Sport Mithali Raj, Koneru Humpy, Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza set new standards for women's sports in India

M ithali Raj, Koneru Humpy, Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza. What is so special about them? Mithali is World No. 1 women's cricketer, Humpy is World No. 2 in chess for more than four years now, Saina is the World No. 5 in badminton, and in tennis Sania, who once achieved a career-best World No. 27 ranking, stunned everyone else by moving closer to breaking into the top 100 once again despite being out of action for the first-half of 2010.

This fabulous four from Andhra Pradesh in a way represent the women force of Indian sport. They are proof that average middle-class parents can not only dream, but also realise their dreams, if the child has the talent, commitment and sincerity to make it in the competitive world.

Unsung heroes

It is a pity that even among these four, not all got the same sort of credit from the concerned people.

Take the classic case of Mithali Raj, who is the most successful Indian women's cricketer over the years. For someone who drifted into cricket from her childhood passion of classical dancing, this Railways cricketer, who is the pillar of strength for her team in both Tests and one-dayers, rarely hogs the media focus. It is an understatement to point out that an Indian win minus her contribution is a rarity.

So is the case with Humpy. Anyone of her stature in the world will be the most sought-after sports star. But this unassuming Vijayawada-based champion invariably keeps winning big titles almost unnoticed.

The latest is her magnificent Doha Grand Prix Series triumph which helped Humpy earn the right to challenge the world champion Hou Yifan in the 10-match final.

That she happens to be the first Indian to achieve this wonderful feat never really got any media attention.

In a way, both Saina and Sania are lucky and the huge advantage they have is they play the more popular, glamorous, spectator-friendly sport.

Saina might well raise the bar during the next week to fulfil one of her dreams to be the All England champion, a privilege which only two other Indians earned — current chief national coach Pullela Gopi Chand and legend Prakash Padukone. This 21-year-old champion shuttler has already achieved what many Indians may not dare to think off — winning three Super Series titles during her fantastic run last year.

Even Sania Mirza on a comeback trail is putting her best foot forward to break into the top 100 as that will help her gain a direct entry into the Grand Slams.

If she continues her good run, Sania might well be one of the best medal hopes for India in the 2012 London Olympics in the doubles category.

It may not be of out place to mention here that the two Hyderabadis; Saina and Sania will be gunning for glory in the London Olympics, if everything goes as per plan.

Yet, the beauty is that all these wonderful athletes are more focussed to keep winning laurels than think about anything else. Perhaps, this is the attitude which separates them from the rest of the crowd.

V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

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