It has always been the bane of Indian sport that huge contingents sent to major multi-discipline events do not really cover themselves with glory — barring, of course, the Commonwealth Games.
With the Doha Asian Games only a couple of weeks away, there is renewed hope that the country, which is bidding for the 2014 Games, will put up a decent tally in the coming month.
This hope, however, is not boosted by the state of affairs at home: barring tennis and shooting, none of the discipline are giving reasons for cheer.
Given this state of affairs in athletics too, India’s best hope may well be in the hands of the shooters, who have had a golden year so far. If the quantum jump Indian shooting has taken this year is an indicator, India could well stake claim to at least three gold medals. With rifle marksmen Gagan Narang, double-trap shooter RVS Rathore and trap marksman Manavjit Singh Sandhu training their guns on Doha, it could well spell a golden era for the hotshots.
Gagan would try to make the most of the absence of world champion Abhinav Bindra — who withdrew from the squad due to a back problem — to add to his Commonwealth and World Cup gold medals. Rathore, after the setback of a damaged gun, is back in form with a bronze medal at the World Cup finals in Granada, apart from the Asian Championship clay gold from Singapore.
Manavjit had made his intentions clear immediately after coming back from the World Championships in Zagreb with gold around his neck. “I have the Asiad gold in sight,” he had said.
Add to it the presence of stalwarts like Anjali Bhagwat and pistol shooter Samresh Jung and the like, and it is probably the best ever shooting contingent to leave Indian shores.
The Athletic Federation of India may have shortlisted some athletes for the Games, but the final list is still held up as the ‘trials’ in some events are still on.
For now, only a few athletics contenders come to mind, like quarter-miler Pinki Pramanik, long jumper Anju Bobby George, shot-putter Navpreet Singh, discus thrower Vikas Gowda and the women's relay team. But then again, they would have to come up with better performances than what they have shown at the domestic level of late.
Pramanik, who stole the show at the Asian Grand Prix circuit — Bangkok, Bangalore and Pune — this year with five gold and a silver, could certainly be counted as India's best hope, along with reigning Asian Games long jump champion Anju, who despite her medal-winning performances at the SAF Games and the Asian Grand Prix is nowhere near her best of 6.83m, set in Athens.
Hockey is now in the realms of the absurd. The likes of Deepak Thakur, Gagan Ajit Singh and Prabhjot Singh have not found favour with the federation. In fact, reigning champions South Korea and Pakistan could be more than a handful for India. Bangkok 1998 seems like a dream now. Who knows, Malaysia and Japan too could upset India's applecart.
For Leander Paes, playing for the nation in pressure-cooker situations brings out the best in him. Doha could be his fifth and final Games and like the previous editions, he would want to make it memorable — along with Mahesh Bhupathi, of course.
With the state of the wrestling federation in a limbo, it is indeed a miracle that the team is finally going. India's best hopes lie in Palwinder Singh Cheema, the Busan Games bronze-medallist. Alka Tomar too can be a prospect, having won bronze at the World Championships recently.
With chess being introduced in Doha, India could be eyeing some medals there, with or without Viswanathan Anand. It's a game where the country has an embarrassment of riches, and cashing in on their talent shouldn't be a problem. But again, it's still a pitiable situation for the country's contingent. A Pankaj Advani here or a Geet Sethi or RVS Rathore there cannot match the bagful of medals that China is sure to get.