Milestones and controversies ruled Indian sports….writes Ajeyo Basu
Sports in India recorded several milestones in 2015 – from boxer Vijender Singh’s explosive professional debut to Sania Mirza’s superb run and Saina Nehwal’s exploits to wrestling joining the burgeoning bandwagon of leagues.
Indian cricket, however, was hit by a plethora of controversies which threatened to overshadow on-field events.
Sania personified Indian tennis with a stupendous rise that catapulted her to the tip of women’s doubles rankings.
Her association with Swiss great Martina Hingis formed the basis of an unstoppable juggernaut as they complimented each other perfectly to win an astonishing nine titles, a fairy tale journey adorned with prestigious victories at Wimbledon and US Open.
They teamed up in 16 events and enjoyed an overwhelming 55-7 win-loss ratio with a 22-match unbeaten streak.
The Indo-Swiss collaboration capped off a memorable year with a triumph at the season-ending Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals in Singapore, also winning at Beijing, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Charleston, Miami and Indian Wells.
Sania-Martina made the top spot in world rankings their own and were named the Women’s Doubles World Champions by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
But while all was shining on the doubles front, India’s struggle in singles was again highlighted when their top-ranked player Yuki Bhambri (93) lost both his Davis Cup matches against Czech Republic at home.
India lost the World Group Playoff 1-3 to condemn them to spend another year at the Asia/Oceania Group 1 phase.
Away from tennis, Vijender grabbed headlines with his exploits in the ring. The Haryana man started his journey in the professional circuit on an explosive note with three back-to-back knockout and technical knockout (TKO) wins.
He registered a TKO win over English Sony Whiting on his debut before knocking out another British pugilist Dean Gillen in the opening round of his second fight.
His third bout, against the more experienced Samet Hyuseinov of Bulgaria was a six-round contest. But despite all his tall talk before the fight, the Bulgarian was clubbed into submission early in the second round as Vijender clinched a TKO verdict.
Wrestlers also saw a momentous year. Although the performance at Worlds wasn’t impressive, Narsingh Pancham Yadav (men’s 74 kg) bagged the lone medal to secure a quota place for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The long-term future of the sport got a leg-up with the launch of the Pro Wrestling League (PWL).
The inaugural edition was quite successful with crowds thronging the venues and world class action on the mat. The six wrestling teams in the fray boasted several World and Olympic medallists. Budding Indians like Bajrang Punia, Amit Dahiya, Rahul Aware, Amit Dhankar and Rajneesh also grabbed the limelight alongside more established stars like Yogeshwar Dutt.
All was not well with Indian cricket as the sport went through a disheartening year, both on-and-off the field.
India, who had won the World Cup after 28 years in 2011 under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, failed to defend their title in March 2015, as they went down to hosts Australia in the semifinals by a big margin. Co-hosts Australia went on to clinch their fifth World title beating New Zealand.
More than the World Cup loss was when the Indian Premier League (IPL) saw a new low with Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) being suspended for two years. Both franchise’s officials Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra were found guilty of betting and were suspended for life from all cricketing activity.
Following the suspension, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had to bring in two new teams (Pune and Rajkot) for the tournament.
Newly-appointed Test captain Virat Kohli enjoyed some amount of success as India toured Sri Lanka for a three-match series where the visitors came out victorious 2-1. It was followed by over a two-month-long South Africa tour of India which started on a disappointing note as the hosts lost both the Twenty20 International and one-day series.
The longest format of the game was left to restore some pride and the four-match series saw India make the best use of home conditions, by producing rank turners to outplay the Proteas 3-0.
The pitch in Nagpur was the centre of controversies as critics hit back at India for producing such unplayable conditions.
The game saw plenty of controversies off the field as well with the acrimonious relationship between India and Pakistan resulting in the proposed bilateral series being cancelled.
Allegations of corruption within the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) also created a storm with the Delhi government launching a probe into the body’s financial affairs.
Former DDCA president Arun Jaitley was accused of overseeing massive financial irregularities during his 13-year tenure which ended in 2013 and there is a demand for his resignation as Union Finance Minister.
The three-member probe panel constituted by the Delhi government also urged the BCCI to suspend DDCA due to the large number of complaints.
In badminton, it was, as expected, Saina Nehwal who was the country’s flagbearer.
Saina started the year on a brilliant note by winning the India Grand Prix Gold in Lucknow, beating reigning World Champion Carolina Marin in the final. She backed it up with her lone Superseries title in March — India Open — which she won here, defeating former World Champion Ratchanok Intanon in the summit clash.
The 25-year-old became the first Indian since Pullela Gopichand to reach the All-England final which the chief national coach had won way back in 2001. The Hyderabadi also became the first Indian to reach the final of the Worlds in August.
The Hisar-born also became the first Indian woman shuttler to become World No.1.