Strange decision

Published : Dec 22, 2001 00:00 IST


PULLELA GOPI CHAND has little to prove in India. The all-England champion is already among the greats of Indian badminton. But his presence lent star value, during the National Games, at the Hansraj Indoor Stadium, Jalandhar, where the badminton events were gone through. He was adored after his double crown - singles and doubles. Spectators, young and old, surrounded him to show their admiration for the genial champion. His commitment has to be commended. For one preparing for tougher international assignments abroad, Gopi arrived from England just to ensure that his home State Andhra Pradesh remained on top.

It is a different story that AP was out of the men's team event. This raised a lot of acrimony on the eve of the competition. But all was forgotten when the open events started and Gopi had arrived. In fact, AP had missed only the men's team gold, but otherwise the State had stamped its authority. Undoubtedly, had AP been there in the men's team event, that gold too would have gone to it, with Gopi Chand and Chetan Anand in the fray. But why was the team not there?

According to Punniah Choudhary, Secretary of the AP Association, that Andhra Pradesh was there as per the original list of qualifiers for the Games when it was scheduled in September. At that time AP was South Zone champion. The top two from each zone (Central zone excluded since it comprised the institution teams) form the field in the National Games. However, since the Games were postponed and fresh zonal competitions were completed in the intervening period, the Badminton Association of India sent a fresh list to IOA stating 'current zonal placings as criteria.' As per this, AP had no place because the State, without the services of Gopi and Chetan (both being members of their employers Petroleum SCB), failed to finish among the top two. Kerala and Karnataka qualified and AP could make only if there had been a provision to have a direct entry for the previous Games winner.

There was a stormy managers' meeting before the competition began. If Ram Mohan Rao, the AP manager, had decided to contest the guidelines in a court of law, then the whole show would have been marred. No other State was prepared to see this point of view. The BAI Secretary, L. C. Gupta, said if AP was included in the present circumstances then most other States would have withdrawn. Good sense prevailed in the end and surely there was no regrets for Rao and the AP camp in the end. For, overall, there was none to match AP's collection of gold medals, including that of Gopi and P.V.V. Laxmi, the former National champion who won the women's singles event.

Without AP, the men's field looked open. With AP women's team in the race, the others had to vie for the silver and bronze. Such was the strength of AP squad which had an array of stars in P.V.V. Laxmi, Neelima Choudhary (the two contested the singles final), Jwala Gutta, Shruthi Kurien, P. V. Sharada Reddy and D. Swetha. However in the 16-team men's section, it boiled down to Kerala, UP, Karnataka and Punjab. Finally, UP landed the gold, thanks to the inspiration provided by Abhinn Shyam Gupta and Sushant Saxena, the two front rankers in national badminton. Karnataka had in Aravind Bhat and Guruprasad, two players of potential, while former junior champion Sachin Ratti was Punjab's inspiration. Kerala's strength was in its doubles - Jaseel Ismail and Jaison Xavier and Diju and Marcose Bristow. But Kerala's plan went awry against UP in the semi-final, losing 1-3. Similarly for Punjab, Ratti did his job well. But Karnataka's overall strength prevailed in the end. Guruprasad's plucky display helped his team to a 3-1 verdict. With Sushant and Abhinn in fine nick, UP mauled Karnataka 3-0 for the gold. Karnataka took the silver while Kerala and Punjab settled for the bronze medals.

In the eight-team women's section, AP beat Manipur and West Bengal to make the final where it met Maharashtra, which beat Delhi. AP, with its overwhelming strength, recorded emphatic wins, not going beyond its first singles (Laxmi) and doubles (Jwala Gutta and Shruthi Kurien). Sampada Shetye, Simsalaria and Archana Deodhar could salvage little for Maharashtra in the final and AP took the gold. Delhi and West Bengal got the bronze medals.

Gopi Chand's arrival and Chetan Anand's eagerness evoked a lot of expectations in the Open event. However, the absence of top seed and national champion Aparna Popat (away to play the Scottish Open) was a disappointment on the distaff side. With B. R. Meenakshi, Manjusha Kanwar, Trupthi Murgunde following suit, AP shuttlers looked formidable. Laxmi made sure of her gold, though none expected Neelima Choudhary to give the honours on a platter. After she successfully defeated second seed Jwala Gutta, the current national junior champion, in the semi-final, Neelima was expected to give a tough time to Laxmi. But Laxmi virtually ran through.

Similar was the case in the men's final. In fact, when Chetan Anand reached the final upsetting Abhinn Shyam Gupta (second seed), in the semis, everyone expected an absorbing final. But Chetan choked rather uncharacteristically in the middle. In fact in the earlier match against Ravinder Singh, an enterprising player from UP, he rose from the brink to win.

Gopi, on the other hand, had a fluent progress. He gave five-point leeway to players like Sachin Ratti and then turned the tables on the opponent. One was not sure if Gopi enjoyed his outing in this company. But he had to master the seven-point format that the sport is now experimenting (in fact he expressed his disenchantment on this.)

In the doubles, Gopi and Chetan downed the top seed and favourites Jaseel P. Ismail and Jaison Xavier in a humdinger of a final. Two games all, 6-5 in the decider and match point, Gopi and Chetan were to lose serve. Then at 6-6 both pairs kept trading serves. There was excitement in the air, before Chetan and Gopi emerged triumphant. The point is that Gopi and Chetan do not play together as much as Jaseel and Xavier do.

The final placings:

Team: Men: 1. UP, 2. Karnataka, 3. Kerala/Punjab; Women: 1. AP, 2. Maharashtra, 3.Kerala/ West Bengal

Open events: men's singles: 1. P. Gopi Chand (AP), 2. B. Chetan Anand (AP), 3. Sachin Ratti (Pun)/Abhinn Shyam Gupta (UP); Women's singles: 1. P.V.V. Laxmi (AP), 2. K. Neelima Choudhary (AP), 3. Shruti S. Kurien (AP)/ G. Jwala (AP); Men's doubles: 1. Gopi Chand and Chetan Anand (AP), 2. Jaseel Ismail and Jaison Xavier (Ker), 3. Arvind Bhat and Rupesh Kumar (Karna)/ Marcose Bristow (Ker) and Vijaydeep Singh (Pun); Women's doubles: 1. G. Jwala and Shruti Kurien (AP), 2. D. Swetha and K. Neelima Choudhary (AP), 3. Archana Deodhar and Sampada Shetty (Mah)/ P.V.V. Laxmi and Saradha Reddy (AP).

THE Badminton Association of India's decision - to have the doubles pairings, in the Open competition of the Games in line with the National - was laughable.

For instance, the doubles pairs at the National event need not be from the same State. During Nationals, Marcose Bristow of Kerala partners Vijaydeep Singh of Punjab. They were the leading pair and second seeds in the National Games Open event as well.

Expectedly, the two won the bronze medal. But none had a clue as to how the medals given to them would be counted! According to L. C. Gupta, the BAI Secretary, "we can always show it as half for Kerala and half for Punjab."

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