There was plenty of cheer for Indians over the last weekend when cricket took a backseat. We saw Saina Nehwal reaching the French Open final a week after winning the Danish Open; successful conduct of the India GP; Team MRF taking the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, Aditya Patel scoring two podium finishes in the JK Asia series run alongside the Formula One race, and not the least, Pankaj Advani and Rupesh Shah winning the World billiards titles in two different formats.
While Saina’s performances were to be expected given her World ranking, so was the case with Rupesh and Pankaj, both defeating fancied opponents. Pankaj in particular scaled a new high in beating the legend, Mike Russell, by a handy margin in the final. It must have been particularly satisfying for the 27-year old Bangalorean to have tamed Russell who undoubtedly is the best billiards player of the modern era.
Aditya’s third and second place finishes in the two races over the weekend were commendable if only for the fact that he was getting into a competitive single-seater race after a big interval. Yet, I wouldn’t like to believe Aditya’s Formula racing career received a big boost by the two podiums at the BIC.
The Chennai lad is already 24 and despite the heavy hype by the PR guys, his career seems to have hit a plateau. He might win the odd race in the Asian region, but beyond that, there is not much on the horizon. I have known Aditya since his karting days and his talent was fairly obvious even then. However, a combination of factors forced him to give up on his formula racing aspiration and shift to saloon cars, a move that effectively ended his single-seater dreams.
In fact, Aditya is one of several talented Indians who for reasons more to do with lack of sponsorship have failed to progress in formula racing. Narain Karthikeyan, though in his second full season in Formula One, is going nowhere due to lack of funding though I am convinced he is far better driver than some who are in other teams higher up the grid; Karun Chandhok has moved to Endurance racing after a season in F1, again due to budgets; Armaan Ebrahim is at a loose end after aborting Indy campaign; the likes of Ashwin Sund and Parthiva Sureshwaren too are making do with crumbs in the form of junior formula series.
The list goes on, for there are the likes of Akhil Khushlani, Bharat Raj and Vishnu Prasad who are all very young, but are struggling due to inadequate funding. The scenario is much the same in bike racing where talented riders like Rajini Krishnan, Sarath Kumar, Dilip Roggers and their ilk have hit roadblocks. Much as we are told that the coming of Formula One has given a boost to motorsport in India, the reality is to the contrary. Absolutely nothing has changed.
The fact is that Formula One is an independent entity that is unrelated to the state of motorsport in the country where it is being hosted. Rather, it is a pure business venture that is dictated by commerce and market forces. In India, Formula One enjoys a big following, but there is absolutely little or no awareness about domestic motorsport.
Our country’s best Rally driver Gaurav Gill would testify that for all his achievements, he has never enjoyed the status or recognition that Karthikeyan or Karun have. It was partly due to Gill’s brilliant driving through the season that MRF were able to clinch the APRC team title while their Aussie import Aktinson won the drivers’ championship.
Few are aware of karting or the National Rally championships both of which are suffering from inadequate Media exposure and hence lack of public awareness. The same could be said of billiards and snooker that has produced maximum World champions and yet, below the public radar.
Pankaj, for instance, is fast gaining a Tendulkarian stature in billiards. He is only 27 and has already won seven World billiards titles besides one in snooker. As his mentor Arvind Savur said, Pankaj can only get better and win more titles than any other player. Yet, a Yusuf Pathan enjoys far more popularity than Pankaj! Harsh though it might sound, but that is reality, but fortunately, Pankaj has no quarrel with that, for he accepts the cards he is dealt.
As for Rupesh Shah, he has always been on the fringes, but a dangerous opponent nevertheless. His second World title last weekend came in the shorter format of billiards, but the success only emphasized the point that his achievements have not been commensurate with his talent. However, his triumph in Leeds was no less worthy, having scalped Russell and then Gilchrist en route.
Thus, last weekend dished out a bouquet of goodies for Indian sports fans who will now train their sights on the cricket series against England even as Tendulkar dropping hints that he would revisit retirement decision this month (November). So, there is a lot to look forward to besides of course the festival of lights.