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Aug 15, 2007 at 10:18pm IST

Meet independent India's greatest sports icon

New Delhi: As India celebrates the 60th year of its independence, it's time to reveal the results of the greatest sportsperson of independent India.

The nominees

  • The Flying Sikh—Milkha Singh
  • The Little Master—Sunil Gavaskar
  • The Bangalore Tornado—Prakash Padukone
  • The Haryana Hurricane—Kapil Dev
  • The Payolli Express—PT Usha

  • The Master of the Green Baize—Geet Sethi
  • The darling of the crowds—Leander Paes
  • Mr Consistent—Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand
  • The Master Blaster—Sachin Tendulkar
  • The Shooting Star—Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore

A power packed star cast, this list comprises sportspersons who have shed their blood and sweat for the country; their performances have united a nation, bringing cheer with every triumph.

So who is the greatest amongst the greats? Lets start with the man who gave Indian athletics an international platform.

Milkha Singh

Milkha Singh was a pioneer. At a time when a new, independent India was striving hard to establish herself in the international arena, Milkha was making a mockery of the lack of sporting infrastructure by scorching tracks all across the world.

The king of the world in 400 metres, he was the original sports superstar, and in front of him the best simply wilted away. The first Indian to win gold at the Britsih Empire Games, soon to be known as the Commonwealth Games, a finalist in the 400ms in the Rome Olympics, where he was unlucky to finish fourth—that legend lives on even today.

PT Usha

PT Usha won no less than 102 medals in her long international career. She was the queen of Asian track and field. More importantly, she was a torchbearer.

Usha's sucess on the sporting arena got more women into the sport. Her defining moment came in 1986 when she won four gold medals at the Asian Games. She was also an Olympic finalist in 1984, losing out on bronze by a hundreth of a second.

But if Usha and Milkha Singh came agonisingly close to an Olympic medal, then this man has that treasured possession in his cabinet.

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Leander Paes

Leander Adrian Paes—bronze medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics—a man who lifts his game when playing for the flag.

Leander has one of the best Davis Cup reords. He has beaten the best on his day. In doubles he reached the highest ranking possible.

Leander is the true modern day superstar.

Prakash Padukone

Moving to another racquet sport, Prakash Padukone was and still is, Indian badminton's greatest product. A World No. 1, first Indian to win the All England Championships—his triumphs are legendary, and so is the man.

Soft spoken just like his game, a master of touch play, he played in the golden generation of badminton and made his mark.

Sunil Gavaskar

Sunil Manohar Gavaskar didn't flinch in the face of the fastest bowlers of his era, perhaps the most fearsome of all time.

Sir Viv Richards once told him, "It doesn't matter when you walk in to bat, the score is always zero." Gavaskar's reply was 236 not out, his highest Test score.

He was the rock of Indian batting all throughout his career. The first man to score 10,000 Test runs at an average of 51—what those numbers don't say is the number of times he actually saved Test matches for India in a time when Indian batting was most vulnerable.

Sachin Tendulkar

If Gavaskar was the Little Master then our next nominee has been acclaimed as the Master Blaster. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is one of the modern greats, perhaps the greatest one-day player.

Over 15,000 runs, 41 centuries—even in Test matches he holds the record of the most number of centuries—an incredible 37 tons.

No indian has dominated bowling attacks better than this man, a fact made apparent by the words of Sir Don Bradman who said that Sachin was the batsman who reminded him of his playing style.

After 140 Tests and 18 years on the road, he still enjoys his game as if he was 16. That's when he made his debut. He has the ability to strike fear into the heart of any bowler.

In the era of cyberspace, Tendulkar has the chance of being crowned as the greatest by a nation which loves its cricketers and adores them.

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Kapil Dev

But then Kapil Dev is also right up there when it comes to popularity.

Kapil led a team of talented cricketers to an unlikely win at the biggest stage of them all—the 1983 World Cup.

Not many can forget that astonishing 175 not out versus Zimbabwe when his team was languishing at 17-5. The captain walked in an played one of the most inspiring knocks in world cricket.

For almost his entire career Kapil was the lone warrior, toiling long and hard on unresponsive pitches. He broke Sir Richard Hadlee's record of 431 Test wickets. Kapil was also chosen the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century.

Rajyavardhan Rathore

Rajyavardhan Rathore smashed the clay targets at the double trap event at the Athens Olympics. It was the perfect comeback, a man with the hunger to achieve the ultimate in sporting excellance, Rathore's Olympic silver medal was the first by an Indian in independent India.

Tough, disciplined, a stickler for training—the army man showed his fellow sportspersons the way. For him it isn't about an individual, it's country first. He has won medals in all major international competitons, now he is gunning for gold at the Beijing Olympics.

Vishwanathan Anand

Consistency and Indian sports don't always go hand in hand. But Viswanathan Anand is Mr Consistent.

Vishy has few challengers in Indian sport being the country's first grandmaster at the age of 18.

A force to reckon with at the world level by the time he was 20, Vishy has been right up there with the best in the world for almost two decades now.

World chess was about the two K's when he started—Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. Vishy quickly became part of the top three.

(Next page: The greatest sportsperson of Independent India)

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He made chess a sexy sport, blowing opponents apart with his brand of blitz chess. More importantly, he inspired many other Indians to take up what was seen as a boring board game.

Anand reached the peak in 2000 winning the Fide World Championship. Today he sits pretty as the World No. 1.

Geet Sethi

From one champion to another, Geet Sriram Sethi, the name is synonomous not just with cue sports but with that of the ideal Indian sportsman. Like most of our nominees, Geet is an icon.

Not many win a World Championship on debut, Geet did it when he was just 24.

He held the world record for the highest break in billiards, a small matter of 1276 points. Sethi wasn't just limited to the amatuer stage. Till date, he has won a whopping six professional billairds title, and is a father figure to fellow cueists.

IBNLive received an overwhelming response to our poll—more than 11 lakh votes—and the results are in.

The winner of the IBNLive poll and the sportsperson you have chosen as the greatest in India is—the Little Master Sunil Manohar Gavaskar—the man who very often was India's first and only line of defence on the cricket field.

A man who never shied away from facing the fastest and most dangerous bowlers in the world, Gavaskar edged out Indian cricket's greatest modern player—Sachin Tendulkar—by almost 10,000 votes.

The diminutive opener who stood tall for India—voted by you the viewer—is independent India's greatest sportsperson.

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