A year of August performance
As the Olympians returned to a hero's welcome and the promise of megabucks, India conquered Lanka. A lot to talk about on Friday, the National Sports Day and Dhyan Chand's birthday. Dhiman Sarkar reports. Special Coverage: Beijing Olympics | Mission SLindia Updated: Aug 29, 2008 00:05 IST
One week after Vijender Kumar and Sushil Kumar ensured more Olympic medals than ever, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's boys did a first in Sri Lanka. With it, India completed a year of august performance in sport, the cycle beginning on August 29 last year when our footballers shone brightest at New Delhi's Ambedkar Stadium.
Revived after 10 years, the Nehru Cup triumph ended the senior team's five-year trophy drought. Almost one year later, at the same venue, Bhaichung Bhutia's team did one better by qualifying for the Asian Cup, a feat unachieved since 1984.
Soon after the Nehru Cup, Dhoni's young ones surprised everyone by returning with a cylindrical trophy from South Africa that told the world that when it came to T20, we were the best. As bonus Yuvraj Singh broke new ground in international cricket by hitting six sixes in one over. More good news came weeks later from Mexico City when Viswanathan Anand got us to exclaim 'Check de, India' by becoming the undisputed king of chess. Between cricket and chess, India won the Asia Cup hockey.
Before the old year gave way to the new, Dola Banerjee became a world champion archer and in early 2008, Anil Kumble's India, after adhering to the spirit of cricket in Sydney, won in Perth, another first. Forty-four days later, Team Dhoni piggybacked on Sachin Tendulkar, the one senior they never thought of leaving out, to beat Australia to the VB Series trophy. On March 2, as Tendulkar scored his first-ever ODI century in Australia and scripted India's first final win, our under-19 cricketers won the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur.
Going into Valentine's Day week, Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia, a wiry, unassuming caddie-turned golfer from Kolkata, became an Indian Master at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) winning a European Tour event and a cheque for over Rs 1.5 crore. On that Sunday, February 10, some distance from the DGC Prakash Amritraj let his racquet talk and silenced claims of not being focused enough by winning a decisive fifth rubber against Uzbekistan. It set India on course for a World Group playoff tie next month.
Chowrasia wasn't the only golfer having a tee party. In June, Jeev Milkha Singh, India's highest ranked golfer, bagged the Bank Austria Golf Open, his third title on the European Tour. One day before Abhinav Bindra won gold, Jeev provided Chandigarh cheer by becoming the first Indian to break into the top-10 of a major event, finishing ninth in a PGA Championship meet.
That we got this far without mentioning Paes and Hesh - India's most consistent international achievers after Anand - is proof enough of how swimmingly things have gone in Indian sport. The Olympics may remain a distant dream for this old firm but Paes reached the mixed doubles final at Flushing Meadows last year and at Hertogenbosch in Holland with Mahesh Bhupathi. Bhupathi won in Memphis and Dubai with Mark Knowles and finished second-best at new Haven, USA, last week.
Over to Beijing now. Bindra, that seemingly unflappable shooter whose seriousness seems accentuated by his rimless glasses, ended India's 108-year wait for an individual gold. Saina Nehwal then upset a world top-five player spurring India's Olympic dream before Akhil Kumar made Independence Day memorable coming back from 2-6 to tame world champion Sergey Vodopyanov. Vijender and Sushil then got us on the podium.