The strident notes of the Indian cricket team’s 4-0 belittling of the visiting English squad ensured that the 2016 sporting season ended on a high note for India. However, as much as a lofty throwback this drubbing will prove to be in the days to come, 2016 has been more than just about cricket. Or about any men-oriented sport for that matter.
It has been a year when Indian sportswomen not only took centre-stage, but also redefined perception about their presence in the current sporting mix in the country across domains. While it was a laborious transformation at its start, it did not take long to catch on once the tempo was set.
Here’s a look at the sportswomen who were the face of 2016, even as they laid the foundation for their peers – and themselves – to build upon their success in the years ahead, onward from 2017.
The 18-year-old, who turned pro on January 1, 2016, made the most of her debut by winning two Ladies European Tour titles back-to-back in November, at the Hero Women’s Indian Cup and the Qatar Ladies Open respectively. While these two wins propelled her to get the LET’s Rookie of the Year award, her name first resonated with Indian – and global – audiences during the Rio Olympics in August.
Ashok, who is until now the only Indian woman golfer to qualify for the Olympics Games, was ranked 57th among the 60 participants. Although she went on to finish 41st at the end, she began on a promising note, even securing a brief lead in the opening couple of days of the event.
She was first the saving grace of Indian hopes in Rio, before she became a national hero as India’s first woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal. Malik’s bronze medal in wrestling came as a huge sigh of relief when it looked like India would finish with an embarrassing egg in its tally.
Repêchage is a term that was first introduced to Indian sports fans during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when Sushil Kumar won the bronze medal for the country by making successful utilisation of the opportunities it offered. Four years later, when Yogeshwar Dutt did the same, repêchage had become the one factor to never let India down. Malik’s win in Rio by way of her winning two repêchage matches in the 58 kg category enshrined the nomenclature almost on par with her collecting a laurel much waited for by the nation.
Sindhu’s accolades piled up steadily in 2016, from the Rio Olympics to the Dubai World Superseries Finals. While Sindhu kept up the momentum of the Indian badminton bastion, she also became the much-needed complement to what had been Saina Nehwal’s lone-shouldered effort to prop up the fortunes of women’s singles in the world. The second Indian player to feature in the top 10 of the BWF rankings, Sindhu’s rise was also a testimony to the time and effort invested in the sport that’s slowly becoming a part of mainstream following, despite its sustained continuity all these years.
Yet another name that shone through in Rio, Karmakar vaulted into the forefront thanks to her mastery – and completion – of the Produnova. She missed out on the bronze medal in gymnastics by a whisker, but the world did not miss out on pointing out that her achievement transcended beyond winning medals, which is the thinnest of distinguishing lines at the best of times.
Karmakar’s endeavour sparked a revolution within the field in India, paving the way for furtherance of talent in the ensuing years, with her coach Bishweshwar Nandi hinting at better returns for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Paralympic athletes and events are often forgotten entities amid the hustle and bustle of routine sporting activities. At the Paralympic Games this year, the Indian contingent raked in a record haul of medals. One such medallist was Deepa Malik, who claimed the silver medal in shot put with a throw of 4.61 metres.
Though Malik is still an enigma, she has generated a more than token amount of interest in Paralympic sports and the athletes – specifically, the women – who are involved in its myriad categories.
Mirza and Rohan Bopanna had quite an upsetting ouster from the mixed doubles event of the Rio Olympics that ended India’s bid for a third medal. Despite the loss, the 2016 tennis season was significantly fruitful for Mirza, who despite her mid-season split with Martina Hingis, won a bevy of titles in the doubles circuit before going on to finish the year as the solo world No. 1 in doubles.
In the midst of such garnering, Mirza also made sure that there was no disparaging about hers – and other female athletes’ – successes, even by fellow sportspersons, by giving a stringent dose of sarcasm to a seemingly literal Sanjay Manjrekar. Of all her achievements this year, it’s the last that was the crux of what makes her out to be such an outstanding champion.
Women’s hockey team
Be it playing in the Olympics for the first time in 36 years, or be it winning the Asian Champions Trophy, the Indian hockey eves were almost on par with their male counterparts for the first time in quite a long time.
In an interview with Scroll.in, after the team’s success in the Asian Champions Trophy in November, the coach, Neil Hawgood, mentioned how the players’ self-belief was reinforced after their outing in Rio. “I think the major improvement is their belief that they have improved. The Olympics was a tough gig. I think we grew more from it than people want to give credit.”
A few more determined performances as these in the new season will ascertain the end to the remnants of detractions about the arduous road taken by the team to come this far.
Women’s cricket team
Harmanpreet Kaur, the newly appointed captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, led the team to its sixth straight title in the Asia Cup, forging a dominance such that not even the likes of the Australian (men’s) cricket team has seen. The Indian women’s feat has ascertained that when cricket comes to be a talking point, the women’s squad is not set aside as an adjunct but remains in the reckoning just as prominently as the men’s team.
Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana being the only two Indian women to play in the Women’s Big Bash League, and Mandhana’s nomination as the only Indian woman into the ICC Women’s Team of the Year for 2016 are then the finest points shaping the latter aspect.