The 2010s was an impressive decade for a number of Indian stalwarts across a spectrum of sports. The likes of Virat Kohli, Sunil Chhetri, PV Sindhu, Mary Kom, among others, filled the hearts of more than a billion people with their electrifying displays time and again. But now that we are in the 2020s, who are the next generation of talents who will do India proud on the big stage? Read on to discover the prodigious Indians who are poised to make the 2020s their defining decade of sporting excellence.
This right-handed batswoman may just be 15 years old, but she has already broken a record held by Sachin Tendulkar. In November 2019, Shafali Verma struck a half-century against West Indies in a T20 International, overtaking the Master Blaster as the youngest Indian to hit an international half-century. Australia A coach Leah Poulton has voiced her amazement at Verma’s talent describing the teenager’s batting prowess as “pure power” after Verma’s explosive 78-ball knock of 124 for India A against Poulton’s women last month. Verma made her debut for India’s senior side in September 2019 against South Africa and has represented India in nine T20 Internationals so far. Against the West Indies, she scored 158 runs in five matches to earn herself the title of the player of the series. With the ICC Women’s World T20 coming up next month, Verma will be eager to demonstrate her incredible range of batting against the best teams in the women’s game. Beyond that, careful nurturing of this precocious talent should be India’s priority, for Verma has the batting arsenal necessary to mature into a world class batswoman and pile up the runs throughout and beyond the 2020s.
Possessing a tongue twister of a name, this 22-year-old winger is also capable of twisting defenders inside out on a football pitch. A product of Liverpool FC’s International Football Academy, Chhangte has officially clocked speeds of up to 35.80 kmph; which, astoundingly, is faster than the top speeds of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. With four goals in 11 appearances for India’s senior team (since debuting in 2015), Chhangte has hit the ground running in international football. After impressing with Delhi Dynamos in the Indian Super League, the mercurial forward now plies his trade for Chennaiyin, where he is one of the team’s most potent options in the final third. Diminutive and with a low centre of gravity, the boy from Mizoram can be a handful for any full-back, and is arguably the most skilful youngster in Indian football today. Having already undergone a trial with Norwegian club Viking FK, the coming years could see Chhangte take over from Sunil Chhetri as India’s most dependable forward besides venturing into the top tiers of European club football.
A recipient of the Arjuna Award at the tender age of 18, one could argue that Hima Das (now 19), has already transitioned from prodigy to phenomenon. With two golds and one silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Das made the entire country sit up and take notice of her trailblazing speed. The first Indian to win a gold medal at an international track event, July 2019 saw the Assamese girl claim no less than five gold medals across different track and field races around the world. A back problem in October prevented her from adding to her stardom at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, but the 2020s will serve up numerous chances for Das to grow into a legend for her country. Despite her fantastic performances in the Asian Games and several international events, the litmus test for Das will still be the Olympics, where she will hope to assert her authority over the coming decade. Das is also engaged in inspiring work off the track as the first-ever youth ambassador of UNICEF-India, and if she can manage her schedule and health, there is no reason why she cannot eclipse PT Usha as India’s most celebrated sprinter in the 2020s.
Widely known as the man who took a Grand Slam set off Roger Federer, there will soon be far greater claims to fame for the 22-year-old starlet from Haryana. 2019 was a crucial year for Nagal as he broke into the top 150 ranked ATP singles players and made his Grand Slam debut at the US Open, virtually raising himself to the status of the face of Indian tennis. Drawn against the mighty Federer in his first match, Nagal refused to be daunted, taking the first set before going down fighting in a gutsy defeat that announced him to the world. Currently operating in both singles and doubles, Nagal’s career will be shaped in large part by which format he chooses to prioritize, and given his recent record, it could well be as a singles player that Nagal proceeds to thrive in the 2020s. While criticisms regarding his discipline- which apparently sidelined him from India’s Davis Cup contingent in 2017- have blighted Nagal in the past, the last couple of years has shown that he is a man on a mission, intent of rejuvenating Indian tennis in the future with his aggressive and unrelenting style of play.
Perhaps the most unheralded name on this list, the 18-year-old shuttler enjoyed a splendid 2019, ending the year with her career best ranking of 169 in the world. Bansod’s progress into the top 200 after only three months of action as an international speaks volumes of the promise she holds at the turn of the decade. Targeting a spot in the Indian side, Bansod recently received support from the elite Go Sports Foundation, besides bagging a lucrative five-year contract with Vishvaraj Infrastructure Ltd (VIL). Currently a student of Shivaji Science College, Bansod caught the eye of badminton aficionados by springing a surprise at the Maldives International Future Series where she was making her international debut. Unseeded in the competition, Bansod upstaged top seed Thet Htar Thuzar of Myanmar in the final to claim a coveted title in her very first outing on the international stage. Having graduated from junior badminton as India’s number one player, Bansod is all set to break through into the Indian senior team, where she should gradually construct her own legacy, beyond the vast shadows of greats like Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu.