kg category in November, it only confirmed what the world knew — he was a top fighter who had finally emerged from the shadow of Sushil Kumar this year. He won gold at the Commonwealth and Asian Games, and silver at the World Championships. The Olympics beckon.

France win World Cup

France won the football World Cup by beating Croatia 4-2 in the final, capping a fantastic campaign to win the title after 20 years. Apart from goals by teen phenom Kylian Mbappe, French President Emmanuel Macron jumping on to a desk to celebrate remains an enduring image of the tournament.


In the news

Queen of the mat

Vinesh Phogat, India’s best woman wrestler, has been winning medals for years, but her best at the Asian Games was a bronze won in 2014. This time in Jakarta, she became the first Indian woman to win an Asiad gold.

Silver lining for Dutee

Four harrowing years ended in tears of happiness for sprinter Dutee Chand in Jakarta, when she won two silver medals at the Asian Games. Due to high testosterone levels, occurring naturally, she had been shamed and humiliated, and banned in 2014. New regulations meant that she could run again, and run she did, winning two silver medals in Jakarta.

World beater

Amit Panghal, the 22-year-old Army boxer, won gold at the Asian Games, beating the reigning Olympics champion Hasanboy Dusmatov in the final. Panghal fought aggressively and surprised Dusmatov, counted among the world’s best amateur boxers.

Mary’s six pack

It took eight years for Mary Kom to go from five to six in her World Championships gold medal count but she finally did it in New Delhi, at age 35. She’s won it all, but the hunger for an Olympics gold keeps her going.

Djokovic is back

The third great player who makes modern tennis so amazing, Novak Djokovic, staged a stunning comeback this year, winning two Grand Slam titles and finishing as the world No 1. The other two titles were shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The Simone Biles saga

The tiny American won four gold medals at the gymnastics World Championships, becoming the most decorated female gymnast in the history of the event with 14 gold, three silver and three bronze medals.

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