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2006 a mixed bag for Indian sports

Source: PTI
December 30, 2006 18:36 IST
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Below-par shows in most of the crowd-puller team games notwithstanding, a slew of heroic individual performances and fairy tale successes of the shooters made 2006 a year to cherish in Indian sports.

While the blue-eyed boys in cricket failed to shake off their tag of inconsistency, weaving great wins with heart-wrenching losses, the popular game of soccer only brought disaster, and the myth of India being a traditional power-house in hockey finally lay buried in the desert sands of Doha.

But the setbacks were more than offset by some world-conquering individual feats, and the emergence of raw talent that made the countrymen optimistic about the future of India as a sporting nation.

If one Sania Mirza failed to sizzle on the tennis court, pugilist Mary Kom and archer Jayanta Talukdar won world meets as the country of over a billion people watched in awe the birth of a new badminton star in Saina Nehwal, and the advent of a chess prodigy in Parimarjan Negi.

The glamour game of cricket saw the Rahul Dravid-led side registering the maiden Test series win in the West Indies after a long wait of 35 years and the first-ever Test match victory on South African soil.

They also triumphed in the one-day series on Pakistan soil and cantered to a 5-1 win in a six-match limited-overs home series against England.

However, the Indians lost the Test series to Pakistan and received a severe drubbing in the one-day engagements in the West Indies, the DLF Cup in Malaysia and in South Africa.

But the biggest shock came in the year's most prestigious event  the ICC Champions Trophy - that saw the Indians exit at the group league stage with back-to-back defeats against West Indies and Australia.

The country's sportspersons came up with decent shows in the three big multi-disciplinary events held during the year.

In the Commonwealth Games at Melbourne, India gave Canada a close chase for the third place, but ultimately settled for the fourth slot with a medal haul of 22-17-11, the bulk of the gold coming from the shooting range.

The nation also kept its tag as the regional superhouse of the South Asian Games, by finishing run-away leaders in Colombo (118-68-41), though they faced a some stubborn fight in some of the disciplines.

As the year drew to a close, the Doha Asiad saw Indians slipping in sure-shot events, but grabbing medals from some unexpected fields to finish overall eighth (10-18-26).

The Indian shooters tasted unprecedented success, shopping as many as 63 gold, six Olympic berths and three world titles, and excelling at the various ISSF World Cups and World Championships across the globe, the Asian Games in Doha and Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

'Goldfinger' Samresh Jung did the country proud by shooting down five gold enroute to being adjudged the best sportsperson of the Commonwealth Games before bringing the curtains down on the year with a team gold and silver in the Asiad.

Pistol shooter Jaspal Rana, who seemed to have passed into oblivion, scripted a dream comeback to win three gold medals at the Asiad besides one silver.

Abhinav Bindra became the country's first-ever world champion and Manavjit Singh, who clinched the title in trap event, became the second Indian within a week's time to win the World championships in Zagreb.

Rifle shooter Navnath Fartade also hogged his share of limelight by winning the World title in the juniors' rifle event at the same championships.

Olympic silver medallist double trap shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, however, had an ordinary year, failing to qualify for the finals at the World Championships, before coming up with a less than satisfactory show in Doha, where he managed individual bronze and a team silver.

Apart from Negi becoming the game's second-youngest ever Grand Master at 13 years behind Ukrainian Sergei Karjakin, there was more good news from the chess board as Viswanathan Anand continued to add to his bulging kitty of success with a record fifth title at the Corus Super Grandmasters championship.

It was a good year for the world's number two who rounded it off with wins in four other top-rated events.

Koneru Humpy also gave a brilliant account of herself picking up the gold medals in women's rapid individual and mixed team at the Doha Asiad, where the game of 64 squares made its debut.

In the boxing ring, Marykom completed a rare hat-trick of gold medals by claiming the 46 kg title for the third successive time at the world championships, with India winning four gold, a silver and three bronze to lift the women's honours.

The 24-year-old Manipuri boxer had earlier clinched the honours in the same weight category in Turkey (2003) and in Russia last year.

The archery arena also saw history being made, as 20-year-old Jayanta Talukdar crowned himself world champion in the recurve category in Croatia.

In badminton, 2006 saw 16-year-old Saina emerge like a shooting star, as she burst onto the international scene with feats which no Indian shuttler had achieved ever before.

Saina won a major international title, finished second at the World Junior Championship, helped Indian team to a bronze medal finish in Commonwealth Games and made some big names of the world bite the dust to attain her career-best world ranking of 27 earlier this month.

India also earned a quarter-final appearance in Thomas Cup and a bronze medal in the mixed team event of the Commonwealth Games.

It was a dismal year in athletics both on and off the field.

The only gold at a major event came courtesy the 4 x 400m women's relay at the Asian Games. The haul of one gold, four silver and four bronze medals was a big drop from the level achieved in Busan in 2002, when Indian athletes came home with seven gold medals.

The Indians also managed only two silver and one bronze from the Commonwealth Games.

Long jumper Anju Bobby George, who had won the silver medal in the 2005 World Athletics finals, failed to capture last year's form as well as Indian hearts and dropped to 23 in the world list.

On the positive side, Pinki Pramanik captured five gold medals in the Asian Grand Prix circuit in May, including the 400-800m double in Bangalore and Pune. Vikas Gowda won the discus throw event at the NCAA Track and Field Championship in Sacramento.

The dope controversy returned to haunt India early in the year when two weightlifters -- Tejinder Singh and Edwin Raju -- flunked dope test at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, resulting in Indian Weightlifting Federation being banned for the second time in two years.

Woman lifters Pujari Shailaja and B Prameelavalli had tested positive for a banned drug in an out of competition Test before the Melbourne Games.

Despite the early setback by weightlifters, Indian contingent at Doha was ashamed by discus thrower Seema Antil, who first reported tested positive for a banned drug, although later absolved of the charge by the Athletics Federation of India.

The Melbourne Commonwealth Games silver medallist, who was stripped of her gold medal at the 2000 World Junior Championship after she was found to have taken a banned substance, was again in the soup when she was sent home from a pre-Asian Games preparatory camp in Muscat.

If that was not enough, the AFI was embarrassed again when Santhi Soundarajan failed a gender test after winning the 800m silver medal at the Asian Games. Santhi had to return the medal after a post-event test concluded that she did not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman.

Indian hockey touched its nadir this year.

For the first time in 48 years since the sport became a part of the Asian Games in Tokyo, the Indians suffered a shock defeat to lowly China to miss out on the semi-finals and consequently a berth in the Beijing Olympics.

Finishing 11th among 12 sides in the World Cup in Germany, a sixth slot at the Melbourne Games and a 1-3 loss to Pakistan in a bilateral series, made it a highly forgettable year for the game in India.

The women, however, performed better. They got the silver in the Commonwealth Games, and also earned the bronze at Doha, but the World Cup in Madrid was the lowest point.

Country's tennis diva Sania Mirza failed to make much of an impact in the circuit, with her rank plummeting to 66.

The teenager consistently raked in the moolah from endorsements, even as her inconsistency persisted on the court and the semi-final appearance at the Sunfeast Open and the revenge win against Switzerland's Martina Hingis at the Korea Open were the high watermark for her this year.

She, however, won two doubles titles and finished second best at three other WTA tourneys.

Doubles ace Mahesh Bhupathi won the mixed doubles title partnering Hingis at the Australian Open, while Leander Paes paired with Czech star Martin Damn to annex the US Open men's doubles crown.

India declined further in soccer, with the country's ranking going down to 157 by the yearend as against 117 at the start of 2006.

The Indian soccer bosses sacked chief national coach Syed Nayeemuddin and brought in the high-profile Briton Bob Houghton, but the change is yet to yield dividends.

It was a tale of heartbreaks as India suffered big losses to Asian power-houses Japan (0-6) And Saudi Arabia (1-7) besides  suffering a 0-3 defeat to a lowly Yemen to finish the Asian cup without a point.

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