2018 is round the corner and as the old year slowly slips away into history, the New Year beckons sports persons with fresh dreams, aspirations and goals. Sporting feats never cease just as the pursuit of excellence is always a continuing saga of trials and tribulations. The discerning succeed.

The year 2017 that way has been fair to many a sportsperson in the country.

Of course, cricket took the major share of happenings with the men taking India to spells of unbeaten runs in Tests and limited overs competition. True the Champions trophy loss was a blot but with 37 wins in 53 matches overall in the year, the cricketers have made themselves proud with their achievement. Their women counterparts too did not lag behind in finishing runner up in the world cup and earning their share of the limelight.

Football came into the news for various reasons. First, India's ranking rose into the top 100 after a gap of 21 years and the country also qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Then again the hugely successful conduct of the U-17 world cup was a feather in the cap of the All India Football Federation.

India team cricket
Players and support staff of Indian cricket team pose with the winners trophy after their win in the third Twenty20 international cricket match against Sri Lanka in Mumbai / AP Photo


True the Indian youngsters were on the world stage by default (read as host) but the exposure showed the big gulf in the standards of India and the rest of the world. If this does trigger a revolutionary look at the sport in India so much the good for football not only in the country but in the Asian continent itself.

There have been many more, some truly individual highs too like the squash star Joshna Chinappa becoming the first Indian to win the Asian crown and there was Mirabai Chanu who earned the distinction of winning a gold medal in world weightlifting and becoming the first Indian in two decades to achieve that feat. There were recognitions and for some rewards too.

But was there something amiss still? Did the recognition come to all commensurate with their efforts at attaining excellence in their chosen field of sporting action? These questions come up when one thinks of that young suave and brilliant sportsperson, Pankaj Advani.

Mirabai Chanu
Mirabai Chanu / Getty Images


Now, here is a talent who is in a sport that has limited audience at all times and perhaps even in reach when it comes to popular support. Billiards and snooker is not an everyman's favourite like say watching a limited overs cricket or a football action or even badminton and tennis.

But that does not in anyway dilute the merit of excellence that the best performers achieve? In a way Advani himself could be pardoned if he believes that way! For the man, never known to talk of himself or his deeds like the way his cue-stick does in a fascinating way, it stuck one's conscience when he came out in a touch of emotion after noting that he had been again been overlooked for the coveted civilian honour of Padma Bhushan.

This was in the month of January in Pune, Advani was just fresh from his 28th national title success. The man had already at that point won 16 world titles and two Asian Games gold and he wondered “what more need I do” for the higher civilian award recognition!

Years ago, in 1981 in fact, it was Michael Ferreira, another world champion Indian who had a similar experience though in his case it was a case of comparison. The cue maestro had just won his third world championship title in billiards and wondered how his deed compared any less than the cricketing hero of those days, Sunil Gavaskar. The reference was to Gavaskar been nominated for Padma Bhushan while Ferreira was considered for Padma Shri.

Annoyed at this Government treatment of sports, this Mumbai-based maestro refused the Padma Shri! Of course two years later when he again annexed the world crown he was given his due with Padma Bhushan. So much then for the way excellence of sportspersons are viewed. Perhaps the huge popularity ratings makes a definitive contribution though to be fair to the talents involved, every sporting feat is a result of toil and sweat. The road to the highest performance level is never a bed of roses.

Eleven months have passed since Advani revealed the discomfort in his mind. Not that he put a full stop to all his aspirations because of this. A true sports lover like him is rare and that is what he revealed as he continued his pursuit as always in right earnest, his journey in fact, to reap more rewarding moments.

And what do we have! The young man, just 32 has already bagged 18 world titles, a mind-boggling feat by any standards and really there is nothing more that he has to look for in the green baize sport. He is not stopping still like his favourite sporting idol, the tennis legend Roger Federer, and believes he has reached a stage where he is enjoying as he plays.

Ask him about his motivation and sure enough the answer would be with another winning performance as he did in the 6-Red snooker national championship in Chennai in the penultimate week of December by completing his 30th national title!

May the New Year bring Advani and sportspersons of his ilk all the decorations that had been missed or or denied.Indeed, sporting excellence has to be measured by the performance level of the sportsperson alone and not the sport he or she is in. Would not sports be then all the more purposeful, enjoyable, productive and rewarding?