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Why we mustn't give up on Prajakta

“Where do broken hearts go? Can they find their way home,” the late Whitney Houston sang with great vigour in a ballad that became No 1 within four weeks of its release in 1988.

The above words find rhythm in the case of Prajakta Sawant, the young badminton player who is upset at not being picked for India’s Uber Cup squad currently playing in New Delhi. Upset is an understatement because Prajakta told mid-day on Monday that she doesn’t want to play for the country anymore.


Get on up: Prajakta Sawant is talented and has proved her mettle at last year’s Indian Badminton League. File pic

Not only it is utterly sad to hear someone indicating that she has lost the will to fight for a place to represent the country, it is also a reflection on how much sportspersons are cared for; sportspersons excluding the often-pampered cricketers.

Prajakta’s is not a blatant example of injustice because selection, no matter how much the rankings come into the mix, is subjective. The worrying aspect is that she hasn’t got anyone to mentor her amidst disappointments and dejection.

Is there no one in India’s badminton world to take the girl under his/her wings and tell her that hurdles spare no one and taking the rough with the smooth is sometimes the only way out?

Prajakta has taken the Badminton Association of India (BAI) to court in the past. Her bridges came crashing down as soon as she did that. No sporting body will view things with compassionate eyes after that, but let’s leave all the cynicism aside, pause for a moment and think about her ‘blunder.’ Does she deserve to be out in the cold forever because of her decision to take BAI to court?

National coach Pullela Gopichand, according to this newspaper, has always refrained from commenting on the Prajakta Sawant issue because the matter is sub-judice. He will have to speak about it one day and tackle the charge that he favours players who are products of his academy.

Gopichand has provided all indication of being a fair man with considerable credibility. His refusal to endorse cola brands after he became a badminton celebrity with his 2001 All England triumph was admirable. It was suggested that he could give the money he earned through advertisements to charity, but he chose not to endorse them at all. “At the end of the day,” he told his biographer Sanjay Sharma, “I did not want to be responsible for even one child drinking these soft drinks. I could not have taken the money and kept quiet about it.” But Gopi has some answering to do in Prajakta’s case.

Prajakta is talented and proved her mettle at last year’s Indian Badminton League. She must not fall into the valley of self pity, but pick herself and the racquet up to fight on. She needs the right kind of advice that is not based on absurdity and extreme actions, but balance.

Presumably she is at her lowest mentally and who can blame her for thinking she could have been as famous as Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu?

Prajakta must hold on to any inspiration she can find even if it comes in the form of her nemesis Gopichand. In the early 1990s, he suffered a career-threatening knee injury whose surgery and rehabilitation took away three years of his young career. Badminton buff Shirish Nadkarni writes in Courting Success — Icons of Indian Badminton: “The anterior cruciate ligament was hopelessly torn, and the knee required reconstruction, to be followed by endless hours of physiotherapy. Few can come back from such a physical setback, particularly in a game like badminton, where twisting and jerking of the limbs take place in virtually every rally. But Pullela Gopichand was no ordinary player, particularly at the mental level.” Nadkarni himself suffered a serious knee injury at the age of 21 and couldn’t realise his dream of representing his country, but 24 years later, he wore the India colours at the World Seniors at Kuala Lumpur in 2004 as well as in 2007 (Taipei), 2009 (Punta Umbria, Spain), 2011 (Richmond, Canada) and 2013 (Ankara, Turkey).

Back to Prajakta. She says she will encourage offers to play abroad and good luck to her, but it would be a pity if she ends up a former India player at 21.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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