1. Sachin Tendulkar
Tendulkar started playing for India as a 16-year-old, and the baby-faced batsman was the toast of the nation with his exploits. Twenty-five years later, he is one of the legends of the game and the only sportsman to receive the prestigious Bharat Ratna.
2. Viswanathan Anand
At 18, Viswanathan Anand became India’s first Grandmaster. Twenty-six years later, Anand is still the torchbearer of Indian chess.
3. Rahul Dravid
A good-looking 23-year-old Dravid made his international debut in 1996, and girls absolutely loved him. ‘The Wall’, as he is popularly known, became an integral part of the Indian team for the next decade-and-a-half. Today, Dravid is one of the most insightful commentators on cricket, and is still adored by women. No surprises there!
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4. Sourav Ganguly
Dada then and Dada now is like chalk and cheese. Ganguly made his ODI debut for India in 1992 and was dropped from the team. He announced his arrival with a hundred on debut four years later. Ganguly’s biggest achievement for India was during his captaincy when he transformed the mentality of the team, inculcating a fighting spirit with his attacking leadership.
5. Virender Sehwag
India’s first triple centurion in Test cricket carved a niche for himself with his aggressive batting style at the top of the order. Sehwag has the record of most runs in an innings in ODI cricket when he scored 219 against West Indies in 2011.
6. Leander Paes
If India’s flag is flying over global tennis, Leander Paes is responsible for it. Paes has won eight doubles and seven mixed doubles Grand Slams. He won a Bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He is India’s top doubles player till today.
7. Saina Nehwal
Saina Nehwal was India’s first ever individual Olympic medal winner in badminton when she won a Bronze at the London Olympics. Saina is also the highest ranked Indian in badminton, and was ranked World No. 2 in 2010.
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8. Yuvraj Singh
Yuvraj Singh played for India at 19. The free-flowing left-hander carved a niche for himself with his attacking style. In 2011 when he was diagnosed with cancer, it seemed his international career was over. But his never-say-die attitude came to the fore and he made a comeback in the Indian team.
9. VVS Laxman
Very Very Special Laxman started out his career in 1996, but it was in 2001 that his knock of 281 against Australia changed the face of Indian cricket. Laxman had an illustrious career as a middle-order batsman and was known for his stylish batting. Laxman is now a cricket pundit.
10. Bhaichung Bhutia
Bhaichung Bhutia is India’s first superstar of football, and was the first Indian footballer ever to sign for a European club. Today, Bhaichung is a football commentator known for his nuanced analysis.
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11. Sania Mirza
Sania turned professional when she was 17, and inspired young girls to take up tennis with her exploits. Today, she has her own tennis academy to give something back to the game.
12. MS Dhoni
The long-haired stylish MS Dhoni stepped onto the international circuit with a bang exhibiting his talent by clearing boundaries with ridiculous ease. In 2007, he led India to a win in the inaugural World T20 and hasn’t looked back since. Today, he is India’s most successful captain across all the formats.