AP and Kerala bag titles

Andhra Pradesh men won the team title. — Pic. T. SINGARAVELOU-

THIS year's South Zone badminton championship held at the multipurpose Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Pondicherry provided a clutch of ironies. To start with it was amazing that in a place like Pondicherry, with an imposing indoor complex where three spacious badminton courts could be erected and with activities held on a regular basis for the better part of the year, there was nothing to speak of in terms of badminton talent. On the other hand, there is Karnataka where badminton has a good base.

According to the articulate Pondicherry Association Secretary, Kumar, there are around 60 courts in the State. Additionally, with the maestro Prakash Padukone active with his BPL Academy, the best of talent converge in Bangalore and in due course become available to represent the State.

Despite this Karnataka, unbelievably, had not won the men's title in the zone since 1977, the year, recalls that veteran P.G. Chengappa, "I played the last time for that State." There was near unanimity that Karnataka would break this hoodoo this time after it dethroned Kerala, which had regularly been winning the title over the last few years. Kerala, this time, had a stronger contingent and at least the State Secretary, Muralitharan believed, it was good not only for the zonal title, but the national title as well. In the end Kerala courted disaster after getting shockingly beaten by Karnataka, thanks to its poor strategy where its best player and current State champion K. Anish was left cooling his heels when he should have been the one to give his team the charge.

Kerala women won the team title. — Pic. T. SINGARAVELOU-

By posting him for the third singles which was never to come, Kerala's think-tank took a gamble that misfired. Even before Anish's turn was to come, Karnataka had taken the first two singles and the first doubles for the winning lead and the tie. Diju lost a match, he had no business to lose after coming back so well against Anup Sridhar. According to Kerala Coach, Vinod, the turning point came thereafter when Jose Antony lost to youngster Rohan Castelino. It must be said on behalf of Antony that he had the misfortune of playing against an unbelievably inspired opponent. The current junior national champion Castelino was in devastating touch and the usual crisis man Antony was left to grieve. That loss meant Kerala faced a must win situation in the first doubles but once again things went haywire, Ajit Wijetilak and Jose George dousing the spirited efforts of Jaison Xavier and Roopesh Kumar. Kerala's campaign thus ended on an anticlimactic note.

With Karnataka having done the unbelievable, it was thought that it would bag its first title after Chengappa's last hurrah in 1977. Andhra Pradesh, in the mean time, had had an unimpressive entry into the final courtesy Tamil Nadu. As it turned out, Andhra reserved its best for the final, none reflecting the keenness more than T. Dinesh, a fighter to the core. Once he dislodged Vijay Nancy, a classy player but poor on fitness, Andhra's good times had begun. Anup may have stopped S.D.S. Krishna next, but Ajit Wijetilak and Jose George could not produce the same magic to get past P. Sunil and Prudhvi in the doubles. Down 1-2, the tie hinged on Castelino's ability but the youngster could only flicker when his team wanted him to shine. Prudhvi consumed him and triggered joy for Andhra Pradesh.

Andhra Pradesh boys trophies. — Pic. T. SINGARAVELOU-

The women's competition in comparison was less dramatic, though the upset of long time winner Andhra Pradesh by Kerala in the semi-final virtually confirmed the new title winner. Kerala proved worthy of it when it outclassed Karnataka. Mention has to be made of the efforts of Aparna Balan, who along with Fatima Nazneen Mohammed, ensured the happy tidings for Kerala, a poor consolation though after the men's calamity. The boys' and girls' competitions were also held concurrently and for Andhra the cup of joy overflowed when it annexed both the crowns to leave Pondicherry with a treble. How fitting that the State whose Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has left no stone unturned in bringing the best of infrastructural facility to the capital, Hyderabad, should have outshone others.

The results: all finals:

Men: A.P. beat Karnataka 3-1 (T. Dinesh beat Vijay Lancy 14-15, 15-9, 15-11; S.D.S. Krishna lost to Anup Sridhar 13-15, 9-15; A. Prudhvi and P. Sunil beat Ajit Wijetilak and Jose George 11-15, 15-11, 15-11; A. Prudhvi beat Rohan Castelino 15-12, 10-15, 15-4).

Andhra Pradesh girls' trophies. — Pic. T. SINGARAVELOU-

Women: Kerala beat Karnataka 2-0 (Fatima Nazneen Mohd. beat Shalini Prakash 13-10, 11-6; Fatima and Aparna Balan beat Shalini and Varsha Belwadi 15-7, 15-4).

Junior boys: A.P. beat Kerala 2-0 (T. Dinesh beat Ayyappan Krishnan 15-12, 15-0; T. Dinesh and Saratchandra beat Ayyappan Krishnan and Tarique Mohammed 4-15, 15-7, 15-6).

Junior girls: A.P. beat Karnataka 2-0 (Saina Nehwal beat Varsha Belwadi 13-12, 11-3; Deepti Shalini and T. Sowmya beat G.M. Nischita and Madhuri Vijay 15-9, 15-8). — S.R. Suryanarayan