Indian sport is made of moments. Whether it is Kapil Dev running backward to scoop up a catch, MS Dhoni lofting Nuwan Kulusekara into the rapturous Wankhede crowd, or Abhinav Bindra gently punching the air after his last shot – these are the images that remain with the common fan forever. There is a world of emotions, excitement, and history encompassed into these little streams of audiovisual consciousness.
In 2017, India has had its fair share of glorious sporting ‘moments’. Perhaps not as Olympic-ish as Sakshi Malik snagging a bronze medal against all odds, but still important enough to recall in the history books.
Here are India’s top five sporting moments of 2017:
5. Attacking in Antalya
The headliner of the day of an ATP250 tennis tournament was World No. 8 Dominic Thiem – who was the only man to have beaten Rafael Nadal on clay earlier in the season and the French Open semifinalist. He was the top seed in this relatively unknown tournament. It was the second round. Playing him was a tall, lanky Indian singles player called Ramkumar Ramanathan. He was ranked 222 and a qualifier. Less than two hours later, 24-year-old Ramanathan had notched up the biggest win of his tennis career and perhaps the biggest singles win for India in tennis this year. He served as a machine and downed the Austrian in straight sets, reaching the quarterfinals in style. He went on to lose to Marcos Baghdatis later, but nobody will forget Ramanathan’s heroic moment in 2017.
4. FIFA Street
In October, 24 countries participated in the seventeenth edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. 23 of them had qualified for this prestigious tournament. But it was the hosts for whom this was ironically the greatest ever achievement in world football. For the first time ever, an international FIFA tournament was being held in India. And for the first time ever, India had a team in a FIFA World Cup. The colts took the field for three group-stage games, lost all three with dignity, but went down in history as a tiny step in India’s ambition to become a serious footballing nation in the decades to come. Some day, this will be looked at as the beginning. The opening ceremony at the Salt Lake Stadium is the ‘moment’ we will remember.
3. The Return of the Boxer
The Asian’s Women Boxing Championships in Vietnam saw the return of India’s fiercest battler to the peak of her sport. Five-time World Champion Mary Kom won her fifth gold medal at these Championships by defeating North Korea’s Kim Hyang Mi in the finals. This was her first international gold medal since the 2014 Asian Games. She had not qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics but is back to the front of India’s conscience after being crowned Queen of Asia for the fifth time.
2. Heartbreak In England
The Indian Women’s Cricket Team lost both their warm-up games in the buildup to the ICC Women’s World Cup – and were not even in the top 5 teams expected to challenge Australia and England at the top. But they defeated England in their opening game, went on to eventually qualify for the knockouts, demolish favorites Australia in a scarcely believable semifinal and face the hosts at Lord’s in July for their biggest ever title. Under Captain Mithali Raj, this ragtag team of underdogs had become overnight sensations for their brave performance against all odds. Yet, the image that will remain with passionate Indian fans is that of heartbreak. Raj’s quiet, stunned face as she sat on the sidelines while watching her team fall short by 9 agonizing runs in a swashbuckling chase is an enduring image – of both sadness and hope. Hope for a better future and for the sport to take off for an oft-ignored section of a traditionally patriarchal country. They just about fell short of a fairytale ending, but came back as heroes – and not heroines.
1. Ranji Miracle
When 2017 turns into 2018, the most important Indian domestic cricket match will be taking place: the Ranji Final. Only, this time, there will be no Karnataka and no Mumbai. 7-time champs Delhi will face a team that almost nobody had heard of, let alone cheered for. Vidarbha will play their first ever Ranji Trophy Final after enjoying one of the most astonishing seasons in the tournament’s long history. The Leicester-style underdogs, however, created the moment of the year when they defeated favorites Karnataka over five topsy-turvy days of the most engrossing cricket ever seen this year. All seemed over after they were dismissed for 185 in less than a day and when Karun Nair scored 153 to give Karnataka a score of 301. But Vidarbha hit back in the second innings with a very tough 313, setting Karnataka a tricky target of 197. What unfolded was stunning. On the final day, with just two wickets in hand and 70-odd runs to get, Karnataka’s tailenders came to the party. All hope seemed to be lost when it was down to nine runs with Abhimanyu Mithun having dented the Vidarbha bowlers’ confidence. But a future Indian bowler named Rajneesh Gurbani, who had bowled awesomely all season, and who had picked a fiver in the first innings, wasn’t done yet. He snagged a loose and overconfident Mithun with an overpitched delivery, and with No. 11 S Aravind on strike, he made the batsman edge it to gully and celebrated with his shocked teammates to give us the most enduring Indian moment of the year. Gurbani ended with 7 wickets in the innings. This was everything. By the way, Vidarbha, as someone mentioned on Cricinfo, is a region in the east of Maharashtra.