Glory for South Western Railway

The triumphant South Western Railway team.-

The recent all India Railway badminton championships hosted by the newly formed South Western Railway (SWR) at the new and well-equipped multi-purpose indoor stadium at Hubli/Dharwad showcased the power-house's commitment to the cause of sports. An impressive array of its top ranking shuttlers, gave the event the feel of a National championship.

Indian Railways has been a steadfast friend of sportspersons for decades now. While it may not offer the cushy life cricketers enjoy, it looks after its sports fraternity well, providing them enough space to train and grow and extends incentives and promotions to keep their morale high.

According to Badminton Association of India (BAI) records, Indian Railways men and women have won the National team championships no less than 20 and 18 times respectively. It has also produced stalwarts such as Syed Modi, Madhumita Bisht, Leroy DeSa, Suresh Goel, siblings Romen and Dipu Ghosh and more recently Sachin Ratti.

The recent all India Railway badminton championships hosted by the newly formed South Western Railway (SWR) at the new and well-equipped multi-purpose indoor stadium at Hubli/Dharwad showcased the power-house's commitment to the cause of sports. An impressive array of its top ranking shuttlers, gave the event the feel of a National championship.

Men's favourite Mohit Kamat is No. 10 in singles in BAI rankings and 17 in doubles, while Sachin Ratti stands at 12 and 32 in doubles. Women's top seed Anita Ohlan is No. 6 in singles and 10 in doubles, while Dhanya Nair is listed at 9 and 14.

Residents of Hubli/Dharwad or for that matter those living in North Karnataka were watching an event of this scale for the first time. Livening up the action were 110 men representing 17 teams, 20 women from seven zones and 20 officials led by Chief Referee Rajiv Mehta.

Chief Patron of the South Western Railway Sports Association and South Western Railway General Manager Kuldeep Chaturvedi inaugurated the five-day meet and also gave away the prizes on the concluding day.

The men's team championship being the flagship event of the championship got off on the wrong foot when top gun Mohit Kamat of SWR lost in straight sets to South Central Railway's Vinay Kumar Reddy in the opening singles. In the next match, SCR's C.M. Sashidhar led 11-3 in the opening game but rank outsider Jagadeesh Yadav got the better of him 21-18, 21-18 bringing SWR back on par.

Mohit Kamat of South Western Railway, the winner of singles title, getting ready to serve.-

The opening doubles pitting James and Dinesh of SCR against Hersen and Anil Raju of SWR went the full distance and brought spectators to the edge of their seats. After a pulsating contest, SWR prevailed, albeit by a wafer thin margin, 21 - 18, 22 - 24, & 23 - 21.

Kiran Kumar erased that deficit for SCR wining a tough three-setter against Sunjeeth. With the onus now on them, Mohit Kamat and Jagadeesh Yadav rose to the occasion, their fine match temperament and court craft leading them to victory over Vinay and cramps-affected Kiran, who soldiered on gallantly, despite being hampered considerably. SWR had thus dethroned SCR, which had won the crown two years on the trot until now.

Traditionally, teams from Northern and Western Railways have dominated this event. With Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka emerging as two new power centres, the equations have changed and the above verdict signalled the arrival of a new order.

On the distaff side, Northern Railway (NR) lived upto its billing as the best defeating Central Railway (CR) 2-1. Chitralekha Sakhya lost the opening singles to CR's Dhanya Nair, but Anita Ohlan combined well with Meenakshi Nair to subdue Dhanya Nair and Vinaya Shettye in straight sets. Ohlan's dominance spread to the second singles too, where she overcame Shettye in facile fashion.

In individual competition, Mohit Kamat faced little challenge, in a depleted field downing Venkat Prasad Gaurav of South East Central Railway (SECR) without much sweat. Against Kamat's fluid court coverage, Gaurav seemed a shade slow, posing little threat to the champ.

Chitralekha Sakhya wrested the first game 21-15 but couldn't sustain the charge in the remaining two, losing them to Anita Ohlan 17-21, 14-21.

A Special Correspondent * * * IT IS AN EXPENSIVE SPORT

Badminton is an expensive game where a top player spends about Rs. 12,000 per month on equipment, accessories and other incidental expenses covering coaching, fitness training, medicines, injury management among others.

Equipment consists mainly of imported racquets, strings, soft grips, shoes, socks, track suits, wrist bands, T - Shirts, towels, and not to forget, shuttles — the biggest cash guzzler of all. While some apparel made in India is used, most of it is imported. Commuting, coaching /trainer fees, courts/stadia access costs, the services of physical fitness experts and sports medicine experts, diet supplements, and finally, medicines add up to the costs substantially.

The lucky few who are employed with major promoters, such as Indian Railways or Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB), may get free access to the infrastructure, otherwise a major challenge for aspirants.

Travel and accommodation are costly. Till a player reaches a certain level or is fortunate to get sponsorship, the only way is to fend for himself.

A survey revealed that 65 % of elite players who participated in this tournament used Yonex racquets, while Ashaway was preferred by 15 %. Li Ning, a Chinese brand, is aggressively entering the Indian market, capturing 10 % already.

Not surprisingly, there is no major Indian brand. While Yonex seems dominant, Wilson, Dunlop, Head, Gosen and Carlton are others with small market shares.

All the above brands offer apparel and other accessories with similar market share. The average cost of a pro racquet is about Rs. 7000. The top of the line racket models from NanoSpeed and ArcSaber lines are costing upwards of Rs. 9000. The average life of a racket is about four months, though style could make a difference with defensive players using the racquet for longer periods and doubles specialists using up more!

Sophisticated equipment strings racquets to specified tensions, ranging from 26 to 30 lbs. Yonex, Gosen, Lining, and Ashaway also offer strings, each coil costing about Rs. 300. Pro players need to string rackets at frequent intervals — once in three weeks!

Shuttles are the main consumable that players need, a barrel containing 10 of them. A match quality shuttle costs about Rs. 80, which at best lasts one game.

As a manager of a team I frequently confront three questions! How to attract talented youngsters to this very expensive game? How to retain them in the game once their short term goals of admission in a professional course or a job are achieved? How to widen the support base for this lovely game so that more are attracted to it and we emerge as world beaters?

By Uppuluri Krishna Murty, Manager, South Western Railway Badminton Team