(by Arunava Chaudhuri) These headlines sum up performance of Indian sportsmen and women during 2002. There were some scintiliating as well as demoralising and dismal performances. Missing was the consistency. With a few exceptions, hardly any athlete or team gave a consistent performance throughout this eventful year which witnessed Commonwealth Games as well as Asian Games. Besides, there was Men’s Hockey World Cup.
But the 14th Asian Athletics Championships in Colombo proved a damp squib as the Indians finished 10th with one gold, five silvers and four bronzes. The women’s relay runners (Sagardeep Kaur, Soma Biswas, Sunita Dahiya and J.J. Shobha) finished ahead of Japan and Sri Lanka clocking 3:37.51 seconds tog give the country its sole gold at the meet.
Tripura girl Saraswati Saha, who switched to West Bengal for better training facilities, had a memorable year. In May, Saha scripted a surpise victory in the 100 m dash defeating Sri Lanka’s Damayanti Darsha in the second leg of the Asian Athletic Grand Prix at Bangkok. Three months later, she became the first Indian woman to go below the 23-second mark in the 200m setting a new national recrd of 22.82 seconds in the national athletic circuit meet.
In the domestic arena, Anju won the long jump event for the third consecutive time in the national athletic meet at Chennai before setting a meet record in the event in the eigthth Federation Cup. Anju, who suffered a right ankle injury last year, capped her golden run by setting a new national record wih an effort of 13.67 m in triple jump besides winning her pet long jump without much fuss in the National Games in December.
The five-day showpiece track and field event witnessed nine new Games records, including five in women.
What was also remarkable about the year was the fact that individual brilliance was not limited to the established names but also extended to upcoming talent in junior and even sub-junior sections.
The 15-year-old Humpy taught foreigners how to spell and pronounce her name after entering the record books with a remarkable feat – she became the youngest ever to bag the men’s grandmaster title and the first ever not only in India but the entire sub-continent to do so.
Anand continued to be the torchbearer for the younger crop as he excelled in various international events including the Eurotel Trophy, Mainz Rapid Play, Corsica Masters and the World Chess Cup.
But he did falter at times – finishing tied third in the Linares Super GM tournament and losing to Vladimir Kramnik in the Advance Chess match. He even lost to compatriot Krishnan Sasikiran for the first time going down to the talented youngster in the World Chess Cup but sealed whispers about his waning form by eventually clinching that title.
Also making a name for themselves were RB Ramesh, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, P Harikrishna, Aarthie Ramaswamy and the 11-year-old Dronavalli Harika.
Double GM norm holder and international master Ramesh became the first Indian in over 70 years to win the prestigious British championship at Torquay conquering English GM Luke McShane in the final round. The title became all the more memorable for Ramesh as it came alongwith his second norm.
The same event saw Humpy reach another milestone of her career as she won the British ladies champion title for the second time in three years. Logging seven points from 11 rounds, Humpy defeated Evans Quek in the final round with black pieces.
Ganguly became the eighth GM of the country with a splendid show at the Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia. The Kolkata player also won a bronze at the world junior championships.
Harikrishna lent his name to the list of Indian achievers when he won a bronze in the Under-18 category at the World Youth Championship which also saw Harika winning a bronze in U-12 girls section and G Rohit cinching the silver in U-14.
Harika surpassed Humpy to become the youngest ever in Asia to become a woman international master after she completed her final WIM norm in the world juniors. Going by the promise she has shown at such a tender age, Harika looks set to better more records in future.
Aarthie became the third WGM of the country behind S Vijaylakshmi and Humpy after completing her final norm at first Saturday IM Group B tournament in Budapest, Hungary.
With India’s bag teeming with such talented conquerors of the game of 64 squares, the country had little problem in reconfirming its regional superpower status returning a rich haul of ten medals in the Asian Age-group Chess Championships in Teheran.
Off board controversies were limited mainly to the vexed re-unification treaty which affected Anand the most and the super grandmaster made his displeasure known after he was left in the dark about the whole scheme of things.
The problem is anyway too complex to be sorted out easily and till now a solution evades the administrators of the game. It was in Czech Republic, where Anand won the Eurotel Trophy ahead of Gary Kasparov, where the treaty was inked.
But the world number three Anand did not let the off board rumblings affect his performance. Anand made it a three-in-a-row in the annual Maiz Chess Classic in Germany when he defeated FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine in the last of the eight-game series for a 4.5-3.5 victory. In the process, Anand lived up to his reputation as the world’s best rapid chess player.
The Chennai genius, who also led the world team to 52-48 victory against powerhouse Russia in the Match of the New Century, regaled fans back home winning the World Chess Cup in Hyderabad.
The biggest cause for heartburn among the players, though, was the issue of contracts.
While the improbable victories in the NatWest Trophy and ICC Champions’ Trophy gave the Indian fans much to cheer about, the meek surrender to New Zealand on wickets tailor-made for seamers ended the year on a despairing note.
Controversy, Indian cricket’s bugbear, continued to make its presence felt for the third year in row. After the match-fixing scandal in 2000 and the Mike Denness affair last year, came the contracts issue, which once again pitted the Indian cricket establishment against the International Cricket Council.
With the World Cup just round the corner, the final shot in the latest stand-off between ICC and BCCI, which is centred on certain restrictive commercial clauses in players’ contracts for participating in ICC events, is yet to be fired.
Outside the Boardroom manoeuvrings, the Indian team had a reasonably satisfying year even though a Test series win outside the sub-continent remained elusive for the 17th consecutive season.
The victories in the NatWest series in England and the mini World Cup in Sri Lanka marked one of the best years for India in one-day cricket in recent times. A narrow 2-3 loss to West Indies at home was the only tournament defeat India suffered in an extremely busy year, a remarkable achievement by any means for a team that is known for its inconsistency.
There were significant performances in the Test arena too, most notably the victories in England and West Indies, but they were overshadowed by the recent 0-2 loss to New Zealand on extraordinarily fast and bouncy pitches that many considered were not suitable for Test cricket.
The year began with England coming back for a six-match one-day series after a Christmas break. The Indians ran to a 3-1 lead before Nasser Hussain-led side came back to win the next two matches and square the series.
The series cemented the place of Virender Sehwag in the opening slot after he played a couple of scintillating knocks at the top of the order, as the Indians made a bold gamble by breaking the hugely successful partnership of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly.
The third series within 18 months against Zimbabwe did not tax the Indians much though the hosts did have to contend with some anxious moments in the one-day series. After comfortably taking the two-match Test series 2-0, the Indians were stunned by a virtually unknown Douglas Marillier who played some unbelievable shots to anchor Zimbabwe to an improbable victory in the first one-dayer at Faridabad.
After trailing 1-2 in the series, the Indians won the last two matches at Hyderabad and Guwahati to emerge a 3-2 winner. The final would be remembered for a memorable match- winning innings by Dinesh Mongia, his 159 being the fourth highest one-day score by an Indian.
After a brief rest, the team flew to the West Indies with a very good chance of ending the drought of an overseas Test series victory. A 37-run win in the second Test at Port of Spain brightened those chances but the hosts bounced back to win the next Test at Bridgetown and the fifth and final one at Kingston to win the series 2-1 and put paid to India’s hopes.
India, though, had the consolation of winning the five-match one-day series 2-1 after the first two matches were washed out due to rain. From West Indies, the team moved to England for a four-match Test series and a triangular one-day tournament also involving Sri Lanka, which in many ways marked the transformation of the Indian side.
After comfortably winning all but one of their league matches, India allowed England to pile up 325 in the final and then collapsed to 146 for five after a good start. The jinx of finals looked set to continue. But Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh played the innings of their life to make possible a miraculous victory that was not just India’s first win in ten tournament finals but also the second highest successful run chase ever.
That unbeaten innings of 87 under trying circumstances turned Kaif into a big star overnight.
He was to become India’s new crisis man — a role he played to perfection in a couple of other matches in the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka.
Kaif was rewarded with a berth in the Test side, though he did not get to play any match. But his fighting qualities had rubbed on to other players too. After a woeful batting display had cost India the first Test at Lord’s by 170 runs, the team improved its performance several notches in the next three matches.
Faced with a back to the wall situation in the second Test too, the Indian batsmen, led by ‘The Wall’ Rahul Dravid, fought back admirably and not only forced a draw in that match but also led India to a series-levelling innings victory in the third Test at Leeds.
The fourth match at the Oval ended in a draw. The series also started the brilliant run of Dravid who went on to score centuries in four consecutive innings — a feat achieved by only three other cricketers, including Sir Everton Weekes who holds the world record for scoring hundreds in five successive innings.
Dravid scored 115 in the second innings of the second Test and followed it up with 148 at Leeds and 217 at the Oval to finish the series with 602 runs. He was then unbeaten on 100 in the first Test against West Indies at home in October. When in England, Dravid also became the first batsman to complete 1,000 runs this year and after the second Test against New Zealand he had aggregated 1357 runs with five centuries at an average of 59.
Riding high on their good performance in England, the Indians entered the ICC Champions Trophy as one of the favourites though they were a bit distracted by the storm brewing around the contracts issue.
The Indians did not disappoint their fans and stormed into the final with victories against Zimbabwe, England and South Africa. But rain gods spoiled their party in the final against Sri Lanka and both the countries had to be declared joint winners.
The Indians carried their good show into the home series against West Indies too and comfortably won the first two Tests at Mumbai and Chennai before the Caribbeans got their act together.
The West Indies fought back admirably in the third Test in Chennai to prevent a whitewash and then achieved something that no other country had this year. They inflicted a 4-3 defeat on the home team in the one-day series, India’s first limited-overs tournament loss of the year.
Still the team was on a high as it set out for New Zealand for a two-Test and seven-match one-day series. But it was in for a rude shock as the New Zealand pacemen ambushed the Indian batsmen on wickets tailor-made for fast bowlers and won both the Tests inside three days.
The defeats reopened the debate over India’s ability to bat on fast and bouncy tracks as the world’s most-formidable line-up could muster just 121, 161, 99 and 154 in the four innings in the series.
The Indians cried foul over the condition of the pitches, but New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming was adamant and said if the Indian batsmen were the best in the world they should be able to score on all kinds of surfaces.
The Indians were not able to take the challenge in the first one-dayer too, scoring their lowest-ever total against the Kiwis to suffer a three-wicket defeat and also loosing the second one-dayer.
With the remaining five one-dayers being their only matches before the World Cup starts on February 8, the Indians are running against time to get their act together and regain their confidence that has been severely dented in the first half of the New Zealand tour.
But their below-par performance is not the only concern of the Indians. The contracts issue is yet to be resolved and going by previous experience, it is expected to keep the players’ minds engaged right up to the start of the tournament.
The Indian teams challenged critics at home and stiff opposition abroad to defeat some of the best teams in Asian football and lift the six-nation LG Cup in Vietnam in August. It perhaps ranks the highest point in the journey to the top which is still a long way off.
Other international awards and recognition soon followed.
In September 2002, India skipper and Mohun Bagan’s mercurial striker Baichung Bhutia was chosen the Asian Football Confederation’s ‘Player of the Month’.
Moreover, entire south Asia got a fillip of sorts this year with new faces coming into focus on the larger arena.
Bhutia aside, two Players of Indian Origin made their debuts for English league clubs.
For the first time, 19-year-old Michael Chopra was selected as forward for Newcastle United in the Worthington Cup. He was brought on as a substitute and missed a penalty as his team went down in the penalty shoot-out. Chopra is on the brink of becoming the first-ever British Asian to play in the Premier League and also played for Newcastle in the Champions League match against CF Barcelona, one of the biggest clubs in the world.
21-year-old Harpal Singh became the first British Asian to play a level below, debuting for 1.Division side Bradford City on loan from his home Premier League side Leeds United.
Closer home, this year offered a few promises besides India breaking the 32-year-long title international drought.
Ground rules changed suddenly and a much-battered team bounced back with a new-found confidence. The appointment of 40-year-old Englishman, Stephen Constantine as coach of the Indian team was the most-talked about subject. Under the guidance of Constantine, the depleted national side suddenly found a new vigour and confidence. Constantine meant business right from the start, making vital changes in the players regimen and working out a strict fitness and diet plan.
Talking of money, the oil companies (Oil PSUs) have put in Rs 40 million in the National Football League which is incentive enough when compared to the potentate-like status of the country’s cricket stars, sponsorship, advertisement revenues and all. In fact, the NFL this year has been re-christined the Oil PSU-NFL.
The results showed. At the Busan Asian Games, India’s good form continued where they pulled off spectacular victories against Turkeministan (3-1) and Bangladesh (3-0) before going down to the mighty Chinese 0-2 after a tough fight. It might come as consolation that the “sleeping dragon” has woken up to the world of soccer even though its team was treated as minnows in Korea-Japan World Cup 2002.
India also defeated Uzbekistan, ranked way above in the FIFA rankings, on its home soil and drawn Jamaica in England, on their yearly summer tour.
In the Asian U-17 championship, India went down to South Korea 1-3 in ther quarterfinals. But the fabulous performance of the Mizoram duo of Jerry Zirsanga and Malswama got them an entry in the Asian All-Star team.
In the AFC U-20 Championship, India trashed Bangladesh 6-0 and lost narrowly to Asian giants Japan (1-2) but got beaten comprehensively by Saudi Arabia (0-4). Thus the juniors were not far behind, proving once again that the country had no dearth in talent.
The Indian junior and the sub-junior teams finished among the top eight teams in Asia, the juniors have fetched better results in the last few years in Asia but this year witnessed their best run at this level.
In the national scenario, the emergence of Manipur as a new force has made the headlines throughout the country. Manipur defeated defending champion Kerala in a thrilling golden Goal to lift the prestigious Santosh Trophy held at the winner’s turf in Imphal. Suddenly, Manipur has become a talent-hunting ground for all clubs from across India. Football is in everybody’s mind in this north-eastern state which is good news for the sport. While the revival of Manipur is a welcoming scenario, down south, Kerala’s downfall presents a sorry picture, with no NFL team.
Now for some bad news. While the boys toiled hard earning kudos for the country the federation seemed unimpressed. The year-end brought with it the ignominy of a one-year ban on hosting of any international tournaments and a fine on the All India Football Federation. The ban was imposed after AIFF failed to submit a report on time regarding an IFA league match brawl involving East Bengal and Brazilians Palmeiras last year. The ban may be applicable only to international tournaments organized by the AIFF but will scuttle the participation of foreign teams in tournaments in India.
It’s still a faraway dream to qualify in the World Cup but a beginning has been made by giving some Asian giants a run for their money.
We can say, India is coming of age in the football world!
Randhawa finished at the top of the Asian Order of Merit while giving him company at the third spot was another Indian, Arjun Atwal. It is interesting that it was Atwal who started the avalanche of feel-stories on the golfing greens this season by becoming the first Indian to win a European Tour event.
Many thought this was Atwal’s season as the other promising golfer Randhawa had met with a mobike accident. But in the years to come Randhawa’s ‘club in one hand and plaster in another’ practice session will be part of Indian golf’s folklore. His exemplary dedication saw him climb to the top of Order of Merit and pocket a season earnings of $266,263.
The season also saw Arjun Singh coming close to winning his first Asian Tour title, having led the Volvo Masters of Asia after nine holes on the final day. Eventually, he emerged second to comfortably keep his card as he finished at the 14th spot on the final Order of Merit.
Harmeet Khalon, Vijay Kumar, Daniel Chopra and Amandeep Johl were the other four players who keep their cards. Call it a slight glitch or another great achievement as Jeev Milkha Singh and Harmeet Khalon just missed out on the US PGA and European Tours, respectively.
The amateurs, too, had a good season with Shiv Kapur becoming the first Indian in 20 years to win the Asian Games gold medal and Simarjeet Singh completed a hattrick of titles at the prestigious Sri Lankan international amateur event. On the national circuit, it was the caddie-turned-golfer Mukesh Kumar ruling the greens. The man from Mhow is all set to complete a hattrick of titles.
There are many things one can look forward to in the year 2003. For one thing, Jyoti Randhawa gets a direct entry at the British Open.
India failed to manage a top-place finish in even a single major tournament throughout the year though they won the silver medal in the Asian Games in Busan.
The major setback for the team came in the prestigious World Cup held in Kuala Lumpur, where it faltered to finish 10th. The poor performance resulted in the unceremonious exit of the chief coach Cedric D’Souza.
The unheralded women’s team saw a fluctuation of fortunes throughout the year.
Playing with determination and purpose, the eves surprised everyone by winning the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games at Manchester before coming unstuck at the Busan Asian Games, finishing last among the four participating nations.
The 35-year old Pillay, who was the player of the tournament in the Champions Trophy in Cologne, Germany and was also nominated for the FIH player of the year award, was in the news for all the wrong reasons as well.
Pillay abused and pushed the umpires during the final of the Nehru Cup hockey tournament in New Delhi in November. Playing for Indian Airlines against Punjab Police in the final, the star player pushed and threatened the umpires after being unhappy with a decision. The player from Maharashtra, also, got into trouble for blaming his national team-mates from Punjab for not helping him to play upto his potential during the Champions Trophy even though India finished fourth and he was adjudged the best player.
India’s two wins against Pakistan – in Champions Trophy and in the Asian Games – endeared the team to millions of fans back home even though it failed to win the top prize in either of the tournaments.
The side’s biggest disappointment came during the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur in February-March during which India lost most of their matches to finish even behind teams considered to be minnows on the international circuit. Though India won against Cuba and Poland in the league encounters and drew against Japan, they lost four matches, against South Korea, Malaysia, England and Australia for a 10th place finish in the 16-team competition.
The performance in the World Cup irked the union government so much so that the then Sports Minister Uma Bharati directed her ministry to look into the side’s debacle. “India’s showing in the World Cup has left a lot to be desired. I have always maintained that every authority has to be accountable. I can assure you that – haathi ki galti ke liye chuhe ko saza nahin milegi,” she had said.
India, however, bounced back to their winning ways in the next major tournament, emerging runners-up in the four-nation event held in Adelaide and Melbourne in May-June. India beat Malaysia and South Korea in the league encounters before receiving a 0-6 thrashing in the final against Australia.
In the next tournament, India’s preparation for the Champions Trophy suffered a big jolt when they failed to win even a single match in the Rabobank four-nation hockey meet in Amstelveen, Netherlands in August. They were comprehensively beaten by the hosts and Australia and held by South Korea for a 2-2 draw to finish at the bottom of the table.
In the August-September Champions Trophy, though India managed a fourth-place finish, they won one and lost one against arch-rivals Pakistan in what were billed as the matches of the tournament.
Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza made huge strides in the men’s and women’s circuit, giving room for optimism. Of course, there were some high moments besides the disappointments.
Mahesh Bhupathi showed he has grown out of Leander Paes’ shadow in 2002. He combined with Max Mirnyi (Belarus) to win the US Open doubles crown. Bhupathi also won the mixed doubles crown at Wimbledon with Russian Elena Likhovtseva.
Paes had a quiet year by his own standards in doubles after he left Bhupathi. He continued to do well in Davis Cup even though India were defeated in the playoff in the third straight time. Australia were too strong for India at Adelaide. Of course, he single-handedly carried India to victory over New Zealand in windy Wellington. Paes has the best record in Davis Cup among active players which is quite an achievement when one compares his performance on the ATP Tour in singles.
The latter half of 2002 proved to be much better that the first for Indian tennis. And more than the established players, it had to do with the new bunch of next-generation players. Tennis gave India a gold and silver and two bronze medals at Busan. Besides the doubles gold, Bhupathi and Paes won silver and bronze respectively in the mixed doubles with Manisha Malhotra and Sania Mirza. And the men’s second doubles pairing of Mustafa Ghouse and Vishal Uppal claimed the other bronze.
The lanky Bopanna had an excellent year. Reaching the Asian finals at Tashkent and beating Korean Hyung Taik-Lee (Asian Games singles finalist) were his standout results this year besides winning two Futures titles. The Bangalore-based Bopanna has it in him to become a world class player – he has a big serve and a powerful game. His ranking is 400 on the ATP Tour and his performances augur well for the future.
The 15-year-old Sania took the Indian women’s tennis by storm. She has beaten all the top women players, Manisha Malhotra, Rushmi Chakravarthy and Sai Jayalakshmy in convincing fashion. She is doing what other Indian women could only dream at her age. Sania has already won three Futures tournaments and ended the year with a flourish, winning the Asian Junior girls title and National Games title in her hometown (Hyderabad).