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Can Sunil Chhetri do to football, what Kapil Dev did to cricket?

Pankaj Sharma
Sunil Chettri

Anybody in India who follows cricket, or if I may take the liberty to say any sports lover in India will never be able to forget the day when Indian Cricket Team brought glory to our Nation. India won the Prudential World Cup on 25 June 1983 and the victory came after a long void of recognition, across sports events at the international level. Even after ruling the arena for Four decades (1930s-1960s), Hockey scuffled for glory and recognition, whereas, people back in the country were scouting for their sports idols and the sports to which they can relate themselves.

In 1983, Kapil Dev emerged as an idol who led the national team to victory with some lion-hearted performances; never say die attitude and ability to infuse life (read confidence) into the mortals. Although, Cricket gave India many stars prior to Kapil to be proud of, Dev’s heroics on the field was unmatched, at least in the history of Indian cricket prior to his arrival.

Since then, Indian fans have been very emotional about Cricket and the euphoria has only gone up with some quality players who left their mark on the game. The hype and fanfare reached its zenith for Cricket but hit a nadir for other sports, thus, leading to a virtual death of the latter in the country. Cricket was held culpable for this loss, but what happened to other games could be a result of administrative problems, bureaucracy, lack of quality players or their intent to play any game other than Cricket.  

However, the situation has changed in the recent years as Indian players have performed brilliantly at the international level in different games (read Badminton, Squash, Boxing, Wrestling, etc.). The curious case in recent years could be of Football as India’s FIFA rankings have improved tremendously over the last three (3) years from 1973 (March 2015) to 93 (May 2018).

After the “so-called” golden years of 50s and 60s, where India won Asian Games twice and came fourth in 1956 Summer Olympics and 1958 Asian Games, we have seen a ray of hope that we can be a team, which can consistently compete well at the Asian level if not at the global platform.

Apart from coaches (Bob Houghton and Stephen Constantine) who have played their role well, Stephen’s re-embodiment has crafted the recent success story for Indian football. Additionally, fireworks from players like Bhaichung Bhutia, and most recently Sunil Chettri and Sandesh Jhingan have only added to the reputation of the Indian National Football team.

Sunil Chhetri, who is entrusted with the captaincy of the national team, has proved his mettle year after year and has meliorated with time. His recent appeal to the Indian fans reminded me the way Sachin appealed to Indian fans after India’s dismal show in the initial phase of 2003 world cup (although the context was different). Everyone knows what happened after that!

In the following match (after the appeal) of the Intercontinental cup with Kenya, India won 3-0, and Sunil scored a brace, which was preceded by a 5-0 triumph with him scoring a hat-trick. His consistent performance over the years has entrusted us, that the man has broad shoulders to carry the weight of fan’s expectations of him and the team, as well as a cool head with tricks up his sleeve to bring the crowd to the stadium.

With 61 goals in 99 games, Sunil is now third (3rd) in the list of top scorers at the international level, just behind Ronaldo and Messi. What’s interesting to see would be, how far he will be able to take the tally and “Indian Football” story considering the age not completely on his side. The onus to create and establish a springboard now lies on the confident shoulders of this fine man, Sunil Chhetri. Only time will tell if he will be able to do it? But for now, let’s hope and trust that this lad has the potential to change the face of Indian Football.

"The views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily represent the views of Sportskeeda."

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