Thursday, June 01, 2006
One of the many disadvantages of speaking not being able to speak sotto voce in a crowded public place is the obvious one that folks around you overhear, and exercise their freedom in judging the sequence, stream and sanity of an individual by a few garbled words. On my last trip back from Bangalore, we—my badminton-loving colleague, Brian Tellis and Neale Murray & I were raving about our favourite players, all brought upon by Saina Nehwal reaching an important seminfinal and to which we shall return in a moment, when an angular youth gently brought himself down to our heights and politely enquired if we were interested in the game. On my replying in the affirmative, he beamed and we chattered away happily for some time.
It turned out that he was Ajay Jayaram, 18, a former India No. 1 in the Juniors, still No. 1 by ranking and currently ranked No. 9 in the Seniors who had come in to attend a camp held at the Padukone Academy in the Garden City. I embarrassed myself by not being able to place him and after we had yakked about other promising youngsters like Jishnu Sanyal, P Kashyap and Anand Pawar ( Uday’s son) , I guess the ignominy was all mine in not remembering his name especially when we met. Truly shameful !
We spoke briefly of the pressures of balancing a not entirely fruitless academic career, he a First Year student at Poddar, but mostly of game styles. He was visibly dismayed by the fact that his too was a typically “ Indian’ game—lots of poise and finesse at the net and around the court but perhaps a little short on the strength and power that a speedy player uses to stifle any challenge which an opponent of the above style can mount. Such a game, like most other ball sports, is a visual delight but will almost continually not win titles. Aggression, speed, muscle matter and Indians don’t prize these attributes.
And which brings back to the exploits of the young North Indian lass who has chosen to settle in Hyderabad—coach S Mohd. Arif and now P Gopichand will ensure that her potential does find an expression in an arena that many before her have floundered. She ended the long unbeaten streak of Aparna Popat earlier, who had last lost to an Indian in 2001, G Jwala if that makes a difference. What I like about her game is that unlike almost all of her ilk, she has a no-nonsense power game that thrives on foot speed, competent but never spectacular racquet control especially at the net and tremendous upper body strength and flexibility. Not since Manjusha Pawangadkar have we seen one so direct in approach and simple in style, and not lacking in effectiveness too. Grace and sinuousness aren’t really her forte and that is perfectly fine, as long as she works on her stamina and mental strength. Tipped for higher laurels, this World No. 86 hopefully will do her coach proud one day. And with a playing style that will remain antithetical to the Indian deities of sophistication, aplomb, artistry and a mindless craving for felicity of shot-making at the expense of winning points, games, matches, titles.