The eyes of the world turned to India but cricket’s habitual record-breaker, Virat Kohli, remained the cynosure of her eyes as his exploits, bit by bit, put in shade the frenzy around the FIFA U-17 World Cup and feats in other big-ticket sporting events.
Run-machine Kohli was at the forefront of a spectacular streak of wins that further enhanced his aura of invincibility, while providing succor from administrative wrangling that reared its head sporadically.
Looking back, the Indians had rubbed their hands in delight at the variety of marquee events at home the sporting calendar of 2017 offered, and they now look forward, with optimism and anticipation, to a challenging 2018.
Fans rejoiced the victories of P V Sindhu, and the ones by her rapidly rising fellow shuttlers led by Kidambi Srikanth, the men and women’s hockey team’s continental triumphs, and not to forget the maiden outing of a few spirited footballers in a global meet.
Many enjoyed the successful return of two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar to wrestling after a three-year hiatus, a rare World Championship gold medal by Mirabai Chanu in weightlifting, the comeback of the great M C Mary Kom that culminated in another Asian Championship gold, and last but not the least cueist Pankaj Advani’s unprecedented 18th title at the big stage.
Boxer Gaurav Bidhuri’s bronze at the World Championship also stood out simply for the fact that he wasn’t even there in the original squad.
And as if giving a perfect sign off to the year, Viswanathan Anand quite literally turned back to clock to claim the rapid world title to make up for several disappointments of the recent past.
Another heartwarming takeaway from this year was the women’s cricket team’s gutsy World Cup campaign, during which it managed to step out the shadows of their male counterparts and claim their own moment under the spotlight. Mithali Raj and Co. finished runners-up but the lion-hearted campaign had India sit up and take note of the other cricket team.
However, nothing or no one could come close to the high pedestal on which the men’s cricket team remained.
The global sporting fraternity had its eyes trained on India, which successfully hosted its first-ever FIFA meet besides playing host to big-ticket events in hockey, boxing, badminton and shooting.
But by the time the year drew to a close, the Indians were basking in glory of the cricket team that had taken a special liking to rewriting the record books.
Around the same time, the eyes of those chronicling the achievements of the men, who juggle white flannels and blue jerseys, turned prying.
What dominated headlines thereafter, was the wedding of Virat Kohli, the chief architect of India’s success story in recent years, with an acclaimed actor. Innumerable stories, on numerous occasions, flew thick and fast about how, when and where the power couple was tying the nuptial knot.
It is not for nothing that Kohli enjoys such unparalleled superstardom, for he bettered, in fact battered, a plethora of records through the year.
He ended up hitting four successive double tons, a record that also helped him surpass the great Don Bradman and Brian Lara as captain with most doubles (6).
Even as the team scaled new heights on the field, the stepping down of coach Anil Kumble following reported differences with Kohli could not be averted, despite nine consecutive victories engineered by the duo.
Off the field, the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) comprising Vinod Rai, Vikram Limaye, Ramachandra Guha (both had quit) and Diana Edulji, was entrusted with ensuring the implementation of Lodha Panel recommendations, the failure of which led to the removal of Anurag Thakur and Ajay Shirke as BCCI president and secretary, respectively.
While the loyalists remained loyal to the unofficial national sport, there were legions that thronged the football stadiums across the six venues, where the stars of tomorrow displayed their skills during the FIFA under-17 World Cup.
After months of training and exposure tours to different parts of the world, players representing India’s U17 team were ready to show the world they belonged.
In the first outing against USA, they got a taste of what top-notch football means, raised hopes of something special with a spirited performance against Colombia, only to be blown away by Ghana in their last appearance.
On expected lines, India were out early, but the crowds still flocked the stadiums for the remainder of what was termed a ‘game-changer’ for Indian football. The jury is still out on that one.
Badminton grabbed the eyeballs as the shuttlers flew home with flying colours from top global meets, including the World Championship, in which Sindhu and Saina won India an unprecedented silver and bronze respectively.
Meanwhile, Kidambi Srikanth, the likes of H S Prannoy and the likes of B Sai Praneeth burst out of the shadows of the two leading ladies, winning at will big matches against big names.
By becoming the only Indian to win four Super Series events in a calendar year and only the fourth male shuttler to achieve the feat, Srikanth announced himself to the world in style.
The hockey team impressed and capped it by winning a bronze in the HWL Final in Bhubaneswar. The men also won the Asia Cup gold for the first time in a decade, while the women’s team emerged Asian champions.
On the tennis court, Rohan Bopanna claimed the French Open mixed doubles title with Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski. But there was hardly any player on the horizon who could stake claim to be India’s challenger in the highly competitive singles arena, whether men or women.
Shooting did not quite set the stage ablaze either but the emergence of young talent such as Elavenil Valaviran, Mehuli Ghosh, Shapath Bharadwaj, Anish Bhanala held out hope for better times.
The steady progress by Jitu Rai—India’s best bet in Olympics after the retirement of Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Ravi Kumar and Ankur Mittal in seniors also bode well for the sport.