Indian basketball's 10 greatest wins of the 21st Century
It's now almost 20 years into the new millennium. The last two decades have seen India as a country undergoing tremendous change. On the basketball court too, we have witnessed some incredible accomplishments. Individually, players like S Robinson and Geethu Anna Rahul made headlines in the 2000s, while the current decade has seen the rise of internationally respected names like Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amritpal Singh, Jeena Scaria, Shireen Limaye, Satnam Singh and many more.
Victories for Indian basketball, rare to come by
As of today, cricket and kabaddi are the only two team sports in India with mass support and traditional backing, that have managed to maintain international dominance. Hockey, our national sport, kept up its prime right up to the early eighties, before dropping off in recent decades.
Meanwhile, 'other' team sports like football and basketball, which are played competitively by almost all the near two hundred countries (give or take) in the world, have struggled in India.
Outside of the South Asian region, victories for India's basketball teams at the pan-Asian continental level have historically been hard to come by.
With the continued absence of structured domestic competition (whether at the school, college or pro level), lack of mass awareness towards basketball and an often lethargic National Federation more intent on 'power' than 'performance', there have been more tears than cheers for Indian basketball in the last 30-40 years.
Still, despite extended periods of disappointment, Indian basketball has had some memorable single-game triumphs since the advent of the 21st century, buoyed by remarkable individual performances (S Robinson/Prashanti Singh vs Korea) or a collective effort (Indian men vs China).
Many of the wins listed out below have come against 'second' teams. That said, our 'Young Cagers', whether men or women, have given the Indian basketball community enough reasons to hold our head high and stay optimistic for a brighter future.
So here are the 10 greatest Indian basketball wins* in the 21st Century:
Hon'ble Mention: India beat Angola (men) - 2014
Indian teams rarely get to face off against African sides. The 2014 Lusofonia Games provided this unique opportunity against a side ranked 15th in the world. Admittedly, Angola sent in its U25 team, but an Indian team under Coach Scott Flemming showed that it was able to contain more physically gifted rivals. This exciting 78-75 league round win set the stage for India as they would have to face Angola again in the finals. (See #7 below)
#10 India beat Kazakhstan (women) - 2013
At the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship for Women, India beat Kazakhstan 65-62 in overtime. This was India's first-ever Level 1 (now Division A) victory since the system was introduced in 1990, and as of today, still remains India's solitary Division A win. Multiple players led by Anitha Pauldurai stepped up, as India managed to stay on in the top rung of Asia's basketball elite.
#9 India beat Philippines (men) - 2016
India has always struggled against Asia's speedy sides, and the Gilas Pilipinas are among the quickest of them all. Facing a relatively younger Gilas team, India's seasoned cagers showed better closing skills to take this game, 91-83. This preliminary round win at the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge would prime the team for another historic win over China four days later. (See #6 below)
#8 India beat Kazakhstan again (women) - 2017
Compared to its earlier win over the 'Steppe Wolves' (see #10 above) in 2013, this time it was a Division B victory. But playing at home before a packed crowd, the stakes were just as high, as this was a decisive all-or-nothing Division B finale game. Shireen Limaye's go ahead jumpshot with seconds remaining will probably go down as one of Indian basketball's most memorable clutch moments. India's last gap 75-73 win meant a promotion to Division A after a gap of four years.
#7 India beat Angola again (men) - 2014
India faced off against Angola again in the finals of the 2014 Lusofonia Games in Goa. Buoyed by the support of a loud and packed stadium at the Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Stadium, India posted a hard-fought 77-70 victory. While there were many stars for India, point guard Joginder Singh's big threes late in the game will remain the highlight from this win. While the men's team won probably its only gold medal at an inter-continental event, a young Indian women's team finished with a creditable bronze.
#6 India beat China again (men) - 2016
This second win against China, at the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge, proved that India's earlier more famous triumph (see #2 on this list below) was not a fluke. The 70-64 second-round victory saw centre Amritpal Singh dominate with a beastly 23 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals.
#5 India beat China (women) - 2012
India had never won a gold at an Asian level event, until Geethu Anna Rahul, Shireen Limaye, Anitha Pauldurai and Kiranjit Kaur changed that fact in 2012. Facing off against a young and inexperienced China team comprising teenagers, India's veterans prevailed 17-14 in the finals. The win was sweeter as the 3rd Asian Beach Games were being played in China's own backyard, at Haiyang.
#4 India beat Korea (women) - 2011
If you watched just this highlight clip alone, you would never doubt for a second why Prashanti Singh is the only Indian basketball player (male or female) to be conferred with the Padma Shri award.
The Varanasi born/bred Prashanti (who is part of the well-known 'Singh Sisters' quartet), defined shooting 'lights out', in this game. While game stats aren't available, going by this clip, 'Bosky' played like a total Boss, hitting hit five threes that were decisive in securing a narrow 63-59 win.
This would be India's sole victory at the 2011 William Jones Cup in New Taipei and to date, remains the only Indian women's triumph against any South Korean team.
#3 India beat Korea (men) - 2004
Known simply as the 'Robinson Game', the Puducherry born, Gujarat bred 6'8 forward scored 36 points in a shock 81-76 upset victory against South Korea at the 2004 FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup.
Up until the Indian women's team repeated the feat in 2011 (#4 above), this men's 2004 victory was the first time India had ever beaten any team sent by the east Asian powerhouse.
Sadly, no footage of this game seems available, but one can read more about this game and Robinson's historic performance here.
#2 India beat China (men) - 2014
Probably Indian men's basketball's 'most viral' win, India's 2014 FIBA Asia Cup victory over neighbours China, came in the social media era. Numerous players stepped up, with decisive plays and buckets down the stretch. The Indian team, which in the past, used to lose steam in the second half, held on for an improbable historic 65-58 win.
#1 India beat Mongolia (women) - 2013
Mongolia may not sound like an intimidating final game opponent, but they are currently among the most successful sides in Asia in the 3x3 format. But before 3x3 achieved its current global popularity and was declared an Olympic Sport, the Indian women's team pulled off its biggest triumph in Asia.
The final game's scoreline read 21-14, and marked the Indian women's team's third consecutive 3x3 gold, after the South Asian Beach Games earlier in the year, and at the 2012 Asian Beach Games (see #5 above).
By being crowned champs at the inaugural 2013 FIBA Asia 3x3 Championship, the team comprising Geethu Anna Rahul, Anitha Pauldurai, Manisha Dange and Pratima Singh become the only Indian side ever (men or women) to ever win a FIBA organized Asian level championship (Centre Geethu would also go on to be named in the All-Star Dream Team). Considering how competitive the 3x3 space has since gone on to become, it is unlikely that this feat will be repeated anytime soon.
Do you agree with this list? Is there any other milestone victory (especially between 2000-09) we may have left out? Let us know in the comments section below.
*Please note that we have not considered any junior age group wins while compiling this list.Published 24 Dec 2019, 15:45 IST