A record number of entries

The winners in the Krishna Khaitan Memorial all-India junior badminton tournament in Chennai.-Pic. K. GAJENDRAN

EVERY year a large number of budding players wait with a sense of expectancy for the announcement of dates for the Krishna Khaitan memorial all-India junior badminton tournament. And unfailingly this tourney attracts a huge congregation. This time, for its 13th edition, the entries crossed the 1000 mark to set a new benchmark in the conduct of a junior tournament. "I have never seen such a huge response, even in a national championship," said S. Muralidharan, Vice President of the Badminton Association of India and Chief Referee of the tournament.

Paradoxically, the richness of the tournament ends with the level of response and the standard of competition, for, the organisers have always found it a financial burden what with the rising costs. As Ashok Bajaj, the Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Association, once said, "for the sake of the juniors we have to keep the tournament going. More so now with such tremendous response each year." Despite the large numbers and back-breaking schedule of matches, the tournament is always plagued by the inability to stretch the programme beyond six days, inclusive of two days of qualifying rounds.

True, cost constraints do not make it viable to extend the proceedings but what happens is that until the quarter-final stage the schedule can be so hectic that the proceedings look bereft of sanity. Imagine over 750 matches in two days! That was the story of the qualifying phase. Each match in that phase was decided over one game but still the young participants need breathing time to work on their aspirations. Will the BAI give a serious thought to this matter?

Things fell in order once the field shrunk. And the happenings began. Reputations dented, some shone and for a few there were deeds to remember fondly. Overall it must have been both joy and sorrow that the players took back home. Ajay Jayaram, for instance, was the first to catch the eye when he ousted the second seed Rohan Castalino, who has the reputation of being a quarter-finalist in the last world championship held in South Africa. But as luck would have it, the unseeded Maharashtra boy did not progress much in this Under-19 category, and worse, fell before the title round in the Under-16 category where he was the top seed.

Yet another player with bad luck was Aditi Mutakar, the second seed in the Under-19 and Under-16 sections. Leading by a game and 6-1 in the next against the current junior sensation, Saina Nehawal, Aditi suffered a fall, twisted her right knee and with that dreams of a title evaporated! Saina bagged the Under-19 title from the jaws of defeat and since Aditi was in no position to take the court, cornered the Under-16 title as well on default. Having won the Under-16 doubles earlier, it was a sweet treble for this 14-year-old Haryana girl, who resides in Hyderabad and is a pupil of national coach, Md. Arif.

For Bahniman Bora, the last year's winner, but fourth seed here, it was a different experience as he rose to retain the title, getting past top seed Nishad Dravid in the semi-final and T. Dinesh in the final. For the Assamese boy, whose national achievements have dried up, this win, just when he is on the threshold of entering the senior ranks, should boost his morale as he takes up tougher opposition from now.

Overall it was a week of good badminton but to Vimal Kumar, joint national coach and one closely involved with Bangalore's BPL Academy, "there was very little to enthuse." If he was impressed by the way Jishnu Sanyal of Kolkata played and won the Under-16 title, the left-hander's deception and technical back up and all, Vimal, a former national champion, felt sorry for most others who are ambitious to make a mark. One problem area in Indian badminton, he said, was the lack of uniformity in coaching. "So much so, children learn the game the wrong way," he said. A national level clinic for coaches is a prime need. The sooner the BAI wakes up to take remedial measures, the better for the sport.

The winners:

Boys: Under-19: Bahniman Bora (Assam); doubles: T. Dinesh and Sarath Chandra (AP); Under-16: Jishnu Sanyal (WB); doubles: Suranjan Bhobora and Dibyajoti Barua (Assam); Under-13: Parin Chopra (Mah); doubles: Pratik Patel (Guj) and Parin Chopra (Mah); Under-10: Harsha (AP).

Girls: Under-19: Saina Nehawal (AP); doubles: E. Deepthi Salani and T. Sowmya (AP); Under-16: Saina Nehawal; doubles: Saina Nehawal and Jyotsna (AP); Under-13: Vinitha Ghate (Mah); doubles: Adfa Taqvi and Yashica Poonacha (Karna). Under-10: Priyadarshinidip (Assam); Mixed doubles: Aparna Balan and Arjun Prasad (Kerala).

S. R. Suryanarayan