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Young Brigade breaks Cricket Stranglehold

Updated: January 1, 2011 12:08 pm

Till the middle of this decade, annual review or year ender of sports in the country meant analysing the performance of the cricket team and the players and other disciplines used to be dismissed in a few paras. However thanks to few dedicated young players, who against all odds brought laurels to the country the scenario has started changing.

                Cricket still dominates the sports pages of the papers and hogs prime time on the television but now with the sterling performance, sportspersons representing other disciplines have started attracting attention and publicity. In a year, when Sachin Tendulkar figures among the top ten sportspersons in the World for scoring 200 runs in ODI against South Africa, there are others (non-cricketers) who are also in competition for being recognised as sportsperson of the year in the country.

                This was just inconceivable half-a-decade ago. If ever Sachin or that matter any cricketers name was mentioned for any award no other sportsperson stood a chance but now one finds a shuttler (Saina Nehwal), wrestler (Sushil Kumar), a boxer (Vijinder Singh), a boxer (Mary Kom), snooker player (Pankaj Advani) or shooter (Ronjan Singh Sodhi) also in contention.

                There has been a subtle change in the attitude of the Indians towards sports. There seems to be a keen awareness and appreciation about the performance of Saina, Sushil, Vijender, Pankaj Advani, Mary Kom or Ronjan Sodhi to name a few. What these sportspersons have done is to release the Indian sports from the strangle hold of cricket by their stunning performance in the International arena.

                India may be Number One in Test cricket or Number Two in ODI, but there is a section of sports buffs feel that this game is confined to nine or ten countries, four of which are in the subcontinent and given the massive public support and financial backing it is no wonder that “we are at the top”. There is no gain saying that International cricket is mostly dependent on Indian market—the 2007 Cricket World Cup suffered because of the early exit of India and to some extent Pakistan.

                However, other sports in the country, all combined, do not have even fraction of the money which the BCCI has and in such situation if some individuals win at the World level, their showing needs to be applauded.

                Heading the young brigade of sportspersons in the country is Saina Nehwal. The 20 year-old Hyderabad-based shuttler has achieved, which no Indian Badminton player has achieved before. Saina Nehwal has the distinction to win the four super series tournaments—three in a row this year—a feat which has propelled her to World Number Three ranking. She has several firsts as an Indian to her credit of reaching the quarter finals in Olympics, winning the World Junior Badminton Championships, to win a Super Series tournament, by clinching the Indonesia Open with a stunning victory over higher-ranked Chinese Wang Lin in Jakarta. (The Super Series is almost equivalent to a Grand Slam in tennis).

                Saina won her second career Super Series Singapore Open on June 20 this year. She then went on to retain the Indonesian Open on June 27, and followed it with a resounding victory lifting Hong Kong Super Series on December 12. In between she won the Indian Open, reached semi-finals of the All England Championship, clinched Commonwealth Games gold and made it to the quarter finals of the Asian Games.

                Recalling her journey to the stardom, Saina says: “My first Super Series victory at Jakarta in Indonesia (in 2009) will always be close to my heart and is my best. However, this (Hong Kong) victory gave me immense happiness, especially after I beat the Asian Games winner—Shixian Wang—in the final. It was not at all easy since I had tough opponents all the way. In the pre-quarters, I faced Salakjit Ponsana, who earlier beat World Number Three Tine Rasmussen in the French Open. I had lost to Pui Yin Yip in the Asian Games quarters.”

                About her future she said: “I badly want to win the Olympics, but before that the World Championship and all the Super Series” and that shows how focused and determined she is. Though Saina has been living in Hyderabad as her father Harvir Singh is posted here, but she was born and brought up in Hissar (Haryana) and interestingly two other Haryanvis—one a boxer and other a Wrestler—stole the limelight along with her this year.

                It goes without saying that 25-year-old Vijender (Vijender Singh Beniwal) gave new lease of life to boxing and brought the sport to the centre stage by winning a bronze in the Beijing Olympics and after that there has been looking back. His rise and popularity has brought more aspirants and followers, to the sport. Before that he had represented the country at 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

                In the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, he won the bronze medal after losing the semi-final bout against Kazakhstan’s Bakhtiyar Artayev. In 2008 Beijing, he defeated Carlos Góngora of Ecuador 9-4 in the quarter-finals which guaranteed him a bronze medal—the first ever Olympic medal for an Indian boxer.

                Last year at World Amateur Boxing Championships he lost to Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan in the semi-final of the 75 kg Middleweight category, by 7-3 and earned a bronze. In September same year the International Boxing Association (AIBA) named Vijender as the top-ranked boxer in its annual middle-weight (75 kg) category list. He topped the list with 2800 points. He was awarded by the Padma Shri award, early this year. He followed it up by winning a silver in the invitational Champions of Champions boxing tournament in China, losing 0-6 to Zhang Jin Ting in the 75 kg middleweight final.

                In March at Commonwealth Boxing Championship, he along with five other fellow Indians won gold medal. Vijender defeated England’s Frank Buglioni 133. However in the Commonwealth Games, Vijender Singh was beaten by England’s Anthony Ogogo in the semi-finals. However the gutsy Indian had the last laugh as he won gold in Guangzhou Asiad thrashing defending World Champion Abbos Atoev (Uzbekistan) 7-0, thus taking revenge for the earlier loss suffered to him.

                The boxer however laments that Boxers are not getting enough support. In an interview with The Kolkata Telegraph, he said: “Thanks to the media, people have started taking boxing seriously over the past two years. Everyone knows my name now because my achievements have been highlighted. Lekin boxing ka toh kuch promotion hi nahin hota India mein (But boxing is still not promoted in India!). We don’t have boxing academies we don’t even have proper boxing rings. In this country, everyone is hung up on cricket, where is the support for us (boxers)? Vijender’s anger not withstanding, Boxing is now having more following and money then ever before.

                Another boxer-a woman country proud is MC Mary Kom (Mangte Chungneijang Merykom) Manipur-based 28-year-old Mary Kom, a mother of two, is five times World Boxing Champion, successively. She is the first woman to receive prestigious Arjuna Award for her achievement in boxing. The feisty Manipuri won her fifth successive World Boxing title in Bridgetown, Barbados defeating Romanian opponent Duta Seluta 16-6 in September.

                Earlier she had won four World titles in the 46 kg category but this time she had to fight in the 48 kg category. In semi-final, she defeated Filipino opponent Alice Appari 8-1. She is the only boxer to have won a medal in each one of the six World Championships. She began boxing in 2000 and won five National Championships from 2000 to 2005.

                More to follow 27-year-old Sushil Kumar (Solanki) became the first Indian wrestler to win the World title at Moscow early this year as he won a gold in the 66 kg freestyle competition. He also had the distinction of becoming the second Indian grappler to bag a medal (bronze) in the Olympic—in 2008 at Beijing bronze medal defeating Leonid Spiridonov of Kazakhstan in the 66 kg repechage round.

Out of the field of 21, 11 wrestlers including Sushil got a bye to the 1/8th round. He lost to Andriy Stadnik from Ukraine in the first round.

                His medal hopes hinged on the repechage. The Indian beat American Doug Schwab in the first repechage round and Belarusian Albert Batyrov in the second repechage round. In the bronze medal match on August 20, he beat Spiridonov 3:1, with scores of 2-1, 0-1, 2-0 in the three rounds and rest as they say is history.

                The first wrestling medal in the Olympics was won by K D Jadhav, the 1952 Helsinki Games Sushil started wrestling at the age of 14 and four year later he become Delhi state champion. In 1998 he won a gold in the World Cadet Games and followed this up with a gold in the Asian Junior Championship in 2000. He bagged a bronze medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships in 2003 and then won a gold at the Commonwealth Championships. Same year he finished creditable fourth in the World Championships. He did not do well in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Fighting in the 60 kg class category, he flopped. Sushil however made a strong comeback and won gold at the Commonwealth Championships in 2005 and 2007 and was ranked seventh in the 2007 World Championships. In Delhi Commonwealth Games, he beat Heinrich Barnes of South Africa 7-0 in the finals in the 66 kg freestyle category. And the cash awards he has won are envy of any sportspersons including the cricketers.

                Just have a look: Rs 55 lakh cash award and promotion to Assistant Commercial Manager from Chief Ticketing Inspector by Railway Ministry employer) 50 lakh cash; Delhi government, 25 lakh; Haryana, 25 lakh; the Steel Ministry 5 lakh by RK Global Shares and Securities Limited; 5 lakh by Maharashtra government, 10 Lakh from MTNL for the gold medal at 2010 World Wrestling Championships, 10 Lakh award from Railways and out-of-turn promotion from his current position of Assistant Commercial Manager; 10 Lakh by SAI; 15 Lakh from Delhi. He could not have asked for more and he can’t complain of not being given as much hype as cricketers get. Wrestling could not have been more benevolent.

                25-year-old Bangalore-based Pankaj Advani saved India blushes in the first week of Asian Games at Guangzhou as he won the first gold, in English Billiards, for the country there. He won his first World Snooker Championship title at the age of 18 in China in 2003 and then won World Billiards Championship in 2005 at Qawra, Malta, defeating compatriot Devendra Joshi and in the process became only the second cueist after Malta’s Paul Mifsud to have won both the billiards and snooker world titles.

                Pankaj is the only player to have achieved a “grand double” of winning both the points and timed formats at the IBSF World Billiards Championships 2005, has repeated the same feat at the 2008 Championships held in Bangalore as well. He also has to credit 2009 World Professional Billiards, Asian Billiards Championship titles.

                Another non-cricketer, who hit the limelight, was shooter Ronjan Singh Sodhi. Early this year he set a new world record with a score of 195 and won the gold at the ISSF World Cup in Lonato. After making it into the match at third place with a qualification score of 145, Sodhi played a perfect game.

                These sportspersons have etched their name in their respective discipline and showed that determination, single-minded devotion and self belief can make everything possible. In other words, they have proved Mohammed Ali’s famous words “Impossible is nothing”, right.

By Harpal Singh Bedi

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