PV Sindhu’s surgical strike in the World Championship in Basel, Switzerland, where she became the first Indian to win a badminton title again spotlighted Hyderabad’s rich legacy of sporting pearls. The city, which has grown into a leading IT hub, always boasted some of the country’s finest sportpersons who excelled in international events, including World championships, Asian Games and Olympics.
In fact, the city of Charminar has always been the pride of the country in many sports. While patting Sindhu, Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao rightly said that Hyderabad has emerged as a centre for chiselling sportspersons for international events.
It is often said in a lighter vein that the secret of the success is ‘Gandipet ka Pani’ and ‘Hyderabadi Biryani.’ Jokes apart, if you want to chase your sporting dreams, then this city is a perfect destination. Be it in any discipline, this city has its success stories.
Dronacharya awardee Syed Mohammad Arif, who started the badminton revolution in Hyderabad in the 90s, says it is the sporting culture that has grown over the years helping the city produce champion athletes. “The success of the sportspersons from the city has been a big motivating factor. There is rich talent in the city and it is all about grooming them carefully. It is the parents who have played a significant role towards the growth of the sport in the city,’’ he says.
If Goshamahal grounds or Victory Playground in the north was where football and volleyball talent thrived, Cantonment area playing fields in the south of the city threw up talented stars in football, cricket, hockey and in other smaller sports like tenni-koit, carroms and basketball.
Kicking off with Football
Hyderabad tryst with sports began with football in Bolarum where the British played the game with great vigour. The prisoners of wars from the German army too stayed in this barrack. There were glimpses of European football. Many believe the likes of the legendary goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj, T Balaram, D Kannan, who went on to play for the country in the 50s with distinction, were influenced by the British and German football.
But the contribution of late SA Rahim to the growth of football in Hyderabad is immense. A passionate lover of the game, Rahim turned Hyderabad into a football hub. Thanks to this legend, regarded as one of the shrewdest brains in the game, Hyderabad first got sporting attention with a spurt in football activity. That the city once boasted 12 Olympians is a testimony to the craze for football in the 60s. Names like Thangaraj, SK Azizuddin, SA Salaam, SA Latif, Noor Mohammed, Zulfiqaruddin, Balaram, Yousuf Khan, Hakeemuddin had put Hyderabad on the top rung of Indian sports. That was the golden era of Indian football.
There was a steady decline of football after the death of Rahim in the 60s though a few more footballers like Mohd Habib, Mohd Akbar, Shabbir Ali, Victor Amalraj, Mohd Farid were the most sought-after players by big clubs of Kolkata like Mohammedan Sporting, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and kept the legacy alive till the 90s. Habib was regarded as the Asian Pele of football for his athleticism on the field.
Amal Raj, former Indian captain, says the city at least till the 90s, was bristling with football activity. “We could see the local Rahim League or Venkat Rao Trophy or the all India Nizam Cup that attracted huge crowds at Fateh Maidan and Gymkhana. But unfortunately, there was a gradual decline because of the infighting in the association before it slipped into a coma. Today, we are languishing at the bottom.”
But Amal Raj also feels that the good old days would be back again with two entrepreneurs hosting a Hyderabad team in the Indian Super League. “It is a big challenge to the take the game forward and hopefully more youngsters would take to the game. But, it could revive the game in the city.’’
Cricket Pitches in
Even as football threw up Olympians, cricket was not far behind as the Deccan city is remembered for batting wizards. Cricket flourished and Hyderabad was one of the top teams in the country. Former medium-pacer P Jyothi Prasad of the 70s says Jaisimha was pure magic, be it in batting or bowling or his captaincy. “He was a charismatic figure. In those days, there was no television, but Jaisimha was hugely popular with his languid style of batting. The crowd not only thronged Gymkhana and Fateh Maidan but also in other places of the country to watch him batting,” recalls Prasad. Such was his popularity that Sunil Gavaskar became a huge fan of Jaisimha.
The glorious legacy continued with the rise of Mohammad Azharuddin, VVS Laxman and others. The ‘Very, Very, Special’ Laxman played one of the greatest Test innings of 281 in the famous 2001 Eden Gardens Test in Kolkata. “Most of the cricketers grew up watching or listening to cricketers like Ghulam Ahmed, Jaisimha and Azharuddin. Naturally, I as a young cricketer wanted to emulate these cricketers,’’ says Laxman. For sheer artistry, especially the classic leg glance, no one comes even close to Jai, Azharuddin or Laxman. They were wizards with the bat.
In the women’s side was Purnima Rau and present Indian captain Mithali Raj, who is now the highest scorer in women’s cricket. Mithali took the Indian women’s cricket to a new high with her batting exploits.
Hyderabad has always produced some magical cricketers who shone on the international horizon. “Cricket bloomed in schools like Hyderabad Public School, All Saints, Boys Town, Little Flower, Mahbub College, St Patrick’s, St Andrew’s and Wesley,” says former Test left-arm spinner SL Venkatapathy Raju. Tournaments like Moin-ud-Dowla, Behram-ud-Dowla had special significance in cricket. Till the 80s, Moin-ud-Dowla was a huge attraction with top cricketers playing in the city. Nawab Basalat Ali Bahadur and Maharaja Sir Kishen Pershad Bahadur were instrumental in providing the foundation for cricket in Hyderabad.
The city was the supply line for volleyball players like T Gopal, Mulini Reddy, Sreedharan, Shyam Sundar, Ramana Rao, Basith Ali, PV Ramana, Karimullah, Ravikanth Reddy to the Indian team.
PV Ramana, father of Sindhu, says the Victory playground was the cradle for volleyball players. “There was a beehive of activity but sadly, volleyball is dead in the city now,’’ says Ramana, who was a member of the 1986 Indian team that last won bronze in the Asian Games in Seoul.
GHMC’s Summer Camps
One of the main reasons for Hyderabad’s rise in sporting activity was the number of grounds spread across the city as was the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation’s summer camps. Late L Venkatram Reddy was the pioneer of the summer camps.
According to senior journalist G Rajaraman, the GHMC camps had a huge impact as far as sports was concerned. It drew parents and children closer to sports. It was one of the success stories of Venkatram Reddy. Popularly known as ‘Bhai sahab’, he was instrumental in creating the infrastructure. That helped in the growth of sports in the city.
Cork takes Wings
Badminton took a big leap in the 90s thanks to the efforts of Arif, who sowed the seeds at Lal Bahadur Indoor Stadium as champion players like Manoj Kumar, Praveen Kumar, Pullela Gopichand, Jwala Gutta and even Saina Nehwal and Sindhu took the wings. “The success of these players saw badminton take giant strides. The All-England champion was born here in the form of Gopichand, who changed the road map of badminton with that heroic show in All England in 2001. Badminton never looked back since then and it has been rising and rising,’’ says a proud Arif.
Gopichand then took it to the next level by constructing an academy in Gachibowli and catalysing the spectacular rise of Saina, Sindhu, Kashyap, Srikanth and now Sai Praneeth, leading to a badminton boom in Hyderabad. The city is now the cradle of Indian badminton and there are at least five world-class academies drawing young shuttlers from other parts of the country.
Seeing Hyderabad as the perfect place for her daughter Saina’s career, Harvir Singh, who is from Haryana, settled down here and the rest, as they say, is history.
According to chief national coach Pullela Gopichand, one of the turning points for the spurt in sports in the city was the National Games in 2003. “The Games triggered the imagination and interest towards sports, with stadia and equipment of international standards being provided to sportsmen.’’
Perhaps, today if Sania Mirza has become one of the most successful tennis players of the country, it was because of the modern tennis facilities that she got at Lal Bahadur tennis court, which came up during the National Games. Sania went on to create history by winning women’s doubles in Wimbledon and today there are four Davis Cuppers from the city. There are over 500 tennis clinics.
Hyderabad also has many cases of individual brilliance in sports. Mir Khasim Ali was the star in the National Table Tennis championship and now the young generation of Akula Sreeja, SFR Snehit and others are creating waves.
Dazzling right-winger Mukesh Kumar and gutsy goalkeeper Alloysius Edwards, who were the products of the now defunct Sports Hostel, represented Indian hockey in Olympics. Gagan Narang’s with heroics in shooting got the country the bronze medal in 2011 London Olympics apart from medals in World Championship, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
The list of winners is long. The achievements of the Hyderabadi stars – be it Sania, Saina, Srikanth, Sindhu, Mithali Raj or others — has inspired many. “When they win world titles or international medals, they inspire many young minds. It gives a belief that children can make sports a career,’’ sums up Gopichand.
Syed Abdul Rahim
- Former national coach trained the Indian football team which reached the semifinals of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, becoming the first Asian country to achieve the same
- India also won the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games under his tenure
- Played for the Indian football team in the 1956
Melbourne Olympics where India entered the semifinals
- Was voted Asia’s best goalkeeper in 1958
- A stalwart of Hyderabad cricket, he is the first cricketer to bat on all five days in a Test match
- Played Ranji Trophy for 23 seasons and Duleep Trophy for 12 seasons without a break
- Former Indian captain has the unique distinction of scoring centuries in each of his first three Tests
- Led the Indian team in 47 Test matches and 174 ODIs
- His epic knock of 281 against Australia in Eden Gardens in 2001 is considered the best Test innings by an Indian
- Also ranked sixth in Wisden’s list of 100 great Test innings in the history of the game
- Is the current Indian women’s team ODI captain and has led India to two World Cup finals in 2005 and 2017
- Highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket
- Triple hockey Olympian and World Cupper. A speedy right winger, known as ‘Nagin’, he was a member of the Indian team that won gold in 1998 Bangkok Asian Games
- The former Indian coach has trained P Gopichand, Jwala Gutta and Saina Nehwal
- Is chief national badminton coach and also the second Indian after Prakash Padukone to win the All England Badminton Championship in 2001
- First woman and the second Indian after
Prakash Padukone to become World No.1 in badminton
- Won bronze medals in the 2012 London Olympics and 2017 BWF World Championships
- Won Commonwealth Games women’s singles gold in 2010 and 2018
- The 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist is the first Indian shuttler to clinch gold in the BWF World Championship
- Only the second woman after Zhang Ning to win five or more medals at the World Championship
- In 2018, became the first Indian to win the prestigious World Tour Finals
- One of the most successful women shuttler in doubles, she paired with Ashwini Ponnappa to win bronze medal at the 2011 BWF World Championships
- The pair also clinched Commonwealth Games doubles gold in 2010
N Sikki Reddy
- Indian women doubles specialist was part of a mixed team that won the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold
- Won gold in Commonwealth Games men’s singles in Glasgow, 2014
B Sai Praneeth
- Second Indian after Prakash Padukone (1983) to win
bronze medal at the BWF World Championships in men’s singles
- Former World No.1 in doubles category
- Won six Grand Slam titles, including three in
doubles and three in mixed doubles
- Won bronze medal in 10m Air Rifle at
2012 London Olympics
- Bagged a record haul of four gold medals in the
2010 Commonwealth Games
- Emerged victorious in the 2006 ISSF World Cup
- The 14-year-old shooter won a silver medal in the junior women’s air pistol event in the ISSF Junior World Cup
- The Nizamabad boxer won gold in the 2011 women’s junior and youth world championships
- Bagged silver in Youth World Boxing Championship in Bulgaria
- The Indian track and field athlete won gold in the 2003 Afro Asian Games in Heptathlon