Statistics hide more than they reveal, is a popular cliché used in cricket when someone wants to judge a player more on the strength of his skill than averages achieved.
As India celebrates its record medal haul in the 2010 Asian Games, and its sixth finish in the overall tally, I have decided to inverse this cricketing logic while going through the past record of our achievements at the Games.
I know it is a tedious job to deal with numbers, especially when it would be far easier to write about the grace and fluidity of Ashwini Akunji's memorable run in the 400m hurdles, which promises a great future for her on the world stage. Or, one could go gushing about Lin Dan, whose cat-like, foxy agility and control over the shuttle, places him at par with the greatest and best entertainers of our times.
But, for a change, I would deal here with numbers; how many medals won and the rankings achieved on the medals tally. For, I think, it does reveal a story, a trend, though interpretations may differ.
That India was a sporting power in 1951 reflects in the medals tally of the inaugural Delhi Games. It finished second overall, behind Japan, with 15 gold. Both feats it has never repeated. One could quibble over details like only 11 nations participated in just six disciplines, but it still does not take away from the fact that India was the second-best sporting nation in Asia that year.
In the subsequent years, when the event got bigger and bigger, with China entering the fray in 1974 and more and more events being added, India has had a roller-coster ride, with its gold tally swaying from 13 in 1982 at home to just one in the 1990 Beijing Games. The 1990 Games was the lowest India has finished in the rankings —12th spot — the only time it has not been in the top ten.
Maybe, there is food for thought here for all those who feel that hosting the Games at home gives a big fillip to the sport as, inexplicably we hit three successive lows after having won 57 medals in the 1982 Games at Delhi. The stats show that we won 37 medals in 1986, 23 in 1990 and 22 in the 1994 Games. Something similar had happened to us after the 1951 Games, when our medals dipped from 51 to 13 in the next editions.
These are just a few samples I have taken from India's medals record of the Games (see chart) but what is interesting is that they have, except for once, finished in the top ten and even seven times in the top five, out of the 16 times the Asian Games have been held so far.
That we can't even think of matching the Japanese or Koreans is a given while China, of course, is beyond anyone's reach. What should worry India is that Iran too is running away from us and Kazakhstan needs catching up.
India may have added more depth and range to its sporting prowess and improved its tally, but is it stagnating in the game of numbers?