Just to tell you how short and remarkable this decade felt, here’s a fact: Sachin Tendulkar retired from cricket in the first half of the decade. Here’s another: Tennis star Somdev Devvarman retired from the sport in 2017. And another: Sourav Ganguly hasn’t played a second of international cricket this decade. We are now less than 50 days away from 2020 – a decade in which most of us imagined there would be flying cars and time-travel machines. But we’ve come close, at least with respect to the superhuman athletes that have made the headlines in the last 10 years. Some of these athletes have been freakishly talented, some have shone bright for a shorter period while others have stayed in public conscience.
Here’s a list of 5 extraordinary Indian athletes – across sports like cricket, badminton, tennis, football, Kabaddi, and boxing – that have made this decade richer with their achievements:
Virat Kohli (Cricket)
In an era that has seen athletes like Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah hijack entire tournaments and break all sorts of individual records, it’s Virat Kohli who has defined and elevated Indian batsmanship and cricket more than anyone in recent history. He is unarguably India’s greatest limited-overs batsman and arguably one of the Test greats already. And he has a neat captaincy record to boot, too. But his pursuit of excellence at the crease has seen him rise to being the best batsman in the world across formats for most of this decade. For a country obsessed with the bat, this has been nothing less than a Kohli-ish fit in a Tendulkar-ish void.
PV Sindhu (Badminton)
Saina Nehwal was the harbinger – the pathbreaker – for Indian badminton on the world stage in this century. However, it has been PV Sindhu that has arrested imaginations and beaten the world’s best with more consistency and excellence than anyone else. Sindhu capped off five years of “almosts” with a World Championship victory this year after losing many, many finals. But nobody else has reached the finals of big tournaments so relentlessly – an Olympic Silver being the brightest of her almosts. She is the favorite to win a Gold medal in Tokyo next year, and her hunger remains undiminished. The scary part: She is only 24.
Mary Kom (Boxing)
Mary Kom is an emotion. She has been around for so long, yet she remains the “mother” of Indian sport in this century. Nobody has overcome as much and achieved even more than this lion-hearted Manipuri champion. She has taken breaks to give birth and raise her children in between, yet she has always come back as if she had never left. She is now a 6-time World Champion, and she even won the Commonwealth Gold medal in 2018 once it introduced her weight category. She has fought across categories too, and almost always come out as the victor. A bronze at the 2012 Olympics will be one of India’s most memorable Olympic moments.
Sunil Chhetri (Football)
Football is probably India’s most underachieving sport, but yet Indian captain Sunil Chhetri has surpassed the iconic Bhaichung Bhutia in stature and statistics. He is well into his 30s now but shows no signs of slowing down, almost single-handedly dragging the national football team through the decade with some Asian titles. He has also led the best ISL team of the decade in FC Bengaluru, and who can forget his famous hat-trick last year for India against the Chinese Taipei and his viral tweet after that? Most fans prefer to list his most surreal statistic: Chhetri has scored more international goals than Lionel Messi, and is only second in the active list behind Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sania Mirza (Tennis)
You’d think Sania Mirza, who broke the glass ceiling for Indian women’s tennis last decade, would be well past her best days in singles tennis. But Mirza’s career entered its second and most glorious stage for four years this decade – in which she not only became a double specialist, she became the no. 1 ranked doubles player in the world and won every possible title with the iconic Martina Hingis on the tour. The two dominated the doubles circuit for almost two full years, and India had finally found its doubles world champion after the Paes-Bhupathi partnership in the 90s. That it was Mirza, who quit her singles career and arrested the imagination of a nation obsessed with cricket, was all the more sweeter.