Kohli, Ashwin rule on field; Lodha garners eye-balls off it
He had a 'few good men' at his disposal and Virat Kohli transformed them into a champion outfit with generous helping from his trusted lieutenant Ravichandran Ashwin even as Indian cricket faced a massive credibility crisis with its freedom curbed beyond 22 yards.
There is a saying that "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way," and the Indian captain seemed to walk the talk as he catapulted the Test team to the top of the world rankings with brilliant batting and inspirational leadership.
And then he had his lethal weapon, the enforcer responding to the name of Ravichandran Ashwin, whose super human efforts exceeded all expectations with one match-winning effort after another.
With Ashwin being conferred the ICC's 'Test Cricketer of the Year', hopefully Indian cricket's search for the 'Next Kapil Dev' ends.
Perhaps, Indian cricket does not even need a 'Next Kapil Dev' as it now has its 'First Ravichandran Ashwin'.
While the men in white flannels were providing their die-hard fans with immense joy, the administration was caught in a tangle as one of the country's most well-run sports body faced complete overhaul.
The trigger for this was far-reaching recommendations by Justice R M Lodha committee on the directive of Supreme Court.
The administrators, for most part, were busy firefighting but the men who mattered -- the cricketers -- made winning a habit with 9 triumphs out of the 12 Test matches played this year.
A 2-0 win in the Caribbean followed by 3-0 rout of New Zealand and 4-0 drubbing of England showed that Kohli's boys never took their foot off the pedal.
The skipper's 1215 runs with a hat-trick of double hundreds in three back-to-back series set a benchmark and the 'Crazy Diamond' Ashwin only took it a notch higher with 72 wickets in the season along with 612 runs.
There will be 'Doubting Thomases' and rightly so as they would like to wait how the team under the guidance of Anil Kumble performs when it hits road on foreign shores.
But then England looked out of sorts in India with below-par spinners in their ranks, Australia are going through a transformation having lost to South Africa, who in turn had looked clueless against India, only a year back.
The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in eating and while the jury is still out on India's ability to win outside the sub-continent, it does not take away anything from the side's fantastic performance during the last five months starting from the West Indies series.
There is no point in eulogising Kohli -- the Match winner as it is well-known for the past five years -- but what was phenomenal was the effortless ease with which he carried the burden of leading the Test team.
A team he created from scratch and it now has at least five or six match-winners.
Ashwin's metamorphosis from a defensive bowler to an attacker happened under Kohli. The eight five-fors and three 10-wicket hauls in this year's Test matches placed him at the cusp of being quickest bowler to 250 Test wickets.
Bengaluru FC emerge tall, India finish with a mixed bag in football
Bengaluru FC provided the sparks, while the national men's team advanced in rankings despite an overall tepid show during 2016 -- a crucial year for Indian soccer that saw the authorities busy preparing facilities for the first-ever Under-17 World Cup on home soil.
Endless speculation also kept the pot boiling about the fate of the I-League, that could become a tier-two competition with the All India Football Federation mandarins planning to make the cash-rich Indian Super League the main domestic tourney.
Lending an individual sheen was goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who became the first Indian to play in the Europa League (Europe's equivalent to AFC Cup) for Norwegian club Stabaek FC.
But it was Bengaluru FC that got the maximum accolades as they became the first-ever Indian club to reach the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup, the continent's second-most important club competition.
The Blues of India, as Bengaluru FC are called, won their second I-League title during the year and then took their performance to another level by getting past holders Johor Darul Ta'zim of Malaysia to enter the summit round of the AFC Cup.
With soccer fans across the nation cheering them on, the JSW-backed side, ably guided by former FC Barcelona assistant coach Albert Roca, put up an impressive show in the final clash, but ultimately lost 0-1 to a superior Iraqi Air Force Club.
On the other hand, the Indian national team under British-Cypriot coach Stephen Constantine reclaimed the SAFF Cup from Afghanistan, but sank without a trace in the World Cup qualifiers, finishing at the bottom of their group -- even below Guam, a tiny US territory in the North Pacific Ocean with a population of less than 200,000.
As the season progressed, India benefited from the chicanery of FIFA rankings which catapulted them to 135th in December, their best in six years.
On the back of their win against higher-ranked Puerto Rico in a FIFA friendly in September which helped them garner 230 points for the month, the perennial underachievers scaled the ranking ladder. But a deeper scrutiny reveals the tourists landed barely 24 hours before their fixture, jet-lagged.
Also, critics complain that while the FIFA rankings often provide a far from accurate picture -- as exemplified by Belgium last year when they rose to second place behind Germany -- the concept looks fundamentally flawed in assessing teams like India which play very few international matches.
The men's U-23 team failed to get past Nepal in the South Asian Games losing 1-2 in the final, but the eves fared better, thrashing the same opponent 4-0 to win the same competition.
In the domestic arena, Atletico de Kolkata remained the most consistent team of the ISL by clinching their second title in the three years of the competition.
Under coach Jose Molina, the franchise drew eight times in the league -- the highest at that stage in all three seasons -- to win the crown leapfrogging Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters in the semifinal and final, respectively.
But overall, the standards of the eight-team meet dropped with boring games ruling the roost.
The ISL -- which according to the AIFF and ISL operators FSDL will be the top league with no relegation after the U-17 World Cup -- was also the reason Goan clubs pulled the plug on their league stints.
Five-time I-League winners Dempo, 60-year-old club Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa decided to walk away from the league during the year, which also saw Mohun Bagan annexing the Federation Cup and Services claiming the Santosh Trophy.
Looking ahead, a lot is riding on the Indian U-16 colts preparing for the junior World Cup which the country is set to host for the first time. The boys, under German coach Nicolai Adam, have been very impressive, their performance against Brazil in the BRICS Cup being the crowning moment.
All eyes will be on the showpiece event in October next year and even hard-nosed critics agree that it will give a face-lift to Indian football.
Egos extinguish Olympic flame but tennis stars enjoy success
India's Olympic aspirations failed to blossom in the face of personal egos of star tennis players even as the legend of Sania Mirza continued to grow and an ageless Leander Paes basked in personal glory in the year 2016.
Sania came close to a historic Olympic medal in company of Rohan Bopanna, the eternal under-achiever of Indian tennis, but the Indian combination snatched defeat from a winning position in the mixed doubles semifinals in Rio.
They were in complete control of the match against Americans Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram before some inexplicable errors turned around the script.
Sania always wanted to play with Bopanna in Rio but they never combined on the Tour and thus lacked enough practice together for the big stage.
The fear of failure prevented them from testing the waters since lack of success would have raised questions over their ability as a pair. The fear stemmed from Leander Paes' claims that he was the best person to play in mixed doubles.
Playing a few IPTL matches for the Indian Aces was the only preparation for Sania and Bopanna. They had been there for years slugging it out on the Tour but perhaps not handling tough situations in big matches as a team proved to be their bane.
The challenge of Paes and Bopanna in Rio also fell flat in the first round itself against the Polish pair of Martin Matkowski and Lukasz Kubot. Bopanna never wanted to team up with Paes and had conveyed to AITA that he wanted to play with Saketh Myneni but the Federation could not leave out a legend like Paes, who was gunning for a historic seventh appearance in the Olympics.
Paes' ranking was not enough to make a direct entry and if he was not to be paired with Bopanna, his dream of playing in his seventh Olympics would have stayed a dream.
In the end, two players who did not see eye to eye, were tasked with the job of winning an Olympic medal that has been achieved only once in India's entire Olympic Tennis history.
And the result was there to be seen, an expected first round defeat. Paes and Bopanna too did not practice together except for a Davis Cup tie against a weak Korean team. Paes was busy playing World Team Tennis and landed in Rio just a day before the competition began.
He created history by competing in his seventh Olympics, which no other tennis player has done, but it did not turn out to be a memorable appearance.
If AITA had control over the players and a proper planning in place, coupled with players' intense desire to win a medal for themselves and the country, the story could have been different today.
Bopanna is immensely talented but that has never transformed into big success. He always had to live under the shadows of Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi and it was his golden chance to grab a slice of history for himself.
It was the last chance for this trio of Sania, Rohan and Paes to win an Olympic medal since they have played their last Olympics. By the time the Tokyo Games come, these players are unlikely to be around.
AITA's lack of control over the players can be attributed to the negligible role it has played in helping their careers, which the players made almost entirely on their own.
Instead of the Association, it's the players who call the shots and they can't be blamed.
Indian hockey rose in stature in 2016
A few disappointments aside, it was all about Indian hockey's phenomenal rise in stature, both on and off the field, in 2016 with a historic silver medal in the Champions Trophy and Junior World Cup title after a hiatus of 15 years being the biggest achievements.
If the Champions Trophy silver, gold in Asian Champions Trophy and Junior World Cup title were the high points on the turf, former Hockey India chief Narinder Batra's election to the post of International Hockey Federation (FIH) President was the talking point off the pitch in the year goneby.
Batra was unanimously elected to the FIH President's post in November this year, thus becoming the first Indian and Asian to head the world body since its inception.
Batra's elevation to the FIH chief's post has also changed the power centre of world hockey from Europe to Asia.
2016 was an Olympic year and much was expected from India and the eight-time Olympic champions did achieve success on the pitch barring a few failures -- major among them being a loss to Pakistan in the final of the SAF Games and a quarterfinal exit in the Rio Games.
But at the fag end of the year, the Indian colts lifted the Junior World Cup title after a long gap of 15 years on their home turf in Lucknow.
The year, however, started on a bad note for the sport.
For those who believe in perfect starts, defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Pakistan in Guwahati in the SAF Games final for the third consecutive time was as disastrous a beginning as one could imagine.
In the earlier two editions of the Games in 2006 and 2010, Pakistan had won the gold by beating India.
But the SAF Games team did give India two players -- goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya and Ajit Kumar Pandey -- who played an major role in the nation's title triumph in the Junior World Cup later in the year.
Meanwhile, the senior men's side travelled to Ipoh, Malaysia for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, a tournament looked upon as a preparation for the Rio Olympics.
Dutchman Roelant Oltmans' was at the helm and was given the charge of preparing the side for the Olympics following the unceremonious exits of Terry Walsh and Paul van Ass.
In the Azlan Shah Cup, it was smooth sailing for India till the final where they were hammered 4-0 by the mighty Australians.
The thrashing once again raised questions about India's submission against big teams in big matches and Oltmans was desperate to prove the theory wrong in his next assignment.
The Dutchman, a master tactician, then decided to change the composition of the team and he was helped by a rare controversy involving the talismanic Sardar Singh.
Then Indian captain was accused of sexual exploitation by a British citizen, Ashpal Kaur Bhogal, and to keep him safe the ace midfielder was left out from the London-bound Champions Trophy squad.
In the Champions Trophy, the Indians played out of their skins to reach the title clash, where they probably played their best match of not only the year against a very strong Australian outfit only to end on the losing side.
Despite the loss, the Indian team created history – a Champions Trophy silver as they had never gone beyond the bronze earlier.
Sindhu, Sakshi, Deepa lift India in Rio Games
Rio de Janeiro: Three unassuming women became the redeemers for India at the Rio Olympics as the country concluded its campaign with some good, bad and ugly memories.
Defying all odds and showing killer instincts, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar became the unlikely heroines and saved the country's pride from returning empty-handed for the first time since Barcelona 1992.
The trio notched a few firsts for India; Sindhu, at 21, became the youngest to win an Olympic medal, a silver which was never achieved in badminton; and Sakshi's bronze was also a first for women's wrestling.
India's first female gymnast Dipa went on to miss a bronze by 0.15 points but her clean finish in the high-risk Produnova vault won the hearts of a nation.
Lalita Babar became the second Indian woman to qualify for the final of a track vent at the Olympics in 32 years (PT Usha being the previous one in Los Angeles 1984) and finished 10th in the 3000m steeplechase.
An 18-year-old golfer Aditi Ashok slipped away from being in top-10 at the end of second round to finish 41st with an overall score of seven-over 291.
But there were some ugly moments as well, when wrestler Narsingh Yadav was slapped with a four-year ban by the Court of Arbitration of Sports which overturned the clean chit given by the National Anti-Doping Agency.
The dope shame had returned to haunt India again, even as Narsingh claimed innocence. The grappler cried conspiracy but was evicted from the Games Village.
In more off-field controversy ports minister Viay Goel's entourage was called 'rude' by the Organising Committee, which threatened to cancel his accreditation for trying to bring non-accredited people at the accredited areas of venues.
Indian athletics contingent's middle and long distance coach Nikolai Snesarev was "detained" at a local police station for half a day and later released by the police after a lady doctor at the Games Village made a complaint of misbehaviour.
Competing in 15 disciplines with their biggest-ever contingent numbering 118, India hoped to go past their best ever tally of six medals in London 2012.
But the country stumbled on a tricky road in Rio when shooters fired a blank for the first time since Athens 2004, and boxers lacked punch, also a first in eight years.
A fine outing at Rio Paralympics
India made an impressive start to its campaign at the Paralympic Games with Mariyappan Thangavelu creating history by bagging the gold.
Varun Bhati won the bronze medal in the men's T42 high jump while Deepa Malik clinched silver in shot put. In the process, she also become the first Indian woman to win a medal in Paralympics history.
The fourth medal came from javelin throw as Devendra Jhajharia struck gold, his second in Paralympics after his first success in 2004. Winning four medals, it was an outstanding show at the event by Indian athletes by all means.