The Arjuna Award for cricket in India is given by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports for outstanding achievements in the field of cricket on the international stage.
The award accounts for the performance of the sportsperson over the preceding four years along with “qualities of leadership, sportsmanship and a sense of discipline.”
The winner of the Arjuna Award gets a bronze statue of Arjuna, one of the Pandavas from the Indian mythology Mahabharata who was an adept archer, a certificate, a ceremonial dress and a cash prize of Rs 15 lakh. The honour is bestowed during the National Sports Day, held on August 29 every year.
To date, 56 cricketers have been honoured with the Arjuna Award, including 12 women. Some of the notable names to have received the Arjuna Award for cricket include former captains like Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and the current captain of the Indian cricket team, Virat Kohli.
Here’s looking back at a few winners:
Salim Durani: First Indian cricketer to receive Arjuna Award
The first Indian cricketer to receive the Arjuna Award was Salim Durani. He was honoured in 1961. The all-rounder who was a slow left-arm orthodox bowler and was known for his hard-hitting prowess was, in fact, born in Afghanistan and played 29 Tests for India, scoring 1202 runs and picking 75 wickets. Durani became the cult-figure following his exploits against England in 1961–62 where he picked eight and 10 wickets at Kolkata and Chennai respectively.
Shantha Rangaswamy: First woman cricketer to win Arjuna Award
The first woman cricketer to have received the Arjuna Award was Shantha Rangaswamy in 1976. She featured in 16 Tests and 19 ODIs for India from 1976 to 1991. She is also the first female cricketer to receive a lifetime achievement award from the BCCI. Under her captaincy, the Indian women’s cricket team recorded their first-ever Test win in 1976 against the West Indies. This was the same year when she became the recipient of the Arjuna award.
Gundappa Viswanath: The second-best non-century knock
Gundappa Viswanath, an Arjuna Award winner in 1977-78, made his Test debut for India in 1969 against Australia and had a brief stint as a captain between 1979-80. He served as a captain for just two matches and while India failed to win either of them, his exploits earned him plenty of praise. Viswanath peaked in the mid-70s, especially when India hosted a mighty West Indies for a five-match Test series. Against a bowling attack that comprised the much-feared Andy Roberts, Viswanath scored 97 out of his team’s total of 190; an innings which was regarded as one of the best performances by an Indian against. His innings led India to a 100-run victory over West Indies.
His unbeaten 97 was also ranked as the second-best non-century innings by Wisden 100. During his career, Viswanath had little difficulties in facing the stern bowling attacks of West Indies and Australia; opponents against whom he averaged more than 50.
Mohammad Azharuddin: Only player to score three hundreds in first three Tests
While Mohammad Azharuddin’s off the field repertoire hasn’t been particularly great, the fact remains that the former Indian cricket team captain was a sheer delight to watch. Making his international debut in December 1984, Azharuddin announced his arrival by scoring three centuries and one half-century in his debut series against England. Between 1984 to 1986, Azharudding played 16 Tests and 41 ODIs, registering a total of four centuries and eight fifties across formats. His feat of scoring three centuries in his first three Tests is yet to be matched.
Mithali Raj: A revelation at 16
The captain of India’s ODI women’s team, Mithali Raj epitomises everything that the sport stands for in the country. Leading by example, Mithali Raj was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2003, just five years after making her international debut. Like Azharuddin, a 16-year-old Raj kicked off her career with a blistering unbeaten ton against Ireland women and went on to score two half-centuries in her next four games. As far as her Test exploits are concerned, she slammed a fantastic 214 against England women in 2002.
Arjuna Award for cricket 2020: Ishant Sharma, Deepti Sharma
The latest entrants in the list of Arjuna Award for cricket are fast bowler Ishant Sharma and India women’s all-rounder, Deepti Sharma. Both were honoured in 2020.
Being a part of one of the world’s most feared bowling attacks in Test cricket, lanky pacer Ishant Sharma has had his difficulties due to injuries, but he has become India’s pace spearhead in the last couple of years. To elaborate on his performances, Ishant’s first 201 wickets were picked at an average of nearly 37. His next 96 wickets -- from 2016 to 2020 -- came at an average of just under 23.
Deepti Sharma, on the other hand, has been a key figure of India’s women’s national team. She was a part of the world-record 320-run partnership with Poonam Raut against Ireland in a quadrangular series and was also a key presence during her team’s run to the final during the 2017 Women's Cricket World Cup.
Arjuna Award for cricket: list of winners
Women have been marked in bold
1961 - Salim Durani
1964 - Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi
1965 - Vijay Manjrekar
1966 - Chandu Borde
1967 - Ajit Wadekar
1968 - Erapalli Anantharao Srinivas
1969 - Bishan Singh Bedi
1970 - Dilip Sardesai
1971 - Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan
1972 - Bhagwat Subramanya Chandrasekhar and Eknath Solkar
1975 - Sunil Gavaskar
1976 - Shantha Rangaswamy
1977-78 - Gundappa Viswanath
1979-80 - Kapil Dev
1980-81 - Chetan Chauhan and Syed Kirmani
1981 - Dilip Vengsarkar
1982 - Mohinder Amarnath
1983 - Diana Edulji
1984 - Ravi Shastri
1985 - Shubhangi Kulkarni
1986 - Sandhya Agarwal and Mohammad Azharuddin
1989 - Madan Lal
1993 - Manoj Prabhakar and Kiran More
1994 - Sachin Tendulkar
1995 - Anil Kumble
1996 - Javagal Srinath
1997 - Sourav Ganguly and Ajay Jadeja
1998 - Rahul Dravid and Nayan Mongia
2000 - Venkatesh Prasad
2001 - VVS Laxman
2002 - Virender Sehwag
2003 - Mithali Raj and Harbhajan Singh
2005 - Anju Jain
2006 - Anjum Chopra
2009 - Gautam Gambhir
2010 - Jhulan Goswami
2011 - Zaheer Khan
2012 - Yuvraj Singh
2013 - Virat Kohli
2014 - Ravichandran Ashwin
2015 - Rohit Sharma
2016 - Ajinkya Rahane
2017 - Harmanpreet Kaur and Cheteshwar Pujara
2018 - Smriti Mandhana
2019 - Ravindra Jadeja and Poonam Yadav
2020 - Deepti Sharma and Ishant Sharma
Feature image courtesy AFP / Ravi Raveendran