On India’s Independence Day, the champions who didn’t make the cut
Extraordinary sportspersons Hindustan Times had to leave out of our India Independence Day special list of 70 iconsUpdated: Aug 15, 2017 21:16 IST
Whatever your permutations and combinations are, a list of 70 champions will contain only that many and no more. And that’s the difficult part. So much for all those who think sport isn’t big in India. One that shows that even a list of 70 is inadequate to accommodate hockey heroes such as Keshav Datt or Jaswant Rajput, who have two Olympic gold medals, but didn’t make our list because someone like Leslie Claudius and RS Gentle have more. Ditto KD Singh ‘Babu.’
And why Srinivas Venkataraghavan didn’t make the list along with EAS Prasanna. Such off-spinners would walk into most cricket teams of all time save those in a country that also had Bishan Singh Bedi and that maverick leggie, BS Chandrasekhar. Or why Asian Games’ gold medal winners such as Lavy Pinto and Sachin Nag didn’t make the list of 70: there were others who had achieved more on the world or Olympic stages. It also tries to explain why Randhir Singh or Karni Singh, who are legends in shooting, lost out to Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore or Vijay Kumar or Gagan Narang.
Here’s the list of 30 outstanding athletes whom Hindustan Times will like to salute on India’s Independence Day -
Jaswant Rajput (Hockey)
In the time when people moved to Kolkata to make a career in sport, his migration from Delhi seemed natural. More so when it was a certain Leslie Claudius who had recommended the move. He emerged one of India’s best half-backs, one who would be part of two Olympic gold medal winning campaigns in 1948 and 1952. Rajput made Kolkata his home --- he called the city his lover --- and played for Bhowanipore before moving to Mohun Bagan.
Keshav Datt (Hockey)
For him, the 1948 Olympic hockey gold medal may have meant a little more than his teammates. The wounds of Partition, having to relocate from Lahore after being sheltered by a Muslim friend, may still have been fresh when this centre-half heard the national anthem after beating Great Britain in the final.
According to a news report, the medals were handed over by Datt’s former college principal in Lahore. The half-back, who also played for Mohun Bagan, won the Olympic gold in the 1952 Games as well.
KD Singh ‘Babu’ (Hockey)
In the year he was named captain of the India team, Babu celebrated the recognition by scoring 99 goals for India. His teammates’ combined tally was 137! Babu was also part of the gold medal-winning team in the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Games. In Helsinki, he was also the India captain.
Dilip Bose (Tennis)
He was the first Asian to be seeded at a Wimbledon when he was seeded 15th in the 1950 edition. As a young country, India hosted the first Asian championships in 1949-50 and Bose emerged champion. This happened four years before Ramanathan Krishnan won the junior singles titles at Big W.
Vijay Merchant (Cricket)
But for World War 2, he certainly would have played many more than 10 Tests in 18 years. But he was so good that he scored his highest, 154, opening the innings against England in 1951. He had a first-class average of 71.64 and that is next only to that of Don Bradman. The historian Ramachandra Guha has also written of Merchant’s ever-willingness to help cricketers all his life and how the venerable John Arlott had said his friendship with Merchant helped him speak out against racism.
Lala Amarnath (Cricket)
He lost his best years as a cricketer for refusing to bow to ‘princely power’ that ruled the sport in India. But he was at the helm when India beat Pakistan 2-1 in the 1952-53 series, the newly independent country’s first series win. When at the top of his game, Amarnath was an all-rounder of repute.
After his playing career, he also served as chairman of selectors and India manager meaning his contribution to the game was so much more than being the first Indian to score a Test century.
Polly Umrigar (Cricket)
He scored the first double-century for India and when he retired, Umrigar had the maximum runs, played the most Tests and scored the highest number of centuries for India. None of those records stand now but it took well over a decade for Sunil Gavaskar to break them in the late 1970s.
Lavy Pinto (Athletics)
He was Asia’s fastest man in the 1951 Asian Games, winning the 100m and the 200m. In the first Asian Games, he was also part of the 4x100m relay team that won silver.
Sachin Nag (Swimming)
In the first Asian Games, he won the men’s 100m freestyle gold and was a two-time Olympian in waterpolo taking part in the 1948 and the 1952 Games.
KP Thakkar (Diving)
A gold medal winner in the men’s 3m springboard and 10m platform diving events in the 1951 Asian Games. It is said even when he was 80, he could execute a flawless diving routine.
Parduman Singh Brar (Athletics)
He was the first Indian to win the shot-put and the discus gold medals in the 1954 Asian Games. Brar again won the shot-put gold in the 1958 Asian Games and took a bronze in discus. In the 1962 Asiad, he won silver in discus.
Stephanie D’Souza (Athletics)
Along with Christine Brown, Violet Peters and Mary D’Souza, she was part of the 1954 Asian Games 4x100m relay squad that won gold. She also bagged silver in the 200m in the 1958 Asian Games and a bronze in the 4x100m relay.
Sailen Manna (Football)
He was the captain of the 1951 Asian Games’ gold medal winning team and one of the finest defenders of all time in India. He was such an exponent of the free-kick that it used to be said on the Kolkata Maidan that the measurements of the goal wasn’t right if a Manna free-kick crashed into the framework. He was also captain of the Indian team in the Quadrangulars and the 1952 Olympics.
EAS Prasanna (Cricket)
Till R Ashwin broke it, he was the fastest Indian to 100 Test wickets, getting there in 20 Tests. An off-spinner not afraid to give the ball air, he was MAK Pataudi’s go-to man for wickets, taking 116 of his total haul of 189 in 23 Tests under Pataudi’s captaincy. Ian Chappell rated him as the best slow bowler of his generation and Ashley Mallet felt Prasanna was better than Lance Gibbs.
Chandu Borde (Cricket)
He was a batsman who developed into an all-rounder after scoring 109 and 96 against the West Indies in his first Test. Borde and Salim Durrani helped India win the first two Tests against England in the 1961-62 series.
In the Kolkata Test, Borde scored 68 and 61 and took four wickets in the first innings. Against the West Indies in 1966-67, he hit 125 in the first innings of the first Test and 121 in the third Test.
Hawa Singh (Boxing)
He dominated the heavyweight boxing scene in Asia winning the gold in the 1966 Games and again in 1970. He was the national champion from 1961 to 1972 and can be called the ‘father’ of boxing in Bhiwani where he was also a coach.
S Venkataraghavan (Cricket)
He has been described as the least glamorous of the spin quartet but he was definitely the best bat and the best fielder among them. An off-spinner who had a long India career thanks to his fitness, he once dismissed all batsmen in the opposition New Zealand team en route a match haul of 12/152. Underbowled by MAK Pataudi, Ajit Wadekar turned to him for wickets and wasn’t usually denied. Venkat finished with 22 wickets, the maximum, during the 1971 series in West Indies.
Chandgi Ram (Wrestling)
He may be remembered for pioneering work in getting women into wrestling but Chandgi Ram was also a gold medal winner in the 1970 Asian Games in the 100kg freestyle. On way to his gold, he beat world championship medallist Abolfazi Anvari.
TC Yohannan (Athletics)
At 8.07m, he went where no Asian had gone before. At the national level, this long jump record stood for nearly three decades. He has also won international medals in triple jump.
Geeta Zutshi (Athletics)
For four years she was a front-ranker in the Asian circuit in the 800m and 1500m races. She won gold in the 800m --- the only Indian woman athlete to do so in that edition --- and silver in the 1500m in the 1978 Asian Games and followed that up with a similar performance in the 1981 Asian championships. In the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, she bagged silver in both the 800m and the 1500m.
Hari Chand (Athletics)
Along with the great Sriram Singh, he was one of the few Indian athletes who were competitive at the world level. He won a 5000m and 10000m double at the 1978 Asian Games and finished eighth in the 10,000m in the 1976 Olympics with a national record effort of 28:48.72 which stood for 32 years. He was 10th in the 10,000m in the 1980 Olympics.
Karni Singh (Shooting)
He competed in five Olympics between 1960 and 1980 and won gold in the Asian shooting championship in Seoul in 1971. He also finished with a trap silver and skeet bronze in the 1974 Asian Games.
Randhir Singh (Shooting)
He too competed in five Olympic Games, from 1968 to 1984. He was the first Indian to win gold in shooting in the Asian Games in 1978 and was placed on the podium again in the 1982 Games.
Shiny Wilson (Athletics)
For 14 years, she was the national champion in the 800m. She also won gold in the Asian championship in that category in 1985. One year later, she was disqualified from the 1986 Games for lane changing when the gold medal, it seemed, was there for her taking.
Mohinder Amarnath (Cricket)
He was the hero of the 1983 World Cup campaign, being the first among equals in a showing that was about the collective. His deceptive slow medium-pacers helped ‘Kapil’s Devils’ pull off the impossible and fetched him the tournament’s most valuable player’s award.
In 1982-83, he played 11 Tests against Pakistan and West Indies and scored over 1,000 runs.
Khajan Singh (Swimming)
He ruled the pool in India in the 1980s and showed he could be among the best in Asia too winning the 200m butterfly silver in the 1986 Asian Games. That was the first time since 1951 that India won a medal in swimming at the Asian Games.
Limba Ram (Archery)
It was in 1992 that he equalled a world record and three years later, he bagged a team gold in the Commonwealth championships.
Devendra Jhajharia (Paralympic Javelin Thrower)
He has won medals in two Olympics, in 2004 and 2016. And the gold he won in Athens was with a world record effort of 63.97m in the javelin.
Yuvraj Singh (Cricket)
362 runs, 15 wickets and four MoM awards, he was an important figure in India regaining the 50-over World Cup in 2011. Before that, he hit Stuart Broad for six sixes in a World T20 match on way to India winning the title in 2007. It took him to 50 in 12 balls, still a world record.
Deepa Malik (Para-Athletics)
She is the first woman to win a medal in the Paralympics. That was in the Rio Games when she bagged silver in the shot-put.
First Published: Aug 15, 2017 14:58 IST