Sometimes as sports journalists we tend to forget, why we entered this field; after working all these years, that love for sports waned, and the rat race for numbers took over. So this diary is an attempt to rekindle that love and talk about what’s good, bad, and ugly in Indian sport.
Thursday, 19th May 2022
I felt tired. The other day when India won the Thomas Cup against Indonesia, I felt really tired. It was an emotional roller coaster; and while I only sat in front of my TV, sipping a cola, just watching Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen and the team of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty play was a draining experience. Finally, for the first time, the Indians outdid themselves to bring the trophy home and create history. It was a feeling similar to what I had when Neeraj Chopra won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics — indescribable, yet something wonderful. The fist pumps, the grunts, the celebrations…all worth it!
I spent the entire evening thinking about what had just happened, moving from cola to a beer. But after the initial burst of excitement, I could not help but ask myself this question, if they could do it again? While in my head, there is a possibility of India getting a medal once again next time around, it is not at all a certainty. I mean, any player can have a bad day, enough to throw the team out of the competition. Merely having good players on the team won’t guarantee success, but it would only come when a host of things go well, in combination, which is what happened this time in Thailand. So all those terming India as the next powerhouse of badminton, including a few enthusiastic people from my journalist community, let’s not jump the gun.
While we might have won, which is still huge, there are a few teams across the globe, which are better than ours, like Denmark, Japan, and Indonesia too. Let’s get to the hard questions already…how many Olympic champions do we have, how many World Championship winners do we have, how many times have we won the Thomas and Uber Cup, the Sudirman Cup? I mean we do have players like PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, and now Lakshya Sen, but we are still a fair distance away from having the depth some of the other nations boast of, be it singles or doubles. After Sindhu, who will become the next big star, can anyone point? Who will win the matches for you in men’s singles, if not Srikanth or Lakshya? Okay, now let’s talk doubles also since this is our favorite topic to debate on. Until last month, India did not even have a full-time doubles head coach even. Now to bring in a system where we keep producing teams of repute, will take some time coming, maybe five years, or even 10. Till then, let’s just wait and watch.
A reality check is what we need, and as I type these words, Indian football is what suddenly comes to mind. Last week, in a preparatory game, Team India lost to ATK Mohun Bagan, and I still can’t wrap my head around that. For all my football fanatic friends…don’t take offense..but how could a national team lose to a local club? This is just like, in cricket, a Board President’s XI winning over the Indian team. Of course, haters will say it was just a friendly, practice match, where Sunil Chhetri was testing his fitness for the Asian Cup qualifiers, but the big HOW in my mind remains. I can’t claim to call myself a football fan, but whatever little I follow, I know there aren’t many things that are right with the sport in India, be it Igor Stimac, the AIFF, or P****l P***l. Ever since I was a kid, I was told that things will improve in the future for the Indian team; I’m 31 now, and we still dream of making it to the Asia Cup, let alone the World Cup.
With Chhetri expected to retire after the 2023 Asia Cup, we certainly do not have a replacement for him, and the country’s biggest league — the Indian Super League, has failed to provide a half-decent player, in the eight years of its existence. And how will the players come from a tournament, which until last year, had the rule of five foreign players in the playing XI? Just 20 games in a few months are just not enough for any player to grow, while the best leagues around the world have 30-40 games, ideal to produce future stars. Upon thinking a lot, and talking to a few football fanatic friends, I realized, that the only players to come out of the ISL setup and have a long haul with the Indian team as well, are Sandesh Jhingan and Anirudh Thapa.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but in all probability, the list of such players won’t be more than five. Whereas the list of players who could have made it big but have disappointed, is certainly longer — Sahal Abdul Samad, Kean Lewis, Balwant Singh, and Liston Colaco, to name a few. In fact, I happened to ask a couple of friends, if there is any replacement for Chhetri at the moment, and what followed was a two-minute silence. Here’s hoping things improve miraculously!
Talking of improvement, our players are making a big move in the field of athletics, where they are beating national records left, right, and, center. The other day, Annu Rani bettered her own record for the ninth time in her career, by hurling the javelin at 63.82m, an improvement of .58m from her previous best. The world record stands at 72.28m by Czech Republic’s Barbora Spotakova, while the biggest throw this year was by Belarus’ Tatsiana Khaladovich at 65.70m. But don’t get bogged down by all these numbers by the foreign stars, as long as Rani is breaking the national record, all is well! She shall one day reach where she aspires to be.
Jyothi Yarraji broke the national record in women’s 100m hurdles and clocked 13.23s at the Cyprus International Athletics Meet. This means that if Yarraji qualified for the Olympics, she could at least make it to the finals of the event — considering Jamaica’s Britany Anderson clocked 13.24s to finish eighth at Tokyo 2020. That would be a big achievement, just like it was when discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur broke the national record at the Tokyo Olympics, and also made it to the finals. It might just sound curt, but simply a lot of work needs to be done in all the three sports I discussed above. One needs unprecedented consistency, the other nothing but a miracle, while the last one, a long commitment.
All these thoughts, just before going to bed, are a little too much but trust me, I managed to pen them down in not more than 15 mins. I’ll try to keep it short the next time.