Petroleum's refined show

THE depth and talent at the disposal of the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB), one of the premier institutions supporting sport in the country, were on view for yet another year during the course of the 69th Senior National Badminton Championship and the 60th Inter-state Inter-Zonal Championship in Jamshedpur.

S. SABANAYAKAN

THE depth and talent at the disposal of the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB), one of the premier institutions supporting sport in the country, were on view for yet another year during the course of the 69th Senior National Badminton Championship and the 60th Inter-state Inter-Zonal Championship in Jamshedpur. PSPB picked up six of the seven titles with consummate ease and Kerala won the men's doubles title to complete the honours.

After coming into the fold of the Badminton Association of India (BAI) in 2000, PSPB's domination has been pronounced in the team and individual championship every passing year.

On the individual front, the men's singles title went to one of the most promising players from Bangalore, Anup Sridhar. The wiry 21-year-old won the Vikas Topiwala Challenge Cup for the first time thus setting a stage for a keen tussle among a half-a-dozen youngsters in the years to come.

Aparna Popat and Anup Sridhar (below), the individual champions.-S. PATRONOBISH

Undoubtedly, Aparna Popat registered the most coveted of all victories. In retaining the Olympian Badminton Challenge Cup for a record eighth successive year, the Mumbai-based Indian Oil officer has raised the bar considerably. Popat's focus and the lack of a serious challenger in the horizon could help her add to her tally. Popat is now on par with Madhumita Bisht Goswami, who also won eight titles, the last seven in a row from 1984 to 1990.

Second-ranked Sridhar's victory over two-time National champion Abhinn Shyam Gupta at 15-4, 15-5 in 40 minutes was classy. That the post-graduate diploma student in Business Administration tamed one of the most feared players in the country for the third time in two months is ample illustration of his prowess. In December, Sridhar had beaten Gupta two times in ranking meets. Sridhar was in supreme command of every important situation through his superb court craft and total control over the shuttle, be it at the net or at the backcourt. "Anup's play was of international class," conceded chief National coach, U. Vimal Kumar. "He was brilliant," gushed coach Gangula Prasad, who was instrumental in Pullela Gopichand's success in the All England Championship in 2001.

The doubles winners: Men: Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas. Women: Shruthi Kurian and Jwala Gutta.-S. PATRONOBISH

Among the title contenders, the most prominent was defending champion B. Chetan Anand. Considered by a lot of former players as more talented than even Prakash Padukone, Anand's lack of focus, poor concentration and brittle temperament came in the way of him retaining the title. He lost to Utsav Mishra, another up and coming youngster, in the quarterfinal.

At the same stage of the championship, top seed Arvind Bhat lost to Thomas Kurian of Kerala, another good prospect for the future. Bhat's loss and the loss of Nikhil Kanetkar, also in the quarterfinal, made the tournament much poorer. Bhat's repeated lapses in concentration and Kanetkar's inability to sustain power play in a long drawn encounter affected them adversely in their matches.

Women: Shruthi Kurian and Jwala Gutta.-S. PATRONOBISH

Fourth-ranked Popat, though, was flawless. Taking on junior National champion Saina Nehwal in the summit clash, Popat demonstrated power, grace and unerring concentration to win 11-3, 11-4 in just 19 minutes. At the hour of glory, she remembered the sacrifices made by her parents since she took up the game in 1989 and the contribution of her coach Prasad in moulding her into a top player.

Despite the defeat, 15-year-old Nehwal stood out with her power, stamina and her temperament that matches that of any senior player. These attributes enabled her to mask her poor mobility and inexperience. Nehwal put up a string of upset wins, including the win over top seed and last year's finalist Trupti Murgunde, and gave enough indication that she would return stronger and fiercer in the years to come.

Youngster Krishna Dekaraja, however, failed to make an impact. The girl from Assam showed enough promise in 2001 but seemed to have lost her way despite training under Prasad at SAI, Bangalore. Aditi Biswas of Karnataka too looked a good prospect but lost early on to Shruthi Kurian.

Kochi is fast emerging as a centre for producing doubles specialists. The best of men's doubles talent emerge from the port city and two leading pairs from the city contested the final of the men's doubles. The top-seeded Kerala pair of Sanave Thomas and K. T. Rupesh Kumar took nearly two hours to subdue the second-seeded pair of Jaseel P. Ismail and V. Diju 15-12, 14-17, 15-12 and lift the Calcutta Badminton Cup. This was Rupesh Kumar's third win in a row after having won the title in the company of Markose Bristow in the last two years. Thomas' maiden victory was achieved in 2001 along with V. Diju.

Mixed: Markose Bristow and B. R. Meenakshi.-S. PATRONOBISH

The hegemony of the country's leading women's doubles team of Jwala Gutta and Shruthi Kurian continued. The pair won the All India Badminton Association Cup for the fourth time, the last three in a row, outplaying Krishna Dekaraja and Oli Deka 15-3, 15-3. The Gutta-Kurian is unbeaten in domestic tournaments for more than three years.

Markose Bristow, the senior most doubles specialist on show, paired with B. R. Meenakshi to win the mixed doubles title and the Burdwan Challenge Cup. They annihilated the second-seeded team of Jaison Xaiver and Aparna Balan 15-3, 15-2. Bristow, 34, is winning the title for the second time. He won his first final in 2001 partnering the great Madhumita Bisht. He also won three men's doubles crowns. It was Meenakshi's maiden triumph.

Apart from the four North Eastern states, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Sikkim, 32 of the 36 affiliated units of the BAI participated by sending nearly 350 players. The team championship was held on a zonal basis with two teams from each zone competing in the inter-state meet.

The championship was organised by the Jharkhand Badminton Association and had the patronage of Tata Steel. The meet returned to the steel town after a gap of 17 long years. Though the championship was conducted in a smooth manner, the new indoor hall, adjacent to the Mohan Ahuja Stadium, could not be readied in time for it. This compelled the shifting of some of the ladies' team and individual championship till the pre-quarterfinal stage to the far away Telco Officer's court.

Individual championships

Men's singles final: 2-Anup Sridhar (Pet) bt 8-Abhinn Shyam Gupta (Pet) 15-4, 15-5. Semifinals: Gupta bt 7-Thomas Kurian (Ker) 15-11, 11-15, 15-8; Anup bt 5-Utsav Mishra (UP) 15-10, 15-8. Quarterfinals: Kurian bt 1-Arvind Bhat (Pet) 14-17, 15-12, 15-10; Gupta bt 4-Nikhil Kanetkar (Pet) 8-15, 15-8, 15-9; Mishra bt 3-B. Chetan Anand (Pet) 7-15, 15-10, 15-10; Anup bt 5-J.B.S. Vidyadhar (Pet) 17-14, 17-14.

Doubles final: 1-Sanave Thomas/K.T. Rupesh Kumar (Ker) bt 2-Jaseel P. Ismail/V. Diju (Pet) 15-12, 14-17, 15-12. Semifinals: Thomas/Kumar bt 4-J.B.S. Vidyadhar/B. Chetan Anand (Pet) 15-4, 15-17, 15-4; Ismail/Diju bt 3-Markose Bristow/Jaison Xavier (Pet) 15-9, 15-6.

Women's singles final: 4-Aparna Popat (Pet) bt Saina Nehwal (AP) 11-3, 11-4. Semifinals: Saina bt 1-Trupti Murgunde (Pet) 9-11, 11-8, 13-10; Aparna bt 8-Jwala Gutta (Pet) 11-3, 11-1. Quarterfinals: Trupti bt 6-Krishna Dekaraja (Pet) 13-11, 11-3; Saina bt 11-Shruthi Kurian (Pet) 11-13, 11-8, 11-8; Aparna bt 10-Aparna Balan (Ker) 11-1, 11-1; Jwala bt 2-B.R. Meenakshi (Pet) 11-7, 13-10.

Doubles final: 2-Jwala Gutta/Shruthi Kurian (Pet) bt 7-Krishna Dekaraja (Pet)/Oli Deka (Asm) 15-3, 15-3. Semifinals: Krishna/Oli bt 3-Trupti Murgunde (Pet)/Fathima Nazneen Md. (Ker) 15-4, 15-4; Jwala/Shruthi bt 8-Aparna Balan (Ker)/ Saina Nehwal (AP) 9-15, 15-12, 17-14.

Mixed doubles final: 1-Markose Bristow/B.R. Meenakshi (Pet) bt 2-Jaison Xavier/Aparna Balan (Ker) 15-3, 15-2. Semifinals: Bristow/Meenakshi bt Mayank Behl/Dhanya Nair (Rly) 15-12, 15-2; Xavier/Aparna bt Mayur Ghatnekar/Archana Deodhar (Mah) 15-9, 15-6.

Team events

The Rahimtoola Cup for men: PSPB bt Kerala 3-0 (Chetan Anand bt Joy T. Antony 15-1, 15-8; Arvind Bhat bt Thomas Kurian 17-14, 16-17, 15-9; Rupesh Kumar/V. Diju bt Sanave Thomas/Jaseel P. Ismail 15-4, 15-2). Semifinals: PSPB bt Maharashtra 3-0 (Anand bt Anand Pawar 7-15, 15-7, 15-7; Anup bt Rutuparna Kulkarni 15-6, 15-10; Markose Bristow/Rupesh Kumar bt Amrish Shinde/Mayur Ghatnekar 15-7, 15-6); Kerala bt Railways 3-2 (K. A. Anish lost to Mangirish Palekar 6-15, 7-15; Thomas Kurian bt Arup Baidya 15-4, 15-13; S. Thomas/G. Thomas bt M. Palekar/M. Hazarnis 15-4, 15-10; Joy T. Antony lost to Hemant Duggal 1-15, 6-15; J. P. Ismail/J. Xavier bt V. Singh/A. Baidya 15-4, 15-4).

The Chadha Cup for women: PSPB bt Kerala 2-0 (Aparna Popat bt Aparna Balan 15-1, 15-7; Jwala Gutta/Shruthi Kurian bt Aparna Balan/Fathima Nazneen Md. 15-4, 15-3) Semifinals: PSPB bt Maharashtra 2-0 (Trupti Murgunde bt Gayatri Kotchak 11-2, 11-2; Jwala/Shruthi bt Archana Deodhar/Gayatri Kotchak 15-4, 15-8); Kerala bt Assam 2-0 (Aparna Balan bt Bibari Basumatary 11-2, 8-11, 11-3; Aparna/Fathima bt Oli Deka/Basumatary 15-12, 15-5).