Undermining a premier event

Maiden title… Sai Praneeth, the new National champion, with the trophy.-PICS: CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

The withdrawal of star players takes the sheen off the National Championships. By J. R. Shridharan.

The Badminton Association of India (BAI) was in the news for the wrong reason, as it looked directionless and its prestige hit a new low at the 79th National Championship that concluded in Vijayawada recently.

The Nationals, held in the city after 34 years (it was last held in Vijayawada in 1981 when the legendary Prakash Padukone lost his crown to a young Syed Modi), got off to a wobbly start with the ‘stars’, led by the Olympic medallist, Saina Nehwal, deciding to withdraw from the event. Parupalli Kashyap too withdrew from the competition, citing an abdomen muscle tear (he was, in fact, at fellow-badminton player Anand Pawar’s wedding in Mumbai), while Gurusai Dutt produced a medical certificate for a stiff neck. Ajay Jayaram stayed away for personal reasons.

Players such as Padma Shri P. V. Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa took part in the team championship but skipped the open events.

“They (the players) are taking advantage of the lacuna in the existing law, which is not clear on player participation in both events. That is the reason we see elite players skipping the open events. The law should be changed at the next annual general meeting,” said the BAI secretary (events), K. Ch. Punnaiah Chowdary.

Irked by the spate of pullouts, the Andhra Pradesh Badminton Association (APBA) has decided to take legal action against the erring players. “Their withdrawal has hit the tournament so badly that the sponsors are not willing to pay a part of the assured money. I also blame the Chief National Coach, Pullela Gopi Chand, for the pullouts. May be there is tacit support (for the players) from the coach,” said Punnaiah Chowdary, who is also the secretary of the APBA.

Ruthvika Shivani... the new women's champion.-

However, BAI vice-president (administration) T. P. S. Puri was of the view that the association should be liberal with the star players, as they need to train to maintain their rankings. “Several players are at the peak of their careers and they figure among the top in the world rankings. For sustained quality performance, they need to train and undergo rehab. We should empathise with them,” he said.

Puri also said that the players have to play around 15 to 16 tournaments all over the world to bring laurels to the country. “I will ask the APBA not to take legal course, as it would further damage the reputation of the game. Maybe, we could strike a balance that would suit both the players and the domestic circuit,” he added.

Praneeth, Shivani top

For the record, Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth, 23, and Ruthvika Shivani, 18, emerged champions in the men’s and women’s sections respectively in the championship.

Sai Praneeth of Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) rallied from the jaws of defeat to quell the never-say-die Sameer Verma of Air India in the final. It was Sai Praneeth’s maiden National title.

“I am happy I won the title, which is very important to me. Sameer played really well. It was tough as my defeat to him in the team championship continued to haunt me. I rate this as my second best win after my victory over the maverick Indonesian shuttler, Taufik Hidayat, in 2013. I want to play more number of international tournaments,” said Sai Praneeth after winning the pulsating final 19-21, 21-15, 22-20 in 75 minutes.

The women’s singles final between the two Telangana players, Ruthvika Shivani and Rituparna Das, was grossly one-sided, as the former dominated the proceedings right from the word go.

Historic victory... members of the Air India team celebrate after grounding Petroleum Sports Promotion Board in the men's team championship final. It is after 16 long years that the PSPB is losing its grip over the national title.-

“I always dreamt of winning a big title in Vijayawada. I have several fond memories of this place. I played an attacking game,” said Shivani after her victory.

The women’s doubles final turned into a cliffhanger in the final game, as Sikki Reddy and Pradnya Gadre (AAI) registered a memorable victory against Aparna Balan and Prajakta Sawant (PSPB) in 57 minutes.

Manu Attri (AAI) and Sumeeth Reddy (AP) claimed the men’s doubles honours, defeating Prannav Chopra (PSPB) and Akshay Dewalkar (AI) 17-21, 21-13, 21-17. The mixed doubles title went to Arun Vishnu and Aparna Balan of PSPB, who defeated K. Tarun and Sikki Reddy (AAI) 21-16, 11-21, 21-15.

Air India flies high

It took 16 long years for Air India to finally ground Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) and claim the men’s team title in the Air Costa 70th Inter-State Inter-Zonal badminton team championship.

PSPB, led by World No. 10 P.V. Sindhu, however, won the women’s team championship for the 15th consecutive time after getting the better of Telangana.

Though Air India deserves full credit for its performance, the main reason for the team’s triumph was the withdrawal of the star players from PSPB.

The men’s team championship final for the Rahimtoola Cup lived up to its billing, as it went down to the wire. Air India’s Harsheel Dani, fighting a back injury, stuttered initially before defeating the Indonesia Open Grand Prix gold medal winner, H. S. Prannoy, 18-21, 21-17, 21-12. Similarly, Sameer Verma of Air India lost the first game but bounced back to defeat B. Sai Praneeth 18-21, 21-11, 21-17.

However, PSPB came back strongly as Kidambi Srikanth joined hands with Pranaav Jerry Chopra to quell the challenge of Shlok Ramachandran and Sanyam Shukla in straight games. Srikanth then levelled the scores by defeating Aditya Joshi in straight games.

In the decider, Akshay Dewalkar and G. Gopi Raju defeated K. Tarun and B. Sai Praneeth 18-21, 21-19, 21-14 to create of history for Air India.

On the distaff side, PSPB outplayed Telangana 2-0, as Sindhu defeated Ruthvika Shivani 21-15, 21-16, and later, in the company of Ashwini Ponnappa, tamed J. Meghana and Rituparna Das 21-14, 5-21, 21-11. Doubles specialist Jwala Gutta did not participate in the final owing to a stiff neck.

* * * Jwala's tirade

In yet another controversy at the National Championship doubles specialist Jwala Gutta hit out against Pullela Gopi Chand, for holding several positions in Indian badminton. "He (Gopi Chand) is the secretary of the Telangana Badminton Association and is on the governing council of the Indian Badminton League. He is also the Chief National Coach and the president of the Indian Badminton Players Welfare Association. He runs an academy and plays and represents the Indian Oil Corporation. How can you expect transparency from him, more so when he runs his own academy?" she asked.

Jwala alleged that blatant favouritism was the order of the day, and that was the reason why more players from the Gopi Chand Badminton Academy are representing the country. "Any player, other than from his academy, is ill-treated in the team. Many of his wards are afraid to talk to other players for fear of admonishment," Jwala said.

According to her, the assistant coaches who train at his academy get the privilege of accompanying the teams overseas. "You mean there are no former international players with coaching qualities to be part of the Indian teams?" Jwala countered.

Jwala also questioned BAI's failure to rein in the erring players. "Ashwini and I are playing the Nationals without fail, but they call me a rebel. But no action is taken against Saina (Nehwal) who skips the domestic fixtures regularly," she said.

Jwala also faulted the BAI for glorifying the triumphs of singles players and ignoring the victories of the doubles specialists. "Sometimes we do not even get a congratulatory message, leave alone felicitations. Mind you, Ashwini and I won three major international doubles titles last year," she said.