Sunday, August 17, 2008

All hail Indian Football, Indian Boxing and Indian Chess

This one is all about celebration. So please leave your skepticism at home. Forget what we had been doing as a nation of 1.2 billion. Just enjoy what we have done in the last one week.

Just when the heady feeling of basking in the feats of Jeev Milkha Singh, Abhinav Bindra and Saina Nehwal was wearing off, there was more sporting joy in store.

First the much maligned national football team capped off a memorable AFC Challenge Cup by routing the Tajiks in the final. Its probably Indian football's finest moment since I was born - and after years of joy with my favourite club side ( Man Utd) , I have reason to cheer for my national team. All the credit has been rightly bestowed upon coach Houghton - Indian football joins the bandwagon of sports which have benefited from having a top quality foreign coach and increased international exposure.

The same could have been said of Indian Hockey but alas. Rick Charlesworth who wasn't considered good enough to coach Indian will soon become coach of the Australian men's side - replacing Barry Dancer, a highly successful coach who won the Olympic gold and the Champions Trophy with Australia. So its fitting that Indian Football's high has coincided with Indian hockey's lowest point.

Then there was a landmark achievement in Chess. Dronavalli Harika and Abhijeet Gupta gave India the unique distinction of becoming the first nation to win both the women's and the men's individual title at the Junior World Championship. This is something which even the mighty Soviet Union could never manage. If only Chess could become part of the Olympics - we would become a permanent fixture in the medals tally.

And finally the most adrenalin rushing event happened in boxing. Three Indians and three super victories. Akhil Kumar set the tone by toppling a world champion and then Jitender and Vijender followed with comprehensive wins. And the best part is that these guys were bursting with confidence before the bouts and are setting their sights on nothing less than gold. The chances of a second medal are extremely high and I am keeping my fingers crossed. Like these boxers I also want gold.

While all this was going on there was a setback in tennis - the much heralded pair of Paes and Bhupathi failed in what was probably their last attempt at an Olympic medal together. But it hardly mattered to me. These guys only have themselves and their super inflated egos to blame for it. Their coming together , their success and their break-up will forever remain one of the biggest 'what ifs' of Indian sport.

We will talk about the 'what ifs' on some other day. This day is to celebrate the new stars of Indian sport. Forget cricket, tennis and hockey. Lets raise a toast to football, chess and boxing


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Monday, August 11, 2008

For an Indian sports fan it doesn't get any better than this - Will remember 11th August 2008 for the rest of my life

I got up this morning and checked the scores for the PGA Championship. I am a die-hard Jeev Milkha Singh fan and even though the rest of the country and the media doesnt give a damn, I do. The golfer finished 9th and thereby became the first Indian to finish in the top ten of a Major championship. This was a huge achievement and will further boost an already flourishing game in the country. As an Indian sports fan, it was the best way to start your day.

Then the day got ten times better by the time I got settled at work. Thanks to a friend who provided live updates on gtalk, I followed Abhinav Bindra's gold medal-winning effort shot by shot. And what an effort it was. As an Indian sports fan, it was one of those OMIGOD moments - the kinds you will probably have ten times in your lifetime.

Suddenly, the entire nation knew that the Olympics were on in Beijing. Half the people on my gtalk list had a status message which had something to do with Bindra's feat - right from NRI's in the US to middle aged aunties in India.That is something which I have never ever seen happen - the enormity of the shooter's achievement is loud and clear.

And the most ironical thing is that on a massive day for Jeev,even his father had no time for him and still the golfer will probabaly not mind. Milkha Singh called this day the happiest of his life and meant every word of it.

Emboldened by the gold, I decided to check on how the other Indian's were faring at the Olympics and soon chanced upon another moment of pure sporting joy - Saina Nehwal's stunning upset of the world's fifth best player. An Indian beat a Chinese player, ranked in the top five, in badminton, at the Olympics, in China, in an extremely close match. Thats a combination of six rare things.

She is now just one win away from a medal. We could end up with two medals for the first time since 1952. Take that. How much more do you want in one day.

Then someone reminded me of a cricket match taking place in Srilanka. When I checked the score, the host nation needed 122 to win - a fairly easy thing to do. But when Sangakkara fell and the Lankans were reduced to 25 for 2, it looked as if Indians were not supposed to lose on this day. A comeback victory by the cricketers could have stolen most of Bindra's thunder.

But then the bubble burst. India lost the test match and the best part was that nobody bothered. Who cares for a bunch of over-paid and over-hyped losers when we have an Olympic Champion in our midst. And the best part is that the youthful and good-looking Bindra also has the potential to do what Rajyavardhan Rathore couldnt - become a media and brand endorsement darling. That he has a steady head on his shoulders and will not get carried away is another matter altogether

The day was not over. Late in the evening I found out about Sania Mirza's disappointing exit from the singles event. And again I didnt care. I stopped caring for her when I discovered on opening night that she didnt know how to wrap a sari. She has enough time to learn now. And importantly Saina can have all the attention for once.

The day was bittersweet. But the sweet part was so damn good that I really didnt care how the bitter half felt. More glory to Indian sport !!!


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