Kohli, Mirabai Chanu recommended for Khel Ratna

NEW DELHI,18th Sep: Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli and weightlifter Mirabai Chanu's names have been jointly recommended for this year's prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award. Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, middle-distance runner Jinson Johnson, sprinter Hima Das, golfer Shubhankar Sharma, table tennis player Manika Batra and tennis player Rohan Bopanna are among 20 sportspersons who have been recommended for the Arjuna award.

The names have been recommended to the sports ministry by the 11-member award committee, which met here on Monday. The committee was headed by retired Delhi High Court judge, Justice Indermeet Kaul Kochhar. The list will be forwarded to sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore for final approval.

Virat can count himself third-time lucky after his name was rejected for the award on two earlier occasions. The BCCI had first nominated him in 2016, but he lost out to Rio Olympics medallists P V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik and gymnast Dipa Karmakar. Then, last year, former hockey captain Sardar Singh and para-athlete Devendra Jhajharia were awarded the Khel Ratna.

This year, too, there was some discussion among the committee members over his name. According to a member, the opinion was divided between Virat and badminton player Kidambi Srikanth, but the batting superstar prevailed given his stupendous current form.

In the recent five-Test England series, which India lost 1-4 under his captaincy, Virat amassed 593 runs. "We have a different point system to consider the performances in Olympic sports. How would you quantify a performance in cricket? That was the moot question," a panel member told TOI.

"Virat is an exceptionally talented cricketer and a team leader, but then he was conferred the Padma Shri last year itself. Srikanth too has been doing well at the Super Series circuit. So, there was some discussion, but Virat unanimously got the nod," the member added.

After Virat and Mirabai's selection, there was a voting for Srikanth among the committee members, but the opinion remained divided. If Kohli, the world's No.1 Test and ODI batsman, does get the ministry's approval, he will become the third cricketer after Tendulkar (1997) and Dhoni (2007) to receive the award. Mirabai, on the other hand, won the recommendation hands down, with all the committee members agreeing to her name. Mirabai had won a historic gold (48kg category) at the Las Vegas Worlds last year and clinched another yellow metal at the Gold Coast CWG. However, she missed participating at the Asiad due to injury.

The names of boxer Amit Panghal, 2018 Asiad gold winner, and discus thrower Seema Punia also came up for consideration but were dropped, apparently due to doping issues.

List of awardees
Khel Ratna: Virat Kohli (cricket), Saikhom Mirabai Chanu (weightlifting)
Arjuna award: Neeraj Chopra (athletics), Jinson Johnson (athletics), Hima Das (athletics), N Sikki Reddy (badminton), Satish Kumar (boxing), Smriti Mandhana (cricket), Shubhankar Sharma (golf), Manpreet Singh (hockey), Savita Punia (hockey), Colonel Ravi Rathore (polo), Rahi Sarnobat (shooting), Ankur Mittal (shooting), Shreyasi Singh (shooting), Manika Batra (table tennis), G Sathiayan (table tennis), Rohan Bopanna (tennis), Sumit Malik (wrestling), Pooja Kadian (wushu), Ankur Dhama (para-athletics) and Manoj Sarkar (para-badminton).

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