New Delhi: With a host of big ticket events coming up, Indian sports is looking forward to an eventful and hopefully a successful year in 2016.
First up, we have the World Twenty20 which starts in March. Since the tournament will be held in India, the men in blue will enjoy the home advantage.
Perhaps keeping the World T20 in mind, the selectors have named several youngsters in the squad for this month’s Australian tour.
The Supreme Court-appointed three-member committee led by Justice Rajendra Mohan Lodha has come up with a host of far reaching suggestions intended to clean up cricket administration in the country. If the apex court decides to implement those proposals, it could lead to a drastic change in Indian cricket as far as administration is concerned.
Tennis fans will also follow with keen interest the exploits of the star women’s singles pair of Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis. Sania won a total of 10 doubles titles in 2015, of which nine were with the Swiss superstar. Their list of conquests included a couple of Grand Slam tournaments in the Wimbledon and US Open.
It will be interesting to see how the celebrated duo’s fortunes shape up this year.
Since 2016 is an Olympic year, the focus will also be on the Indian men’s doubles and mixed doubles combinations at Rio. Sania is expected to partner the evergreen Leander Paes in the mixed doubles event.
The men’s doubles combination saw a lot of controversy in 2012, with estranged partners Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi bickering over their preferred choice of partners. Paes had wanted the big serving Rohan Bopanna as a partner, but the latter decided to team up with Bhupathi.
The ominous rumblings of a possible showdown is being felt this time as well, with Paes declaring that he would like to have Bopanna as a partner in Rio. But Bopanna does not seem to be too keen this time as well. Paes wants to play a few tournaments with Bopanna to get into the groove ahead of the Olympics, but the Bangalore lad does not seem too keen.
The Indian football team’s fortunes, meanwhile, oscillated from bad to very bad to the point that it had reached its nadir, ranked 173rd in the world, its lowest ever, but somehow partially ended on a smiling note when they claimed a come-from-behind 2-1 victory against defending champions Afghanistan in the SAFF Cup to stretch their dominance in the regional tournament to seven triumphs.
It was particularly gladdening for under fire coach Stephen Constantine whose job was on the line following the country’s worst ever World Cup record in qualifiers, losing five of the six matches, to be bottom of its group.
The triumph gave some much required breathing space to the Englishman, in his second stint in charge, but it was only short change for his team’s disgraceful 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
He kept hogging the limelight though, not so much for the team’s performance, but for his controversial comments on the country needing Players of Indian Origin (PIO) to even compete with minuscule states like Guam and ruing the absence of any “football culture”.
He also stoked a major fire demanding less importance be given to the glamorous Indian Super League (ISL) for lengthy national preparatory camps only to be shot down by the AIFF president Praful Patel, who is reportedly not much impressed with his loud mouthiness and excuse-ready habit even though the status of ISL and the I-League is still unclear with rumours of a potential merger doing the rounds.
But the biggest event of the year, which a majority of sports fans around the world look forward to, is the Olympics – the greatest show on earth.
India bagged a total of six medals at the London Olympics in 2012 and there are fervent hopes that the tally rises this time round.
The shooters have consistently brought glory to India over the years and are expected to be on target at Rio as well. Apurvi Chandela – one of seven Indians to have already qualified for the Games – has already sounded a warning to her opponents by setting a new world record on her way to the gold medal in the women’s 10 metre air rifle event at the Swedish Cup Grand Prix last Tuesday.
Among the men, former Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra (10m air rifle), the experienced Gagan Narang (50m rifle prone) and the very talented army shooter Jitu Rai (50m pistol) will be the prime contenders.
Apart from shooting and tennis, one of the biggest medal hopes for the country will be the wrestlers. Indian grapplers created history at the London Olympics in 2012 by bagging two medals – a silver and a bronze – thanks to Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt respectively. Form and injury permitting, both could make another appearance, which would definitely be their last.
Narsingh Yadav bagged a quota place for the 74kg category at the World Championships last year. He will take on Sushil in the national trials later in the year to decide India’s representative in the category.
Like Sushil, Yogeshwar has limited his competition schedule due a chronic knee injury. The 33-year-old has been almost unstoppable in almost every bout he has played recently. If he is fit for the Olympics, Yogeshwar is an almost certain candidate for a medal.