What a week it has been for sport! Assams Hima Das created history becoming the first Indian to win a track gold at a world meet and shared headline space with tiny Croatia entering the World Cup final, Roger Federer getting knocked out of Wimbledon and the Indian cricket team starting their tour of Ireland-England on a high note.
It was not an unexpected gold for Hima, the first by Indian woman athlete at the World Under-20 Track and Field Championships, though Delhi discus thrower Neeraj Chopra is the first athlete to win gold at the championships in 2016, but in a field event at Bydgoszcz in Poland.
She went to Tampere, Finland, as afavourite, having clocked her best 51.13 seconds at the Inter-State Championships, her timing being better than that of her nearest competitor, Symone Mason of the US, whose personal best was 51.53 seconds.
The other two Indians to win medals at the World Juniors were women athletes, both discus throwers and bronze medallists — Seema Punia at the Kingston World Junior Chamionships in 2002 and Navjeet Kaur Dhillon at the Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, US, in 2014.
Hima, the last of five children of a rice-growing farmer in Kandhulimari village, about five kilometers from Dhing town of Nowgaon district in central Assam, has a story to narrate like all poor children coming from rural India. What’s more important about her is that she took to serious running two years ago when she also had the feel of running spikes.
She spent her childhood playing football and cricket with boys in the neighbourhood. Seeing her running on the paddy and dusty football fields, two years ago, she saw the athlete’s spikes when she came under the wings of Nipon Das, the athletics coach with the Directorate of Sports and Youth Welfare. In the last year or so she has had a roller-coaster ride, but she has been on the move, each race taking her to newer heights.
Once she got serious about track running, she journeyed by a passenger train daily from her native village to Guwahati to train using the facilities in the state capital. Nipon prevailed upon her to shift to the state capital and once she made the move, was no looking back.
Come to think of it, she started with 100 and 200 metres and has taken to running 400 metres less than a year ago. It’s remarkable of her to have gone on to win a world gold.
She need not worry about her future as an athlete as the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is a former Union Sports Minister.
Hima is sure to go places if she takes the advice of that great quarter-miler Milkha Singh, who wants someone to push her hard. P.T. Usha is another who can do her bit in seeing Hima on the right track.
India’s cricket captain Virat Kohli is one of the many to hail Hima’s gold-winning run. His own team is on a song on its tour of Ireland-England.
After their 2-0 Twenty20 triumph in Ireland, India wrapped the three-match series 2-1 in England and literally hammered them by eight wickets in the first of the three-match One-Day series, prompting former England captain Michael Vaughan to quip: “Can we have Australia back, please?”
Vaughan was recalling how England, who toyed with Australia, posting the highest ODI toal 481 for three at Trent Bridge last month, seeing the same team struggle against the Indian spinners.
The England batsmen just can’t read Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav. Their top-order batsmen tried everything but still had no clue. Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root, their best batsmen along with Jos Buttler, who are better players of spin, fell not one but tice to Kuldeep, who had a five-for in the first T20 and a six-for in the first ODI.
In the T20s, they tried to negotiate Yadav’s spin playing forward and were stumped and in the ODI the played back and were leg before at their favourite Trent Bridge, Nottingham, pitch. Kuldeep picked all the top-order batsmen, Jason Roy, Bairstow, Root, Ben Stokes and Buttler, as also Moeen Ali, who has five hundreds in Tests and three in ODIs.
Rohit Sharma is the batsman who continues his liking for the shorter formats. He has hit his third hundred in T20s and the 18th in the ODIs to fight for his Test place in the process.
Coming to the biggest global sport football, most Indians might have thought or fervently hoped that Argentina and Brazil would be in the final, failing which one of them playing Germany or France to see different styles of play. Only France survived and few would have expected them to be taking on Croatia, one of the youngest footballing nations.
Unlike other top teams, which solely depended on their super stars, Croatia did not tax their stars Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic too much as everyone contributed their mite, running hard. They gave a lesson not only to England in the semi-finals but also to their media who condescendingly wrote the Croats off.
In the final, Croatia will have to deal with France, who have a big star in Kylian Mbappé. At 19, he is so exciting with his speed running, controlling the ball.
Now everyone sees Croatia as underdogs and want them to win the final. The Croats can do it, too.
Finally, Roger Federer has lost not for the first time at a Grand Slam a match he had won when he had a match point in the third set against South African Kevin Anderson.
Anderson fought back to take it in five sets, the decider at 13-11. He was back for another marathon match, this time the big-serving American John Isner, who like him was a US collegiate champion, winning it after battling it out for six hours 35 minutes, the second longest match at Wimbledon. The scores say it all — 7-6 (8-6) 6-7 (5-7) 6-7 (9-11) 6-4 26-24, the final set alone lasting two hours and 50 minutes.
Some tennis and some physical fitness!
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])