Come to think of it, for all our wildly fluctuating emotions, 2012 was quite a year for Indian sport! Thanks to Vishwanathan Anand. And Sushil Kumar. And Vijay Kumar. And Mary Kom. And Saina Nehwal. And Gagan Narang. And Yogeshwar Dutt. And Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. And the visually impaired cricketers. And Ajay Maken. In spite of the Olympics result, hockey is on the right path even though they can’t figure out who will conduct the new league. Archery is knocking on the door of major recognition. And we are a fairly hefty shooting nation as Ronjan Sondhi reminded us too. In 2012, the non-cricket sports grabbed you and said “Here we are. Look at us”.
Now, all things remaining the same, past performance should be a reasonable indicator of future success. And this is where I am afraid the clouds are gathering. These magnificent sportspeople will inspire many, in fact almost everybody except the administrators who can never stay out of the action. As 2012 gives way they gather to infect our sport again. They remain true to their charter that Indian athletes must overcome them and then consider taking on an opponent. The International Olympic Committee must believe it has sent India a stern message and in a rather pleasant sub-plot the government is piling on the pressure too. Normally this should lead to a better system but I greatly fear that the other great foundation of Indian sport, stand-offs and litigation will come in the way. The Sports Ministry can play a pivotal role here but good old Ajay Maken has been asked to tackle bigger challenges and his replacement has a foot in the Defence Ministry too. Worse, I fear that 2013 will see political intent focussed on the next elections and therefore on survival. A fledgling sports ministry will be easily missed.
And we’re at our best when there is a deadline looming. There are no major sporting events in 2013, no pressing need therefore for people to temporarily bury the hatchet. Looking at it from the outside, it is a fear that I hope is naive and ill-founded but I find it gnawing at me. And that will be a pity because the shooters and the archers in particular need every support we can give them to go to the next level. Michael Nobbs is showing that with some investment, and a lot of care, we can win a few hockey matches. The next generation of boxers, so wonderfully promising, need international exposure. And they need to compete under the Indian flag. India must take the fantastic gains of 2012 forward. With organisations like the Mittal Champions Trust and Olympic Gold Quest, people with their hearts in the right places, will do it. But little can be done if the federations are naughty. I believe the I-League can get stronger and 2013 will be a huge test for the IPL.
If it can continue to deliver consistently high ratings in year six, amidst a general downturn in the fortunes of the national team, it will give itself the stability that top brands need after the initial enthusiasm.
I see a slightly rocky time ahead for the national cricket team. Icons that promised solidity and faith are gone and newer ones haven’t ascended to that status yet. India still looks very weak in away conditions and now home supremacy is being challenged. Batting promises a faster return to form with Pujara and Kohli the possible focus, and Ashwin the likely all-rounder, but India's bowling stocks are looking very grim. And you need detectives to look for young bowlers who can take wickets on good pitches. 2013 will be a year of some turmoil but hopefully the wounds of 2011-12 will catalyse action. I’m sure there is a lot of raw material there but it needs love and care. And a vision. But cricket is still our best-run sport and that is why it has the best chance of coming back.
But is it all gloom? Saina Nehwal should be hitting her peak and PV Sindhu looks an able challenger. There may be another flourish left in Anand and I would dearly love the legendary Mary Kom to make us feel proud again.
But for 2013 to resemble 2012 and lay the foundation for 2014, our political community must realise that sport, more than anything else, brings cheer to a nation. Amidst jockeying for positions and searching for political alliances, when it comes to sport I hope they can put India first and provide a ray of hope to non-cricket sports. Like many I fear. Like many I wish to be surprised. But as we tread with some uncertainty towards 2013, let us celebrate 2012. We did okay!
From HT Brunch, December 30
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch