Disclaimer – These years are the top five sporting years for independent India (in chronological order) as per my opinion, and the readers’ list may differ from mine.
India as a nation has had very limited success in sports. While the sporting scene has slowly but surely been improving in the country, the fact is that the golden moments of Indian sport have been few and far between. Here is an attempt to look at the top five years in Indian sports since independence.
Independent India got its first individual Olympic medal when Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, or KD Jadhav as he is more commonly known, won bronze in freestyle wrestling. It is said that the welcome he received when he returned to India was a sight which had to be seen to be believed. He was welcomed in grand fashion at his home town in Karad (Maharashtra) with dhols and bullock cart processions.
India continued its dominance in the field of hockey by winning the gold medal under the captaincy of K D Singh ‘Babu’. It was the fifth time that the country had won hockey gold.
If there is one year which is responsible for making India a cricket-crazy nation, then it has to be 1983. Kapil’s Devils achieved the unthinkable when they won the cricket World Cup by defeating two-time world champions and title favourites West Indies. It was this victory that gave the belief to the Tendulkar’s of the country to make cricket as their career.
It was the year of the Olympics and also a year of many firsts for Indian sports. The new millennium brought smiles on the faces of Indians through successes in many sports.
Karnam Malleswari became the first Indian woman to win a medal in Olympics. She achieved this feat by bagging bronze in weight lifting in the 69 kg category.
While chess is a game in which India had been doing well since Viswanathan Anand became its first grand master in 1988, the new millennium brought the perfect jewel to Anand’s crown when he became the first Indian to win a world championship by defeating Alexei Shirov.
This was also a crucial year for Indian cricket; the team was just trying to overcome the horrors of match-fixing saga. It saw the appointment of Saurav Ganguly as the captain of the national cricket team (he went on to become one of the most successful Indian captains ever) and he led them in style taking his young team to the finals of the ICC Champions trophy in Nairobi.
Hockey brought laurels to the nation after a long time in 2003. The national team beat Pakistan in the finals to win the Asia Cup (for the first time), and they also won the Afro-Asian games.
Two Indians whose names we recall with pride in the field of athletics are PT Usha and Milkha Singh. However, they even they never won any medal in a World Championship event. A certain Anju Bobby George set this record right by winning bronze in the women’s long jump in the World Athletics Championship in Paris.
Golf is a game of the rich and India has had barely a handful of golf players of international stature. Given this background, 2003 was a successful year for Indian golf as well. Arjun Atwal became the first player in Asian PGA Tour history to move past $1 million in career earnings. He also became the first Indian to qualify for the US PGA Tour.
It was the year of cricket World Cup and fans were hoping that Ganguly’s team would bring back the Cup home after a gap of 20 years. Well, they could not get the Cup back, but finished as respectable finalists losing to the eventual champions Australia. The most memorable memory that the Indian fans took back from this tournament was an inspired batting performance led by none other than Tendulkar, who thrashed the Pakistani quicks to every corner of the ground.
The Commonwealth Games 2010 were marred by administrative controversies prior to the start of the event. However, once the games started, it looked like the Indian contingent had worked up some serious home advantage as they bagged 101 medals (highest ever medals tally for India) which included 38 gold. Saina Nehwal contributed to this tally of gold medals. She went on to win five international titles to become the world number 2 in 2010.
It was also the year of the Asian Games and India again put in a record breaking performance, bagging 64 medals which included 14 gold.
And if other sports are doing well in the country, there is no way cricket can be left behind. Into his 21st year of international cricket, Sachin Tendulkar became the first batsman ever to score a double hundred in one day cricket. He did this against South Africa at Gwalior.
1958 – Milkha Singh got independent India its first individual gold medal when he won gold at the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games.
1980 – Prakash Padukone became the first Indian to win the coveted All England Badminton Championship. (Pullela Gopichand replicated this feat in 2001).
1998 – This year is best remembered for Sachin’s desert storm in Sharjah and the words of Tony Greig on the match – “They are dancing in the aisles in Sharjah.” Apart from the success in cricket, the Indian hockey team also won gold in the Asian Games.
2011 – While the Indian cricket team won the World Cup at home, apart from this victory there was no other achievement of notable significance for Indian sports.