Why Jwala Gutta and Ashwin Ponappa are the jewels of India...
The inimitable and fiery Jwala Gutta is back in the news in style after her scintillating performance with doubles partner Ashwini Ponnappa in the North American world badminton circuit that concluded in Calgary, Canada on Sunday night.
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa celebrate their Canada Open women's doubles title on Sunday. Pics/PTI
The redoubtable and forceful Indian pair went in at a high career rank of World No 13 and at the end of the two-week sojourn is likely to gate-crash into the Top 10. They reached the finals of the US Grand Prix Gold at New York after four tough rounds only to lose to top the Japanese pair of Ayana Kurihara/Naru Shinoya 17-21/11-21. The Indian pair have thus garnered good points in their quest for a berth at the Rio Olympics next year.
Up the ladder
At the Canadian Grand Prix, they went one better, humbling World No 8 ranked Eefje Muskens-Selena Piek in the final 21-19, 21-16 in a match the Indians dominated almost from the start. In the semi-final, they had demolished the dangerous Japanese pair of Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemata 21-17, 21-16.
Though these are not BWF Super Series events, they nonetheless attract some top notchers. Former World No 1 Lee Chong Wei, for example won the US Open. And the domination of Jwala-Ashwini was such, that barring that loss in the finals in New York, the Indian pair lost only one game, that too in the first round of the US Open to Samantha Barning/Iris Tabeling of Holland. Apart from that one game, Jwala-Ashwini were never tested.
The Dutch pair of Eefje Muskens and Selena Piek whom Jwala-Ashwini defeated in Canada
Ironically, these great performances have come at a crucial time. The sports ministry, in its infinite wisdom, did not consider this fantastic Indian pair worthy of reaching anywhere at Rio. Thus, their names were shockingly missing from the list of athletes who are to be funded heavily as they are podium prospects. In our sports experts' view, Jwala-Ashwini are simply not worth it.
Best in our history
This crack doubles pair, surely the best in Indian badminton history, are believed to have financed some of their trips abroad as they seek to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Jwala has often articulated and lamented the fact that performances in doubles are simply overlooked by the powers that be — in the Badminton Association of India (BAI) and the ministry. "However hard we try, we are simply not given the recognition we deserve. Just look at our career — what more do we have to do to be treated with respect in the country," she had said.
The duo is understandably bitter about the way they have been left out of the Rio funding by the government. Indeed, what a great career they have had — Commonwealth gold in 2010, a silver in 2014 and several team medals in between — bronze at the World Championships, Asian Championships bronze, Uber Cup and Asian Games — are there for all to see.
All this was achieved with no role model or history to follow. India has often done well in singles. There is a legacy left by the likes of Nandu Natekar, Prakash Padukone, Dinesh Khanna, Syed Modi, P Gopichand and on the distaff side Ami Shah, Madhumita Bisht, Aparna Popat and lately Saina Nehwal, and now PV Sindhu.
But there has been no one of such calibre in any paired events. There has never been a concerted effort, either in coaching or overall policies in the country to pave the way for excellence in doubles. In such a scenario, what Jwala and Ashwini have achieved, is astonishing. Theirs has been a superhuman effort which has not been applauded enough.
The writer is an ex-India player
Video: Jwala Gutta family elated with her win in Canada Open