Millet: Advani one of the greatest players India has ever produced

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Nisha Millet, one of the 14 members of the jury for the first ESPN India Awards, on her voting choices:

I think Male Sportsperson of the Year was quite an easy pick for me. Pankaj Advani has been one of the greatest players India has ever produced and was an obvious choice. Here's this guy who's just about in his 30s and an 18-time world champion, yet very few people have heard of him in his own country.

I've known him from when he was much younger and I think it's his mental strength that separates him from everyone else. His anonymity probably has to do with the popular perception of billiards and snooker not being considered a sport, but if we can take into account disciplines like shooting or archery, which similarly have more to do with stillness, mental acumen and technique, then why treat cue sport any different?

For me, Pankaj is one of the unsung heroes of Indian sport, a great role model with no drama or controversies. He wins a world title, comes back to a small get-together with his family and friends and moves on to work on his next title.

Kidambi Srikanth was my second choice for his fabulous performances at Superseries events. I think he's one of our brightest prospects for a medal at the next Olympics.

For Female Sportsperson of the Year, it was most definitely PV Sindhu for all the medals at big events and just the way she has competed at the highest level. I think she's extremely smart as a player, someone who reads her opponents really well and puts a lot of thought into every shot. The epic, long rallies that she plays and lasts, and even if she's collapsing with fatigue, she fights for every single point.

I think the 'Target Tokyo' category was quite a thoughtful one. We have to be able to look ahead and focus since the Olympics is in in two years' time. I chose Neeraj Chopra because he's been in great form and just needs to keep it going.

For the differently-abled athlete category, I added one of my own choices - Niranjan Mukundan, who's a para-swimmer. He's among the top five in the world in his category and narrowly missed out of the last Paralympics because of some confusion in the categories. He suffers from a condition called Spina Bifida, which is a physical deformity involving the spinal cord, regardless of which he has won World Championship medals and I think he's a huge hope for Indian para sport.

The 'Comeback of the Year' category was my favorite and I couldn't think of anyone but Mary Kom. To be a professional athlete after three kids, still competing at the biggest tournaments, I think is just phenomenal. I'm a mother myself and I know what a herculean task it can possibly be to do what she's doing.

Cricket aside, few athletes, barring the elite ones, in India manage to earn a living by playing a sport so awards like these mean a lot. It's a way of telling them that their performances haven't gone unnoticed. I won the Arjuna Award when I was just 18 and later learnt that a lot of jury members actually weren't initially open to the idea of giving it to someone who's still in her teens. But then it was eventually overridden by the view that if you recognize someone when they are young, it might push them to work harder and do even better. And in my case, it really did.

(As told to Susan Ninan)

Nisha Millet was the first Indian woman to go under a minute in the 100m freestyle and was to dominate swimming in India through the 1990s. Her records in the 200m and 400m freestyle stayed for 15 years, and she represented India in the Asian Games, World Championships and the Olympics in Sydney in 2000. Since retiring in 2004, she has coached the next generation of young swimmers at her academy.