It has been quite a year for Indian athletes – both male and female. Paths and records have been broken, ceilings have been shattered, and 2017 will remain a giant step for upcoming and established Indian sports stars.
Here are the top 5 Indian athletes of 2017:
5. HARMANPREET KAUR (Cricket)
In the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup, 28-year-old all-rounder Kaur single-handedly demolished defending champions Australia with one of the most astonishing batting assaults in the history of professional cricket. She slammed 171 off 115 balls in the World Cup semifinal – a knockout game in which India were the clear underdogs before it began. She took just 17 balls to go from 100 to 150 – a Rohit Sharma-ish acceleration that became India’s most important moment of the tournament and the second-highest individual score for an Indian in ODI cricket. Till the semifinal, it was captain Mithali Raj, opener Smriti Mandhana and Punam Raut that had carried the team. Kaur had failed till this match, which made her performance all the more stunning. India lost by a heartbreaking 9 runs to England in the Final but Kaur became the first Indian woman to be signed by an overseas T20 franchise – when Sydney Thunder in the Women’s Big Bash League. She took 7 wickets, too, in the tournament, establishing her as a household name and inspiration for a generation of reluctant women cricketers.
4. PARDEEP NARWAL (Pro Kabaddi)
Patna Pirates, two-time Pro Kabaddi Champions, defeated Gujarat Fortunegiants in the final of the 2017 Pro Kabaddi League to win their third title. But it was their captain, the young Panipat raider, who made waves across the world with his record-breaking performances in a physical sport where India in second to nobody. He was an integral part of India’s 2016 World Cup winning campaign too, as India defeated Iran in the final in Ahmedabad. “Dubki King” Narwal has been in prime form for the Pirates, as he established himself as the best raider in the world with an insane 327 raid points in 24 games this season. He has a total of 547 raid points in the last three seasons – a number that is likely to be unmatched in the franchise’s future. Narwal is only 20 years old!
3. VIRAT KOHLI (Cricket)
There will always be more than one cricketer on this athlete-list these years because of India’s long home season and their record-breaking exploits under captain Kohli. But it was the batsman who had yet another record-shattering year in all formats. He scored 11 centuries in the year (6 in ODI cricket, 5 – including two double centuries – in Test matches), finishing just short of the all-time run record in a season. He could have overtaken Kumara Sangakkara’s record, especially with the bilateral ODI series against Sri Lanka up for him, but he chose to get married and get some rest before the all-important India’s tour of South Africa. Kohli’s most crucial phase of his career will come as India start a long two-year stint overseas – against South Africa, England, and Australia. But 2017 will be remembered as Kohli’s year, despite him scoring only at an average of 37 in ten T20 Internationals.
2. SRIKANTH KIDAMBI (Badminton)
24-year-old shuttler Kidambi enjoyed a path-breaking year in Indian Men’s Singles Badminton by winning four Super Series titles and reaching five finals. He finished the year in disappointing fashion, losing all three of his round-robin matches in the Dubai Super Series Final, but finished the year ranked No. 3 (he reached a career-high ranking of 2 in October) and ended up as the highest earner in a sport that has seen Indians swarm the world charts recently. Kidambi struggled to get fit for the last tournament, but will now have enough time to rest before launching a successful 2018, and perhaps a pursuit of the elusive World No. 1 ranking, as well as a World Championship title. Either way, in Tokyo 2020, Kidambi will be expected to be at the prime of his career, in a position to win India’s first Olympic gold medal in Badminton.
1. P.V. SINDHU (Badminton)
She might not have won as many titles as her male counterpart, but Sindhu has redefined the ways of an Indian badminton champion in 2017. 2 Super Series titles, but two more heartbreaking nail-biting all-time-great finals later, Sindhu has now reached Saina Nehwal levels as Badminton’s top trailblazer for the country. Sindhu capped off her season on Sunday after storming unbeaten into the Dubai Super Series Finals, but losing an agonizingly close match to Japan’s top seed Akane Yamaguchi – a few days after Sindhu destroyed her in the group stages. This was Sindhu’s third major final defeat – after Rio in 2016, the Glasgow World Championships (her loss to Nozomi Okuhara will go down as a marathon classic), and now Dubai, where she lost 19-21 in the third game. It can’t be easy for Sindhu to come so close, but she remains at the top of women’s badminton at No. 3 in the World and close enough to launch an assault on the top spot once she finds a way to get an extra juice of stamina in the Finals of top tournaments. Some of the longest matches this year have involved Sindhu and she will need rehabilitation to go one better in 2018.