2018 was an eventful year for Indian sports. Indian athletes lit up major events like the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, and 2018 Jakarta Asian Games among others. As we prepare to brace 2019, here are the top 10 most talented athletes who made stunning debuts and the ones you would want to keep regular tabs on….-- Advertisement --
#1. Jemimah Rodriguez
Although Jemimah Rodriguez was considered one of India’s most talented rising Batswoman coming into the T20 World Cup, the 18-year-old Mumbai batsman’s inclusion in the first team was met with the fair degree of skepticism. After all, she had made her debut only months ago. However, what emerged was from the youngster was a stunning display of cricketing temperament that belied her age. In her debut World T20 match itself, Jemimah played a sublime inning of 45-ball 59. She went on to score 125 runs in the tournament. In a year-old-career, she is already ranked 6th in the ICC World Rankings.-- Advertisement --
#2. Hima Das
In her first year as a track athlete itself, Hima Das has already made a name for herself globally. The ‘Dhing Express’, as she is affectionately called, became an overnight sensation when she rewrote history by becoming the first Indian woman to clinch a gold medal at an IAAF event.
She posted a record time of 51.46 seconds in the 400 meters category of at the World Under-20 Athletics Championships to achieve the feat. Das also went on to win a silver in the 400m final of the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games where she set a national record of 50.79 seconds.
She then went on to win gold in the Women’s 4x400m relay event of the competition. Hima Das eventually ended the season with a 23rd rank in the world and 2nd in Asia. With the 2020 Olympics not far away, Hima Das is the one athlete that India would expect to bring a medal.
#3. Jasprit Bumrah
This has been a phenomenal year for Jasprit Bumrah. After having made a name for himself as a reliable death-over specialist, the fast bowler has displayed a marked improvement over the months with a trademark consistency.
Having started his journey from cricket’s shortest formats, the T20s, Jasprit broke into India’s ODI setup before making a debut in the Test side. More importantly, he has shined in all the formats, be it any condition.
Bumrah got his first Test cap on 5 January on the India tour of South Africa. He could manage only one wicket in that Test, echoing the fact doubts that he was only a limited-overs bowler. Fast forward to the 29th December, and Jasprit had already taken a record-breaking 9 wickets against Australia in the famed MCG to help India take a 2-1 lead in the four-match test series.
#4. Neeraj Chopra
The 2018 Commonwealth Games gave birth to many Indian stars, but one that stood apart was the young javelin star, Neeraj Chopra. Neeraj Chopra first announced his arrival on the Junior stage in 2016 by posting a junior world record. This year, participating in the Commonwealth for the first time, Neeraj went on to post a season-best throw of 86.43 m to clinch gold.
He then broke his own national record on two occasions this year, catapulting him into the world’s elite. Neeraj won the elusive Asian Games gold in the men’s Javelin Throw event with a record throw of 88.06 m.
He also finished fourth in the prestigious Diamond League Series by amassing 17 points, a feat unrivalled by an Indian thus far on such a stage. He is thus seen as one of the most realistic options for a podium finish at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
#5. Prithvi Shaw
Cricketer Prithvi Shaw titillated Indian cricket faithful imagination by making a dream senior debut against West Indies. The 18-year-old prodigy had already become a household name when he led the Indian side to a U19 World Cup.
He also had a splendid 2017-18 domestic season for Mumbai. In his debut season in IPL, Delhi Daredevils picked Shaw for Rs 1.2 crores in the 2018 IPL auction and went on to become the youngest player in the league’s history to open the batting at 18 years and 165 days. Four days later, he also became the joint youngest player to score an IPL half-century with Sanju Samson.
All these factors led to Shaw being called up India’s senior side against West Indies on 4 October 2018. The feisty opener returned the favour by becoming the youngest batsman to make a Test century on debut for India (18 years and 329 days). Consequently, Shaw was named as the Player of the Series.
#6. Saurabh Chaudhary
If there is one Indian athlete who could ably succeed Abhinav Bindra as India’s shooting campaign at the Olympics, it is probably Saurabh Chaudhary. The 16-year-old has had the record-breaking year of 2018, in which he won the 2018 Youth Olympic Games gold and 2018 Jakarta Asian Games gold both in the 10m pistol shooting events.
The Kalina resident followed it with a gold at the Junior ISSF World Championship and the 2018 Asian Airgun Games. Recently, Saurabh Chaudhary scored a massive 4.6 points more than the World Record at the National Trials with a score of 248.2. This, indeed, shows the youngsters massive potential.
#7. Sonia Chahal
Although the 2018 World Boxing Championship in New Delhi was dominated by the news of Mary Kom winning her record 6th gold at the event, the one Indian boxer that quietly impressed everyone was Sonia Chahal. Entering 2018, Chahal had a solitary National Championships medal to show for. Nonetheless, it really turned out to be her breakthrough year since she won a silver medal at her debut Women’s World Boxing Championships.
Sonia had joined MC Mary Kom as the only other Indian in the finals. Unfortunately, the 21-year-old lost to Ornella Gabriele Wahner of Germany by 1-4 in the 57 kg category. The Nimri-boxer had consistently punched above her weight to get past big names like Stanimira Petrova, Marcela Yeni Castaneda and Son Hwa-Jo in the boxing circuit.
#8. Manu Bhaker
Manu Bhaker was another shooting prodigy that grabbed everyone’s attention in 2018. The Haryana-based shooting prodigy literally owned the shooting circuit this year.
She started the year in a big fashion, winning a gold medal at the Women’s 10-meter Air Pistol World Cup event, defeating the two-time champion Mexico’s Alejandra Zavala in the process. That made her the youngest Indian to win a gold medal at the World Cup. Bhaker then followed it up by partnering with Om Prakash Mitharwal to win another gold medal at the competition in the 10-meter air pistol mixed team event.
Bhaker went on to clinch a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia in the women’s 10m air pistol event with 240.9 points. That was also a new CWG record.
Even though Manu had a disappointing Asian Games, she came back stronger at the Youth Olympics 2018, securing gold at the women’s 10m air pistol event. That made her the first Indian shooter and the first female athlete to grab a gold medal at the YOG.
#9. Jeremy Lalrinnunga
India’s youngest weightlifting sensation from Mizoram, Jeremy Lalrinnunga also made waves at the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games, winning India’s first-ever gold at the event. The 16-year-old Aizawl resident lifted 274 kg in total to clinch the gold in the 62 kg boy’s event.
Earlier in the year, Jeremy also claimed a silver (youth a bronze (junior) at the Asian Championships. In the process, he also broke two national records, clearly demonstrating the ceiling of his potential.
#10. Swapna Barman
Swapna Barman grabbed headlines with the historic gold at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. On the way, she also became the first-ever Indian to win a gold medal in women’s heptathlon event at any Asian Games.
The achievement was more special because of the story of her struggles behind it. The Jalpaiguri resident had to fight against a painful toothache and uncustomized shoes (she has six fingers) to establish the record. She finished the seven events with a personal best.