2019 was a year that had Indians shining on the world stage in many sports. If 2018 can be said to have been a year marked by breakthrough performances by the likes of Hima Das, Neeraj Chopra and Manika Batra, this year can be said to have been marked by career-defining performances from some more veteran sportspersons.
The Cricket World Cup and the World Championships across sports held in the year saw some Indians holding their own among the best of the world. Also worthy of mention are some pathbreakers like equestrian Fouaad Mirza, who has earned the honour of becoming the first Indian to qualify for the Olympics in his sport, and Bhavani Devi, who is likely to gain a similar honour in fencing.
Here we pick out 10 instances from the year when Indian sportsmen made our hearts soar by coming up with their best on the biggest stages:
Jasprit Bumrah vs WI
8 overs. 5 wickets. 7 runs – 25 August, Antigua
12 overs. 6 wickets. 27 runs – 31 August, Jamaica
Jasprit Bumrah produced one of the most dominating performances by an Indian on the Test tour of
West Indies over the last week of August. It was fitting that the greatest show by an Indian pacer took place in the West Indies, the spiritual home of fast bowling.
In the 1st Test, with the home team needing 418 runs to win over the last two days of the match, Bumrah helped in wrapping things up early. His haul of 5/7 led West Indies to be all out for 100 in their second innings.
A few days later, Bumrah was terrorizing the West Indies batsmen once again. He dismissed the entire Windies top order, with a hat-trick thrown in, as the home team found themselves tottering at 22/5.
Satwik & Chirag at French Open
Not since the heady days of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have a men’s pairing generated as much excitement as Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy have done through their giant-killing run in 2019. They claimed their first Super 500 title at Thailand Open and then reached the final of French Open, a Super 750 event, this year.
In the final at Thailand Open, they beat the Chinese pair of Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen, who had then been reigning world champions, 21-19, 18-21, 21-18.
In Paris, Satwik and Chirag defeated World No 2 pair Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, going on to become the first men’s doubles pair from the country to reach a Super 750 final. “We are at par with the best teams in the world now,” they said after the win over the Indonesia duo.
Mirabai Chanu at Worlds
Mirabai Chanu, one of India’s most successful sportspersons over the last few years, will probably signify 2019 as the year she returned from a long injury lay-off and breached the 200-kg barrier. In the Asian Weightlifting Championship in China in April this year, Mirabai had improved her personal best to 199 kg.
In the World Championships in September, Mirabai finally crossed the 200-mark. From failing to complete her lift at Rio, to lifting 194 kg at the 2017 Worlds to set a new personal best, to going through a long period of recovery, to crossing the 200-mark at the 2019 Worlds, Mirabai Chanu has come a long way. Could she complete the arc with a podium place in Tokyo next year?
India vs Qatar
2019, despite promising a lot, had precious little to cheer for the Indian football fan. The FIFA World Cup qualifier against Qatar offered a glimpse of what could have been.
Despite playing in front of a raucous Doha crowd, despite the talismanic Sunil Chhetri being laid low by fever and despite the odds being heavily stacked in favour of the Asian champions and against the Blue Tigers, India held out for ninety minutes – with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Sandesh Jhinghan playing the game of their lives.
The match ended 0-0, as India became the only side to not lose to Qatar in 2019. However, it was not just the defensive masterclass which stood out on the day. Sahal Abdul Samad showed a few glimpses of his attacking threat. If his volley from that Anirudh Thapa corner in the second half had been inches lower, India might even have been the only side to beat Qatar in 2019.
Ravindra Jadeja vs New Zealand
The World Cup semifinal between India and New Zealand was a match that can be dubbed the Ravindra Jadeja match. All the bits and pieces of his game came together to make an edge-of-the-seat cocktail on that day.
Opposite skipper Kane Williamson was left smiling upon seeing Jadeja’s one-man-show. Sanjay Manjrekar, in the commentary box, and millions of faces glued to television screens would have been converted to the cult of Sir Jadeja on that day.
It was Jadeja who bowled opener Henry Nicholls before Williamson and Ross Taylor would build a match-defining partnership. It was Jadeja who came under Williamson’s catch in the 36th over as India got a window back into the game. It was Jadeja who would run out Taylor and it would be Jadeja who would take another late catch to dismiss Tom Latham. His figures of 1/34 were the most economical on the day.
When Jadeja came to bat, India were 92/6 in the 31st over, with the World Cup dream having all but unraveled. His 59-ball 77 (4 sixes, 4 fours) brought life back into a dead match. By the time his wicket fell, India needed 32 runs off 13 balls.
PV Sindhu at Worlds
Bronze in 2013, 2014. Silver in 2017, 2018. Gold in 2019. PV Sindhu became the first Indian to win the Badminton World Championships this year, rolling over old foe Nozomi Okuhara 21-7, 21-7 in a one-sided final.
Saina Nehwal and Prakash Padukone – two other legends of Indian badminton – had medalled at the Worlds before, but the gold medal had always eluded India before Sindhu’s taming of Okuhara.
Pullela Gopichand said Sindhu’s Worlds conquest sets her up for a gold medal at Tokyo 2020. Can Sindhu do something similarly groundbreaking at the Olympics?
Rohit Sharma in World Cup
2019 was a year Rohit Sharma made his own. Never has an opener amassed more runs in one year than Rohit has for India across formats this year. The World Cup in the English summer can probably be said to have been his biggest stage, with his 140 vs Pakistan being the crowning glory.
122* vs South Africa, 57 vs Australia, 140 vs Pakistan, 102 vs England, 104 vs Bangladesh and 103 vs Sri Lanka – are six of Rohit’s best knocks in the World Cup.
Such was Rohit’s presence at the top of the order that India’s lack of a solid middle order was asked till the knockout stages, as runs piled on runs on India scoreboards.
2019 has been a sensational year for India’s young shooters, with Elavenil Valarivan, Divyansh Panwar, Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker et al striking gold on the world stage.
18-year-old Elavenil Valarivan won her maiden seniors gold in 10m Women’s Rifle at the ISSF World Cup in Rio in August, following up on a Junior World Cup gold earlier in the year.
On the back of the stunning show by the youth brigade, India have an unprecedented 15 shooting quotas in hand for Tokyo 2020.
2019 will probably be remembered as the year G Sathiyan took over the mantle of table tennis in India from the veteran Sharath Kamal.
Sathiyan became the first Indian to break into the top 25 in table tennis world rankings, something even Sharath Kamal had not done. Sathiyan beat several of the top players in the world this year, including World No 5 Harimoto Tomokazu of Japan.
The 26-year-old also became the first Indian to qualify for the last 16 of the World Cup, where he lost to the legendary Timo Boll.
2019 was a mixed year for Indian wrestlers. Bajrang Punia became the World No 1 in his category, Sushil Kumar failed to impress on a comeback bid, Vinesh Phogat won a Worlds medal, but the most spectacular breakthrough was arguably made by young Deepak Punia.
The 20-year-old Deepak became the first Indian to win a Junior Worlds title in 18 years in August. Just one month later, he did the unbelievable, by also reaching the final of the senior Worlds. As if even the script could not take as much drama as a junior Worlds title and a senior Worlds title in back-to-back months, Deepak opted out of the final owing to an injury.
For his exploits, Deepak Punia was named the best junior wrestler in the world for the year by United World Wrestling, the first Indian wrestler to have earned such an honour.