I thought the nominations for the ESPN India Awards 2018 were quite complete. I thought the selection was pretty good, and there was a lot of research that had gone into it, and it touched the whole gamut of sport. I personally judged all the performances based on consistency and tenure as the main factors. The quality of events that they took part in was also something that had to be considered.
For the two sportsperson of the year categories, all of them had done really well, but the standout performances and where and under what circumstances they performed were the key factors in choosing the winners. Being consistent and showing potential for further growth was another big factor.
I had a tough time picking the main award, but Neeraj Chopra stands out for me. I think he adds a complete persona for sport. He comes across as a young, smart, humble, good-looking guy who has been consistent and wants to achieve much more. These are the kind of role models that Indian sport needs, and if you can motivate them at the right time with awards like this, I think it will spur them on to perform much better in the future.
The emerging sportsperson of the year had some exciting nominees too, but I went with Indian women's hockey team striker Lalremsiami. Again, what stands out is her coming through a lot of obstacles and doing well in a tough sport -- it's important to acknowledge that kind of performance.
I am really happy that there's a category for differently-abled athletes. My big role model is Malathi Holla [wheelchair tennis player and para-athlete, who has been given both Padma Shri and Arjuna Award], from Karnataka. She's been outstanding in wheelchair tennis, and she's been our idol over the years -- as Bangalore boys, following her and what she's been able to achieve and what she's giving back to the sport as well. It's something that really motivates us here.
In the team nominations, I was impressed with the story of Real Kashmir, as well as the exploits of the men's national team in football last year. However, the women's table tennis team really stood out, because after such a long time they have done well in a calendar year. It was great to see them emerge this strong in such a competitive field. They got my top vote, as a result.
(As told to Debayan Sen)