In recent times there have been many examples of female athletes who have broken stereotypes and have emerged as inspirational figures for both men and women across India. Most people are familiar with the names of M.C. Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Manika Batra and Hima Das.
There is a new generation emerging of female sportspersons who are following in the footsteps of these established names and could well become stars in the future. Here we take a look at some of them.
Manu Bhaker (Shooting)
No list about Indian female sporting prodigies can be complete without the mention of Manu Bhaker. Since winning Gold on her international debut at an ISSF World Cup in 2018, Manu has only gone from strength to strength. She has won a number of 10m Air Pistol medals in both ISSF competitions and in multi-sport events like the Commonwealth Games. She in fact became the first Indian female athlete to win a Gold at an Olympic event at the 2018 Youth Olympics.
The 18-year old would definitely be one of the names to watch out for at Tokyo Olympics 2021.
Esha Singh (Shooting)
A 10m Air Pistol shooter, Esha Singh came into prominence in 2018 when, as a 13-year old, she swept all 3 Golds from the Senior, Junior and Youth categories at the Nationals, beating Manu and the experienced Heena Sidhu in the process. She then won an individual Silver and a Mixed Bronze at the ISSF Junior World Cup in 2019.
Probably the biggest achievement of her career so far has been winning both the Junior individual and team Golds at the 2019 Asian Shooting Championships, where she qualified with a score of 579. She is yet another success story from the NRAI’s junior program.
Komalika Bari (Archery)
17-year old Komalika Bari won the Gold in the cadet recurve category at the World Archery Youth Championships in 2019, becoming only the third Indian to do so. She has also won the individual Gold at the Khelo India Games and the team Silver at the Senior Nationals. Komalika is a product of the Tata Archery Academy, which has given talents like Deepika Kumari and Jayanta Talukdar.
As fans, we can only hope the Archery Federation can sort out its internal politics and concentrate on nurturing young talents like Komalika instead.
Shafali Verma (Cricket)
To cricket fans, Shafali would be the most familiar name on this list. She took the cricketing world by storm at the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup with the sheer confidence she showed while dealing with the best bowlers in the world.
Her blistering starts at the top of the order helped India reach the runners-up position at the World Cup. Just 16 years old, she was India’s top run-getter in the tournament. She is also the youngest Indian, male or female, to score an international half-century.
With her career profile and batting style similar to a young Tendulkar and Sehwag, her rise could lead to unprecedented popularity for women’s cricket in India.
Richa Ghosh (Cricket)
Though Richa Ghosh may not be as well known as Shafali, she is an equally talented youngster. She was the only new name in the Indian squad for the Women’s T20 WC and made her international debut in the same event, putting in a creditable performance. Just like Shafali, the 17-year old is an aggressive batter and is also an occasional wicket-keeper.
With the likes of Mithali Raj approaching the twilight of their careers, the Indian team needs young and fearless batswomen as replacements. Richa could well be what the doctor ordered.
Tasnim Mir (Badminton)
Tasnim Mir first made headlines in 2017, when as a 12-year old she was one of the youngest players to be a part of the PBL. She was selected for the Ahmedabad Smash Masters franchise, sharing the team bus with players like Tai Tzu Ying and HS Prannoy. Since then, she has made good progress on the international stage.
She won the Asian U-15 Championships in 2019. In 2020, she won the Bronze at the Dutch Junior International and was the winner of the Nepal Junior International Series. She is arguably the most promising junior WS shuttler in India.
Fans have for some time been concerned about the future of Indian badminton after Saina and Sindhu. It’s up to the coaches and officials at the Sports Ministry and BAI to ensure young talents like Tasnim and others can achieve their potential.
Shaili Singh (Athletics)
Long-jumper Shaili Singh is the current National Record holder in the U-16 category, for her jump of 6.15m at the Junior Nationals in 2019. The previous record of 5.94m was also in her name. In fact, her feat is better than the current U-18 National Record. No wonder that her coach, the legendary Anju Bobby George, considers her an extraordinary talent. 15-year old Shaili has crossed the 6m mark in 4 different competitions in a month. She has also qualified for the next World U-20 Championships.
Clearly she is someone who has the potential to become the next big thing from Indian track-and-field. All she needs is adequate funding and guidance.
Divya Deshmukh (Chess)
Divya Deshmukh came under the limelight in 2017 after winning the U-12 World Cadets’ Chess Championship. In 2018, as a 13-year old she beat the first GM in her career. In 2019, she again stunned everyone after becoming the India No.3 with an Elo of 2432. The 14-year old WIM is currently the top ranked Indian in both the U-16 and U-18 categories, and overall ranked 5th in the world among female U-16s.
With the emergence of Divya, R. Pragganandha and Nihal Sarin, Indian chess fans have a lot to look forward to for the future.
Sonam Malik (Wrestling)
in 2019, Sonam Malik became the first female Indian wrestler to win 2 World Cadet Championship Golds. She had won a Gold in the 56kg category in 2017, and 65kg in 2019, in addition to a Bronze in 2018. In 2020, the 18-year old Sonam pinned Sakshi Malik at the 62kg trials for the Asian Olympic qualifiers, this being her second victory against the Olympic Bronze medalist in a span of two months.
While the beginning of her career has been excellent, the next big challenge for her to win a medal at Tokyo Olympics 2021.
Harsimran Kaur (Basketball)
16-year old Harsimran Kaur, in 2019, became the first female Indian basketball player to be invited to train at the NBA Global Academy in Australia. She was also the first female player outside Australia to be coached at the facility. The 6’1 forward represented India at the 3×3 Asian Championships at Jakarta in August 2019, and took part in the Basketball Without Borders Asia camp in Tokyo that involved Asia’s best basketball prospects.
Basketball in India is taking nascent steps to become a mass sport, and stories like Harsimran’s are a step in the right direction for all concerned.