If 2023, the year had to be summarised in a word or a phrase for Indian sports, it would be bittersweet. The year was filled with some remarkable achievements, some so near yet so far performances and a few disappointments as well but 2023 would be known as a year where India took a step in the right direction as far as sports is concerned. Obviously, the highlight of the year would be the performance in the Asian Games from our athletes where they bagged 107 medals across 22 sporting disciplines while the year ended with the disappointment of losing the Cricket World Cup final, which has lingered on since November 19 especially because the Men in Blue were the only unbeaten team till that fateful night in Ahmedabad.
The year began with the Indian women’s cricket team’s group-stage exit from the T20 World Cup in South Africa. The inaugural Women’s Premier League took shape and even though the Women in Blue also lost the last T20 series of the year against India, they ensured capping off the year with two Test wins, one each against the pioneers – England and Australia. The year also had the first Asian Games Gold for Harmanpreet Kaur and Co. and now there’s a T20 and ODI series on the cards against Australia, that spread to the first few days of the new year. All the preparations will now be done keeping in mind for the T20 World Cup next year.
This same applies to men too, however, 2023 was a mixed year. It started with two home series wins against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Rohit Sharma and his men won the Border-Gavaskar series at home before losing the World Test Championship final, the second time in three years, this time against Australia. Then there was the West Indies tour, which remained mixed before the white-ball team found its way back with an Asia Cup win, a series win against Australia just before the World Cup. India won 10 matches in the World Cup, only to lose the final. Virat Kohli broke Sachin Tendulkar’s massive records but the biggest trophy continued to elude the Men in Blue. The year ended with T20 and ODI series wins against South Africa in their own backyard and the Test team will be eager to keep the momentum.
Among others, the badminton stars PV Sindhu and Laskhya Sen had a disappointing year with not much to show for with the latter having the Canada Open as the sole win to show for. In the Asian Games, the badminton men’s team won a silver, HS Prannoy won a singles bronze and the duo of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy won the historic gold, India’s first at the Games in Badminton. The star duo of Chirag-Satwik had a historic run for India this year as they not only became No.1 but also went on to win the highest sporting honour in the country – Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award.
R Praggnanandhaa continued to keep India’s head high in Chess as he qualified for the Candidates after getting to the final of the FIDA Chess World Cup where he lost to the world champion Magnus Carlsen. If that wasn’t enough, Praggnanandhaa’s sister R Vaishali too became a Grandmaster and became the first brother-sister duo GM. India also clinched a couple of Silver medals at the Asia Games.
Neeraj Chopra headlined India’s effort in Athletics, which fetched as many as 22 medals for the country at the Asian Games. Steeplechase, long jump, shot put, racewalking, 1500m, 800m, discus throw and javelin throw became the reason for the happiness of lot of Indians this year. While Chopra came second at the Diamond League, he won the historic first-ever World Championships Gold and has now won everything there is to be won. Chopra then defended his Asian Games Gold medal with Kishore Jena clinched a silver.
Hockey and Kabaddi
As far as Hockey is concerned, the men’s team won the Asian Champions Trophy for the fourth time while the women’s team won it for the second time. The men’s hockey team secured a spot in the Paris Olympics with a Gold at the Asian Games while the women left the Chinese shores with a bronze medal. As far as the Kabaddi teams were concerned both won a Gold each.
In football, the men’s team clinched their ninth SAFF Championship title on penalties against Kuwait after the game was drawn 1-1.
However, there was another side of the coin – the wrestlers’ protest. Indian women wrestlers began a protest in January against erstwhile Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. More wrestlers joined, including the likes of Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik at the centre of it all. What started as a protest, became a full-fledged movement by April and the FIR wasn’t filed still, against an accused of sexual harassment. The protest came to a forceful end, the Union Sports Minister and Home Minister met the wrestlers and assured them that Brij Bhushan would be removed.
UWW suspended WFI for delaying the elections, which finally happened and what was the result? Brij Bhushan’s close-aid Sanjay Singh won. The wrestlers had given up now, for almost a year they were protesting and it was time that they were just done with it. Malik quit the sport altogether in a teary-eyed press conference, Punia a day later returned his Padma Shri and there was Brij Bhushan, garlanded and smiling saying “dabdaba tha, dabdaba bana rahega” while the new WFI president Sanjay Singh stood beside him, empty with a victory sign in hand. He also knew that at least someone had won, but the country knows who lost!! But that the WFI was suspended three days after its selection by the government itself, came as a respite for all the wrestlers.
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