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Rediff.com  » Sports » Sania, Saina super show dominates 2015

Sania, Saina super show dominates 2015

Last updated on: December 28, 2015 10:35 IST

2016 promises to be infinitely more exciting for the country's sportspersons

Saina Nehwal

IMAGE: Saina Nehwal in action. Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

A phase of transition gripped India's favourite obsession both on and off the field, but tennis ace Sania Mirza and top shuttler Saina Nehwal ensured that disciplines other than cricket also had their moments of glory while gearing up for next year's Olympics in a low-key 2015.

Cricket soap opera

MS Dhoni

IMAGE: India's ODI captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (left) with Virat Kohli. Photograph: BCCI

That cricket dominated the headlines for most part of the year was hardly a surprise given the drama that unfolded in an episodic manner, be it on the field or inside the Board of Control for Cricket in India's power corridors.

Whether it was Virat Kohli starting his Test captaincy reign in the middle of a high-profile series in Australia or Narayanaswami Srinivasan waging a lone battle to save his chair before eventually bowing out from both the BCCI and the International Cricket Council, cricket was undoubtedly a soap opera that had fans hooked.

- VOTE: India's Sportsperson of 2015

The feisty and ferocious Kohli ushered in the new age Indian cricket team with an approach that had the purists divided.

The sight of an Indian team unabashed about getting under the opponents' skin as much with words and gestures as with sheer superiority of skill was met with mixed response from both the fans and yesteryear stars of the game.

It was also a year that marked the end of an era with the retirement of swashbuckling opener Virender Sehwag and pace spearhead Zaheer Khan.

The year began with the cricket series against Australia well in progress. The team was recovering from the shock of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's retirement after the Melbourne Test and there was eagerness to see Kohli's approach to captaincy amid the dramatic turn of events.

The Indians lost the series but there was near unanimity that Kohli was the man to take Indian cricket forward. The Delhi batsman did not disappoint and delivered the first series win as captain in Sri Lanka, ending a 22-year wait.

The young leader then made history when he led India to a 3-0 series win at home against No. 1 Test side South Africa, who were made to taste an overseas loss after nine years.

But even in its moment of glory, controversy did not leave the Indian team with the furore on the pitches prepared for the series culminating into an ICC warning for the country.

There were googlies bowled inside the BCCI boardroom as well and after brazening out the 2013 spot-fixing storm for more than a year, Srinivasan was finally bowled out.

Shashank Manohar, under whom Srinivasan served as secretary, got the BCCI to rally behind him for a second stint as president of the country's richest sports body.

Eventually, Srinivasan also had to give up on his ICC Chairmanship after the BCCI withdrew its support to the once all-powerful figure. It was Manohar again who replaced Srinivasan.

The Indian Premier League continued to churn out on and off field drama, with Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals suspended for two years for the involvement of their key officials, Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra, in betting-related activities during the 2013 season.

Meiyappan, the former Team Principal of CSK, and RR co-owner Kundra were suspended for life for indulging in betting and bringing the IPL and game into disrepute.

But the players of the two teams were not made to suffer even as they had to split ways with new inductees Pune and Rajkot pitching for the big guns from the suspended sides.

If Pune got the prized catch in Dhoni, then Rajkot bagged Suresh Raina, the two CSK veterans, who had seen the champion side win three editions of the cash-rich T20 league.

Sania unarguably the biggest success story

Sania Mirza

IMAGE: Sania Mirza features in the BBC’s 100 women of 2015. Photographs: Instagram

Away from the cricket field, it was a year in which Sania was unarguably the biggest success story with her staggering 10 titles on the Tour -- two of them Grand Slams.

Her pairing with Swiss legend Martina Hingis was near-invincible through the year and the duo enjoyed a 55:7 win-loss ratio, clinching nine titles together in all.

The stupendous success catapulted the duo to world number one spot in women's doubles.

Among the men, India's 'ageless wonder' Leander Paes continued to bring laurels for himself by winning three Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, with Hingis being the common factor.

Saina rediscovered herself

Saina Nehwal

IMAGE: India's Saina Nehwal returns a shot. Photograph: Darren Whiteside/Reuters

If Sania ruled the tennis court, Saina rediscovered herself on the badminton court, becoming the first Indian woman shuttler to occupy the world number one spot, though for a brief period, before injury derailed her run to an extent.

The London Olympic bronze-medallist snared two titles and became the first Indian woman to make the finals of the All England and the World Championships.

Away from the glaring spotlight, the shooters were on target, bagging seven Olympic quota places through various events and will once again be the country's prime medal hope in Rio de Janeiro.

On the badminton court, Saina was not the only one making hay as K Srikanth also won two titles.

Srikanth emerged as the next big thing last year when he beat two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan en route to his China Open triumph and the 22-year-old from Guntur continued his rampaging run in the first half of the season, winning the Swiss Open and India Open in March besides reaching the world No. 3 ranking in June.

Vijender Singh was one bright spot amid the gloom

Vijender Singh

IMAGE: India’s Vijender Singh celebrates after beating Samet Hyuseinov. Photograph: Dave Thompson/Getty Images

However, as was the case for several years, sports administration in India remained woefully managed.

While the men and women who matter got busy preparing for the Rio Olympics, the politicking among officials, especially boxing, made for a depressing footnote.

In fact, the sport does not have a national federation anymore and the effect is beginning to show inside the ring as well with none of the boxers managing to secure an Olympic berth so far.

However, Vijender Singh turned out to be one bright spot amid the gloom, stunning one and all with his decision to turn professional. He has so far been an unstoppable force, winning all his contests via knock-outs.

For boxing, it was another year in which the administration of the sport itself remained in a state of paralysis, but Vijender's stunning professional plunge and Shiva Thapa's World Championships medal lifted the gloom to an extent.

With Vijender's departure to the pro circuit, the slot for India's No.1 amateur boxer fell vacant and though there is no particular contender in sight right now, 2015 did throw up some exciting talent, which had been around for a while but gained in maturity and confidence.

This breed includes Shiva (56kg), Mandeep Jangra (69kg) and Vikas Krishan (75kg) among a few others.

Shiva shone a shade brighter than the rest by becoming only the third Indian boxer ever to win a medal at the World Championships.

It was a brilliant year for the 22-year-old Assamese during which he won a bronze at the Asian Championships before the historic bronze at the World Championships in Doha.

The only blip was his failure to book an Olympic berth, for which the World Championships was a qualifying event.

In fact, no Indian boxer could fetch an Olympic quota place in Doha but given the administrative mess, which led to the national federation's suspension for the second time in three years, it was no small achievement to clinch a medal at the showpiece tournament.

In women's boxing, it was all about the return of L Sarita Devi, the former World champion who had been serving a one-year ban for her emotional outburst at the 2014 Asian Games medal ceremony.

The Manipuri came back into the reckoning with some good performances in a training-cum-competition trip to China.

India's young shooters' eye-catching performances

Jitu Rai in action

IMAGE: Jitu Rai in action. Photograph: PTI

Coming to other disciplines, grounded in obscurity for long, India's young shooters and exponents of skeet shooting came of age with eye-catching performances at home as well as on foreign shores.

The likes of Abhinav Bindra, an Olympic champion and the country's most talked-about marksman, pistol ace Jitu Rai, Gagan Narang and Apurvi Chandela, among others, helped in swelling the number of quotas earned by India for the coming summer's quadrennial extravaganza in Rio de Janeiro.

Often considered the weakest discipline for Indian shooting, skeet also took a step forward with Mairaj Ahmed Khan securing the country its maiden Olympic quota in the category.

On-field achievements often jostled for space with off-field drama

Rupinderpal Singh

IMAGE: Rupinder Pal Singh, left, PR Sreejesh, centre, and V R Raghunath celebrate. Photograph: Hockey India/Facebook

In hockey, on-field achievements often jostled for space with off-field drama as the sport endured a roller-coaster year during which the players scripted historical feats but coach Paul van Ass's acrimonious ouster and Gurbaj Singh's suspension created its share of storm.

While the women team's return to Olympics after a hiatus of 36 years and men team's breaking a 33-year-old medal jinx in a major international tournament by winning bronze in the Hockey World League Final were the high points, van Ass's bitter sacking and experienced midfielder Gurbaj's nine-month suspension summed up a mixed year for Indian hockey.

With a pretty decent start to his stint, van Ass's next assignment was the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-final in Antwerp, Belgium.

In HWL semi-final, India put up an inconsistent show but finished fourth, losing 1-5 to Great Britain in the third-fourth place play-off match.

But a major controversy broke out after India returned from Antwerp as van Ass was sacked unceremoniously just six months into his job following a bitter public spat with Hockey India president Narinder Batra.

Highlight of the year: Narsingh sealing an Olympic berth

Narsingh YadavOn the wrestling mat, if a keen tussle for a ticket to Rio between double Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar and rising star Narsingh Yadav grabbed headlines, the youngsters showed the sport's bench strength in a country that gave the world the much-touted Pro Wrestling League this year.

It was Narsingh sealing an Olympic berth for India that remained the highlight of the year.

At the last edition of the quadrennial event in London, Sushil and Narsingh had participated in different weight categories. While Sushil won the silver in 66kg, Narsingh, a veteran of 74kg, bowed out in the first round.

Since then Sushil rose to the 74kg division after FILA, the governing body for international wrestling, re-jigged the weight categories. Sushil had bagged a silver and gold medal in two tournaments he had participated since moving up the weight division in 2013.

But Sushil's absence from the mat for more than a year has not only seen Narsingh represent India in that weight division but also win medals consistently.

Another Olympic medallist, Yogeshwar Dutt, continued to prove his mettle in whatever limited tournaments he participated in despite being bogged down by injuries for a major part of the year.

Lahiri dominated headlines with record-breaking achievements

Anirban Lahiri

IMAGE: India's Anirban Lahiri. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Another success story was scripted on the golf course as Anirban Lahiri dominated the headlines with record-breaking achievements, which included two European tour titles and a fifth place finish at a Major.

In a watershed year which saw him juggle between Asia, US and Europe, Lahiri emerged as the new poster boy of Indian golf, clinching the Indian Open and Maybank Malaysian Open, earning a fifth place finish at PGA Championship, qualifying for the prestigious President's Cup, claiming the Asian Tour Order of Merit and achieving a career-best ranking of World No. 34 among others.

Mediocrity in Indian football

Indian players

IMAGE: India coach Stephen Constantine with members of the team during training. Photograph: AIFF Media

On the football field, the national team plummeted to depths unseen in years, but the mediocrity, which has become a norm with the beleaguered outfit, got lost in the shrill din of the spectacle called Indian Super League even as the great Pele grabbed headlines briefly with his week-long sojourn.

Globally, the 'Beautiful Game' witnessed the good, bad and ugly in equal measure.

From Barcelona's treble-winning season to Cristiano Ronaldo claiming the Ballon d'Or for the second time running, to the long-standing FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA chief Michel Platini getting banned for eight years by the apex body's Ethics Committee, football had a bit of everything for almost everyone.

Memorable year for squash

Joshana Chinappa

IMAGE: India's Dipika Pallikal (left) and Joshna Chinappa celebrate. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

In squash, Joshna Chinappa overtook Dipika Pallikal to become India's highest-ranked player while off the court N Ramachandran's role as the boss of the world governing body was questioned in what turned out to be a memorable year for Indian and world squash.

Joshna had the most fruitful time among the country's three torch-bearers including Dipika and Saurav Ghosal.

The highlight of her season undoubtedly was getting the better of world number one Raneem El Welily in the opening round of Qatar Classic.

A couple of $ 15,000 titles in Melbourne and Mumbai along with a semifinal finish at the $ 50,000 Carol Weymuller Open in New York eventually helped her reach a career-high rank of 13, a jump of nine places since December 2014.

Weightlifting brought India a bad name

WeightliftingOn the flip side, weightlifting brought India a bad name with the highest number of dope cheats this year, threatening the country's participation in next year's Olympic Games and the Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWF) staring at suspension.

After a dope-free 2014, it seemed that Indian weightlifters had successfully managed to bury the ghosts of drug menace but it came back to haunt the country this year with highest number of offenders ever to be registered.

If the early part of the year was marred by one of the biggest doping scandals in recent times, with as many as 26 lifters provisionally suspended by the IWF after testing positive for banned substances at various domestic meets, the end of 2015 saw two women athletes failing dope tests at an international event.

As per the rules, three positive tests at international events in a calendar year result in a one-year ban for the national federation. Thus, one more positive case can destroy India's chances of participating in next year's Rio Games.

Year of mixed achievements

 

Vikas Gowda

IMAGE: India's Vikas Gowda competes in the men's discus throw. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

In track and field, as many as 15 athletes, including ace discus thrower Vikas Gowda, qualifying for the Rio Olympics was the highlight of a year of mixed achievements, while off the track, young sprinter Dutee Chand won a landmark case against world body of the sport IAAF.

Also, the buzz around India's speculated bid for the 2022 Olympics died after IOC President Thomas Bach -- during a visit to the country -- ruled out any such possibility.

Elsewhere, Pankaj Advani's name continued to sum up Indian cue sports for yet another year as the long-time poster boy took his world title count to an unprecedented 15.

In overall analysis, Indian sports did not have anything spectacular to celebrate this year but neither was it a completely disappointing one.

With all eyes trained on the Olympics next year, 2016 promises to be infinitely more exciting for the country's sportspersons.

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