SOME CURIOUS THINGS have been happening at the 2023 Asian Games currently underway in Hangzhou, China. Like a number of T20 cricket records falling like ninepins. For the first time in the history of this format of the game, a team scored more than 300 runs, something that once was reserved for rare occasions in the 50-over format. That it could be done in 20 overs hadn’t been in the bounds of probability or who would be doing it—Nepal, not exactly a cricketing powerhouse. They were playing Mongolia and this wasn’t the only record as they made a total of 314. The fastest 50 till then was by our own Yuvraj Singh in 12 balls way back in 2007, but Dipendra Singh Airee did it in 10 balls. Kushal Malla scored the fastest 100 in 34 balls. Even so, no one really thinks Nepal has a shot at gold. That will be something India will fancy itself for when it joins directly in the quarterfinals along with the other major teams. The Indian women’s T20 team had already staked their claim. On September 25, they easily defeated Sri Lanka in the final for gold. The batting had actually collapsed after a strong partnership of 74 runs between Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues. Sri Lanka might have entertained the possibility of winning but a spell by Titas Sadhu finished them off. The Hindustan Times wrote: “Sadhu’s three wickets, including that of Sri Lanka’s captain Chamari Athapaththu, sunk the opposition before they could take the game away. By the time she finished her quota of four overs, India were closing on the gold medal.”
The Indian women’s T20 gold, while hard-fought, wasn’t an extraordinary surprise. What did come as a pleasant shock was a gold in an entirely unexpected event where India has almost no recent history of big wins—equestrian. The first time the sport featured in the Asian Games was in 1982 when India was hosting it in Delhi. Then, we won three golds. But that was it. For 41 years, there were no more of them until now when the four Indian team members, all in their early 20s—Anush Agarwalla, Hriday Vipul Chheda, Divyakriti Singh, Sudipti Hajela—again brought it home in the equestrian dressage team event. They had trained hard for it in Europe with singular determination. The sport itself in India had been mired in controversy. A Times of India report said: “The medal came, not because but in spite of the sport’s administration in the country. The sport is governed in India by Equestrian Federation of India (EFI), an association which ranks among the most controversial and faction-ridden bodies in the country. The unsavoury drama which entailed the selection of the team for the Asiad had seen many riders petitioning the Indian courts, alleging high-handedness and favouritism on the part of the EFI.” In interviews with the media, the team members were quick to also give credit where it was due—the horses they rode on. The Hindu quoted Agarwalla saying: “It’s always a team, you and the horse. It’s very important to develop a bond with them—it’s a living being, you need to put in the effort, not like a car or cycle. We have a very young partnership, I only got him in February but we just clicked but it takes time.”
What did come as a pleasant shock was a gold in an entirely unexpected event where India has almost no recent history of big wins—equestrian. The first time the sport featured in the Asian Games was in 1982 when India was hosting it in Delhi. Then, we won three golds. For 41 years, there were no more of them until now when the four Indian team members again brought it home
Share this on
A major haul of medals for India came in shooting, a sport that has now been regularly rewarding the country in international tournaments. In 2008, Abhinav Bindra wrote history when he got India’s first gold medal in an individual shooting event. But it was four years earlier, when Rajyvardhan Singh Rathore won a silver that shooting really came into vogue here. Four, or over 10 per cent of all of India’s 35 Olympic medals, are in shooting. Among the select sports that give India a respectable tally in major sporting tournaments, shooting ranks high. This time in Hangzhou, by September 28, the contingent had got four golds, four silvers and five bronzes. One of the main stars in this show was Sift Kumar Sharma who won a gold in the 50m. The New Indian Express wrote: “Across four hours of shooting, Sift demolished the field and set a new world record en route to one of the most dominating performances ever seen in a big final. When it was time for the last competition shot, her lead over China’s Qiongyue Zhang was 7 points. Put it this way; the 22-year-old may have well shot it with her eyes closed and still would have won gold. In the end, the margin of victory was 7.3. Two hours after helping India win a team silver, an individual gold followed; the first non-team gold at this year’s Games.” But despite the 13 medals by September 28, the shooting contingent is not done yet. There are still more medals for the taking until October 1 for them.
Another sport in which India got a number of medals, even though a gold was missing, is rowing. They got two silvers and three bronzes. In sailing, too, it got three medals. An individual medal in a lesser-known sport was in wushu where Naorem Roshibina Devi won a silver in the 60kg category. She had won a bronze in the previous Asian Games in Jakarta. There was however some sadness tinged with the victory. She is from Manipur, which is witnessing a violent internal political conflict. While speaking to the magazine Sportstar, she broke down in tears and said: “I wish…things go back to normal and be better than what it was before and we live peacefully. Seeing all the things burning down, it doesn’t feel so good. I am not able to go there and help. I want to dedicate this medal to those who have been protecting and fighting for us.”
In the last Jakarta Asian Games, India had its best performance ever with 70 medals, including 16 golds. By September 28 afternoon, day 5 of the present Asian Games, India had won 24 medals and six golds. India has also fielded its largest contingent ever at a little over 65o participants. Many of the sports that the country is strong in, like boxing, archery and wrestling, are yet to start counting their medals. Boxing, for instance, has two world champions in Nikhat Zareen and Lovlina Borgohain, who are the favourites to win in the Asian Games, too, in their weight categories. Then there is the badminton contingent, replete with numerous players like PV Sindhu, who would be hungry for medals. An especially strong side this time is in athletics, the track and field events, where we have been getting increasingly better as was evident in some superlative performances at the recently held World Championships. Neeraj Chopra in javelin throw and the men’s relay teams would be hoping for golds based on what they did there.
India has a history of bettering its tally in every Asian Games and this time one expects it to be no different. We would still be a distant fourth or fifth separated by a wide gulf from the leader China, but progress usually happens in small increments until there is a tipping point and a giant leap. That is the peak this Asian Games is scaling India towards.