2011: World Cup win, F1 race glorious memories

New Delhi: Cricketers broke a 28-year-old jinx to lift the coveted World Cup and the glamorous world of Formula One raised a toast to its newest pit-stop as India rose meteorically in the international sports arena in an eventful 2011.

The progress graph headed north despite a few setbacks as Indian sports fans celebrated moments which were mere dreams till not so long ago.

The biggest of them for the cricket-mad nation was the triumph of Mahendra Singh Dhoni`s men at the World Cup, which was jointly hosted by three sub-continental countries. They were expected to do well in home conditions but not many considered India to be good enough to repeat the feat of Kapil`s Devils of 1983. But they did just that in front of a packed Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 2, sending the entire nation into delirious celebrations.

Although the whitewash in all three formats of the game at the hands of England in a three-month long tour came as a reality check for them, the year 2011 would be remembered more for the World Cup triumph than anything else as far as Indian cricket is concerned.

The World Cup triumph was also a momentous day for a certain Sachin Tendulkar, who was making his sixth and probably the last appearance in the showpiece event. The much-admired veteran batsman, however, continued to wait for an elusive personal milestone-his 100th international century.

The 99th ton came in a World Cup match in March but the 100th proved elusive through the year even as the aggressive Virender Sehwag managed to emulate Tendulkar`s feat of an ODI double hundred. .

Away from cricket, soccer superstar Lionel Messi touched down India to enthrall the crazy fans of Kolkata with some Messimania in September. After much speculation over will-he-or-won`t-he, the Argentina and Barcelona wunderkind kept his date with the soccer-crazy city, leading his nation for the first time, against Venezuela, in an international friendly match in front of a packed Yuva Bharati Krirangan.

The game, part of a push to turn the country into one of the world`s major soccer powers despite a dismal international ranking, was telecast live in 150 countries and the nimble-footed striker did not disappoint, playing for full 90 minutes and orchestrating the lone goal of the match.

A month later, the cash-awash Formula One carnival made a pit-stop at Greater Noida, in the National Capital Region, where speed fans were treated to the sight of cars racing at 350kph at the newly-constructed Buddh International Circuit.

It was a never-felt-before thrill for Indian racing aficionados, who came out in hordes to witness what was truly a historic day for Indian sports.

Leaving aside the minor glitches not uncommon to any first-time host, India`s F1 tryst was a massive success with drivers-from Lewis Hamilton to Sebastian Vettel to German veteran Michael Schumacher-going back home mighty impressed with facilities and mesmerised by the sights and sounds of a colourful nation.

But amid the ecstasy in the Indian sports scene, there was some agony too as a few controversies played spoilsport.

There was the never-ending power struggle in hockey which led to the country losing the hosting rights of the Champions Trophy, the bickering between the Sports Ministry and Indian Olympic Association over their respective spheres of influence and the usual dope scandals that ended the Olympic dreams of a few top athletes.

The first half of the year was spent celebrating Indian cricket`s biggest moment of glory before other sports began grabbing the headlines with the start of Olympic qualifiers in various disciplines.

Amid the hype surrounding cricket, the shooters quietly went about their job with seven of them joining last year`s two in qualifying for next year`s London Olympics.
While Gagan Narang and Hariom Singh had booked their tickets to London last year itself, Beijing Olympics gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, Guangzhou Asian Games gold winner Ronjan Sodhi, Sanjeev Rajput, Vijay Kumar, Rahi Sarnobat, Annu Raj Singh and Shagun Chowdhary assured themselves of a berth in the biggest sporting extravaganza, this year.

In fact, with shooting`s profile heading north, the numbers surely are not going to stop at nine as more quota places will be up for grabs in the Asian Shooting Championship in January next year.

In another cause for celebration in Indian shooting, Narang was bestowed the country`s highest sporting honour-the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award-while double trap marksman Sodhi reached yet another milestone in his decorated career, as he was ranked number one in the world.

In athletics, Krishna Poonia (women`s discus throw), Tintu Luka (women`s 800m), Mayookha Johny (women`s triple jump), Gurmeet Singh (men`s 20km walk), Om Prakash Karhana (men`s shot put) started their Olympic preparations after achieving qualifying marks even though the sport itself was tarnished by dope shame.

After a rewarding 2010, athletics slumped to a low, turning out to be the country`s dirtiest sport with seven top athletes, including three Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medalists, getting involved in one of India`s biggest doping scandals.