Troughs outnumber crests in bad year for Indian sports

New Delhi: The unprecedented Olympic medal haul ended up being overshadowed by ugly turf wars which jeopardised the country`s Olympic future even as it went from bad to worse on the cricket field where voids left by legends seemed too huge to fill in a largely depressing year for Indian sports.

The half a dozen medals clinched in London were supposed to drastically improve the sporting scene but once the felicitations had been done, it was back to the harsh reality for Indian sports where politics took precedence over sporting progress.

Unlike in Beijing four years ago, there was no gold to brag about this time but the two silver and four bronze medals in London was nonetheless a historic performance.

The silvers came through unassuming shooter Vijay Kumar and soft-spoken wrestler Sushil Kumar, who can safely be considered a living legend as it was his second Olympic medal after the bronze in Beijing. Sushil is the only individual Indian athlete to have such a feat under his belt.

The bronze medals were clinched by shooter Gagan Narang, wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, shuttler Saina Nehwal and woman boxer M C Mary Kom. The six were expected to be the talk of the town for quite some while given that the cricketers were not exactly covering themselves in glory with repeated failures.

But as it turned out, India`s sports administrators, who have unapologetically clung to their positions for decades, ensured that politics of sports remained the focal point.

Within months of the record medal haul came the country`s suspension from the Olympic movement followed by dubious IOA elections that were held in defiance of the International Olympic Committee.

The bitter turf war that preceded the elections, which were eventually declared null and void by the IOC, was once again a grim reminder that most of India`s Olympic success is individual hard work rather than any systemic progress.

The embarrassment did not stop at just being suspended from the Olympic movement because it hardly had any impact on the brazen Indian Olympic Association officials, who refused to vacate office and kept insisting "everything will fall in place" without explaining just how they planned to do it.

On to the cricket field and there was hardly anything to cheer about as the downfall that started last year with the Test whitewash against England continued this year too.

The Indians squared off against England again, this time on home turf in what was billed as a revenge series, and though it was not a whitewash, the result was once again plain embarrassment.

With some of the biggest superstars walking into the sunset of their glorious careers, `Captain Cool` Mahendra Singh Dhoni suddenly seemed `Captain Circumspect` while shepherding a side full of youngsters.

Amid the number of disappointing results outweighing the success stories, which were few and far between, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh hogged the limelight albeit for different reasons.

In March this year, Tendulkar completed a historic feat of 100 international centuries, when he reached the three-figure mark in an ODI against Bangladesh but within nine months, announced his retirement from the 50-over format, leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

In February this year, Yuvraj Singh was diagnosed with a rare germ-cell cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy sessions in the US before stunning one and all to make a comeback in international cricket within six months.

For Tendulkar, who has been worshipped for the past 23 years for for his delightful strokes, the `timing` of his ODI retirement became a subject of debate as to what prompted the legend to take such a decision, especially with a high-profile series against Pakistan round the corner.

While Tendulkar would still be seen in white flannels, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman decided to call time on their international careers to signal the beginning of the rebuilding process in Indian cricket.

Ironically enough, the two, who wrote one of the finest chapters in Indian cricket with their great recovery act against the mighty Australians at the Eden Gardens in 2001, played their last Test together in Adelaide earlier this year.

The much-awaited hockey resurgence didn`t quite happen as the team slid to its worst-ever Olympic performance, finishing last.

But hopes were once again revived when under new coach Michael Nobbs, it managed a fourth-place finish in the Champions Trophy and the runners-up position in the Asian Champions Trophy.

In the tennis court, some fine individual achievements were pushed out of public memory as a shattered Olympic dream, wrecked primarily by avoidable ego clashes, hogged the spotlight.

Ageing star Leander Paes began 2012 with a bang as he completed his career Slam by grabbing the Australian Open with new partner Radek Stepanek in January.

Sania Mirza won her second Grand Slam when she triumphed at the mixed doubles event of the French Open with Mahesh Bhupathi and remained a force on the WTA tour at least in doubles.

Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna won a few titles together and also qualified for the year-end high profile ATP World Tour Finale in London.

These were no mean achievements and deserved accolades but in the end, the fans would remember 2012 for the bitter bickering between these very players ahead of the London Olympics.

Indian boxing`s euphoric rise in the past four years also met a sudden fall as a disappointing Olympic campaign was followed by international suspension.

Indian boxers got a reality check this year as none of the seven men, who made the cut for the London Olympics, managed to finish on the podium.

Even though Mary Kom ensured that the boxing contingent did not return empty-handed from London, the five-time world champion`s commendable feat could not hide the overall disappointment.

Outside the ring too, the sport endured turbulent times as the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation went to polls, which were later declared null and void by AIBA alleging "possible manipulation".

Outgoing President Abhay Singh Chautala was made a nominated Chairman following constitutional amendments and his brother-in-law and Rajasthan BJP MLA Abhishek Matoria, 29, took over as the new President after the house authorised Chautala to pick the new head.

Interestingly, Matoria had no known links to Indian boxing and some of the IABF officials were left stunned when he took over the position with Rajesh Bhandari as Secretary General.

The election process was questioned by the Sports Ministry before AIBA stepped in to provisionally suspend the federation. The world body asked for fresh elections and told the IABF to amend its constitution to make it compliant with the AIBA Statute.

The shuttlers also covered new ground led by Saina, whose hard work over the years was rewarded by a perfectly-timed stroke of luck which fetched her a historic bronze medal in the London Olympics.

In the Olympic year, Saina also won two Grand Prix Gold titles -- Swiss Open and Thailand Open -- besides winning the Indonesia Super Series and Denmark Super Series. She also reached the finals of the French Open.

Besides Saina, the other shuttlers such as Parupalli Kashyap, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa and V Diju also made it a watershed year for Indian badminton when they qualified to compete in the Olympics -- a first for the country.

Indian football, meanwhile, experienced the good, bad and ugly in equal measure in 2012, but the event that undoubtedly hogged the limelight was the visit by a legendary club from the faraway Bavarian region in Germany.

If completing a hat-trick of Nehru Cup title wins at home was a positive development, the disastrous campaign in the AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal let the fans down.

Ugly was the violence-ridden I-League derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, which had to be called off after the latter refused to play citing security reasons. Mohun Bagan ended up being slapped with a two-year ban.

Indian athletics, on the other hand, slumped to new depths of shame by producing the highest number of dope cheats while continuing the flopshow at the Olympics in yet another dismal year.

If 2011 was the year of worst doping scandals in Indian athletics involving six top quarter-milers, the year gone by brought another dubious low with the country producing the maximum dope cheats according to record books of the world governing body, the IAAF.

On the field, there were expectations that the 14-strong contingent would fight for a medal in the London Olympics but their campaign ended in the usual disappointing manner.

Most of them were content making up the numbers and getting the Olympian tag.

The archers too were way off the mark in the London Olympics and their future also looks tense after the Sports Ministry derecognised the association for election irregularities.

Lack of planning came to fore in their debacle at the London Olympics as the six-member contingent, boasting of world number one Deepika Kumari, drew a blank at the Games.

But there was good news from the green baize as Pankaj Advani became the youngest Indian sportsperson to win eight world titles while Aditya Mehta was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award.

Advani, the `smiling assassin` of Indian cuesport, hogged the limelight when he claimed his seventh World Billiards Championship title after defeating defending champion and seasoned Englishman Mike Russell in the Time format final.

His other world title had come in the IBSF World Snooker Championship back in 2003.