New Delhi: Saina Nehwal broke the Chinese stronghold in badminton, Vijender Singh pushed the boxing envelope further while Pankaj Advani became billiard’s babyface world champion but everything paled in comparison as a cricket-crazy nation celebrated India’s rise as the number one Test playing team with unbridled verve and brio.

Elsewhere, old war horses Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi proved still enough competitiveness was left in their ageing bodies, Somdev Devvarman emerged as the next best thing in Indian tennis, Force India’s rags-to-riches story warmed the cockles of many hearts, while Indian golf witnessed the rise of Gaganjeet Bhullar and C. Muniyappa.

On the other side of the ledger, the lifters continued to disgrace the country, hockey languished in turmoil, athletes toiled in obscurity and Delhi’s preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Cricket remained the passion and religion of the Indian populace which lapped up all three formats of the game.

Boxing too provided some moments to cherish and much of the credit goes to Vijender Singh.

Whether it was winning India’s maiden World Championship medal in Milan or becoming the world’s number one middle weight boxer, the 24-year-old Vijender, along with female boxer M.C. Mary Kom, won the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, which was also a first for Indian boxing.

Indian boxing also found a new hero in a 22-year-old shy Manipuri pugilist Suranjoy Singh, who won the gold in the Asian Championships to end a 15-year drought.

Meanwhile in Pankaj Advani, India had its new world champion after he upstaged nine-time world champion Mike Russell of Qatar to become the second Indian — after Geet Sethi — to win the World Billiards Championship.

Indian golf, on its part, remained on an upswing with Kapurthala pro Gaganjeet Bhullar, caddie-turned-pro C. Muniyappa and seasoned customer Jyoti Randhawa winning Asian Tour titles.

Finest achievements

Some of India’s finest achievements came in badminton with Saina Nehwal living up to the expectations and the mixed doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and V. Diju cracked the top 10 chart.

Saina became the first Indian to win a Super series title when she clinched the Indonesian Open in June while the Jwala-Diju pair lifted the Chinese Taipei Grand Prix Gold crown in August to break into the top 10.

Indian tennis had its moments of glory as well.

Sania Mirza continued adding firsts to her name as she became India’s first female tennis player to win a Grand Slam title when she triumphed at the Australian Open along with compatriot Bhupathi in the mixed doubles event in January.

Indian motorsports fans also had something to cheer about as Force India shed its backmarker’s tag to rub shoulders with the F1 bigwigs in a fairytale season.

It was a heady August weekend at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and Giancarlo Fisichella earned the team’s first pole and then returned to drive one of the most mature races of his illustrious career for a second place finish.

Promises fulfilled

It broke a 29-race jinx and team owner Vijay Mallya proved he had not been talking through the hat when he promised points in 2009.

Fisichella soon joined Ferrari but Adrian Sutil kept up the good work with his fourth place finish in Italy.

Indian football also showed signs of revival with Baichung Bhutia and his men winning the Nehru Cup and SAFF Championships and Praful Patel taking charge of the national federation. — PTI

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