Match Point: Grit and determination of a shuttler

Be it writing for the media while playing for the country or being suspended and given a life ban by the then Badminton Association of India for writing about them, Sanjay Sharma has endured it all.

At a time when athletes used to stay mum about their training, the sporting system and the authorities in that system or organisation, Sanjay Sharma decided to be upfront and vocal about it. Having represented India in the field of badminton for over 16 years as a player and a coach, Sharma’s autobiography “Match Point — A Shuttler’s Story” reflects his strong personality. Be it writing for the media while playing for the country or being suspended and given a life ban by the then Badminton Association of India for writing about them, Sharma has endured it all.

Inside the insightful 219-page long book lies the grit and determination of a shuttler who fought numerous battles on and off the badminton court. The first few pages of the book starts with his current struggle against Caveroma in the spinal cord and his family support before harking back to his career in Indian badminton from 1975 to 1990 (as a player) and 1998-2003 (as a coach).

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Among the several wins in his career, Sharma feels that the win against Malaysia in the 1979 Asian Zone Thomas Cup finals in their home ground was the most memorable. “Playing the first doubles against the then World No. 2, Pradeep Gandhe and I played out of our skin to carve a huge win, which helped India defeat Malaysia for the first time,” he states.

While regretting not winning the national singles titles because of the presence of stalwarts like Prakash Padukone and Syed Modi, his gratitude towards the two players comes out throughout the book. Appreciating Padukone, Sharma nicknames him the ‘boss’ whilst giving the readers an in-depth perspective of the Indian badminton scene during the 1970s and 80s.

The three major happenings

The chapter ‘Earning my place under the sun’ begins with Sharma recollecting his past accolades including his stint at the German league and the trajectory of Indian badminton. However, at the end of the chapter, he mentions three major happenings in 1981-82 that had an immense bearing on his future.

“Firstly, I was forced to get into coaching even while I was playing for India. Secondly, I wrote my first few articles which were published in 1981. And thirdly, my skirmish with the BAI started in this fateful year.”

He trained Rajeev Bagga, who not only went on to win senior national singles/doubles titles, but also won in ‘The Deaf Olympics’. His dedication towards badminton is evident with the number of top players he had worked with, like Pullela Gopichand, Jwala Gutta, Chetan Anand and many others who went on to win several national championship titles. When he started writing for the Press, he was not aware of what was to come and its consequences. “My writing naturally came in conflict with the way badminton was administered by the BAI,” he says.

He points the state of Indian badminton at that time, where there was no money, no facilities for players, and hostile officialdom, an ambience for ‘chamchagiri’ as Sharma calls the then BAI, where the players were victims.

Having chosen to bring out the inside dealings of the BAI, Sharma was threatened, served a show-cause notice and called a pariah but his determination and commitment towards the sport is one of the reasons for better badminton facilities in India today.

Excerpt from the book:

But why did I play the game in the manner I did, feuding with the chief administrators of the game who wielded real power? A question that many have asked me. My answer is that in my way, I contributed to the game. But my tragedy is that despite my achievements on badminton courts, I am remembered more for my writings in the Press and my constant fights with BAI from 1982 onwards.