What mattered to me the most was to pick out players and teams that had to overcome the most difficulties and obstacles in their quest to get good results.
Real Kashmir is the team of the year. If you consider what the situation there is, for a team to come out of a natural disaster and win the I-League second division, and then to have done so well in their first season in the I-League, not enough credit can go to the players, the owners Shamim Meraj and Sandeep Chattoo, and the coach David Robertson. Especially the coach, for having come all the way from Scotland and taken up an assignment in a region where not many people would have wanted to go, and he's taken them on and I just think Real Kashmir is great news for Indian football, and I salute them for that.
For this reason, too, I picked PV Sindhu as the best female sportsperson of the year. I also gave Mary Kom due consideration, but with women's boxing and particularly the low weight categories, I personally don't rate that very high. I think if she had been fighting a higher weight category, or even free weight, she would have found winning the World Championship very difficult. Compared to that, the way that Sindhu performed through all 2018 was much harder. People may not like this point of view, but that's the way I thought about it. Sindhu's achievements were way harder than those of Mary's last year.
If you win bigger titles and do them the harder way, you deserve more credit, and that's why the sportsperson of the year (male) for me went right down between Neeraj Chopra and Bajrang Punia. With Neeraj, I thought the relative competition was almost the same but his achievement stood out a bit more.
For emerging player of the year, Lalremsiami wins my vote because she's from Mizoram and whatever she has already done is remarkable in a sport like hockey. For a person from Mizoram to have performed in a sport that doesn't have much background where she comes from, that is huge in my perspective.
(As told to Debayan Sen)