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Saina and remembrance of things past

Saina has all the makings of a Prakash and we could well go back to a time when badminton and not cricket would dominate the sports pages. Pradeep Magazine reports.

india Updated: Jul 04, 2009 01:58 IST

Saina Nehwal's prodigious talent, the word drift and its association with shuttle sport flooded my mind with memories of a past when Prakash Padukone was a household name in India and in all countries where badminton is played.

In a world where the word great is loosely used and even mediocrity seduces us to believe "we" are the best, Prakash was and should easily be the most outstanding Indian sportsman ever.

Today, when the petite Saina is breaking fresh ground and forcing the media to acknowledge a world which plays something other than cricket as well, one is reminded of a time when the shuttle sport dominated the sports pages of newspapers.

Those were the days when Prakash became the undisputed badminton champion of the world by winning the All-England title. It was a crowning moment for a sport in India which had seen players like the crafty Suresh Goyal, the indefatigable Dinesh Khanna, called the retrieving machine, and many others.

Prakash's taming of one of the greatest players in the history of the game, Rudy Hartono — who, as legend goes, used to skip the rope 1,000 times in a minute — had stunned the sports world.

Prakash's touch play, his dribbles at the net, brought the world to his feet and remembering his fierce battles with Liem Swie King even now makes me skip a heartbeat.

The irony of life and the cruelty of sport is such that when Prakash went to Denmark to train with his rival Morten Frost to improve his fitness, all of a sudden he lost his edge which had made him the most feared opponent on the court.

That was also the time when Syed Modi promised to don his mantle but could never make it to the top and years later Pullela Gopi Chand became the second player from India to win the All-England title.

Gopi Chand, who is now Saina's coach, did something even more incredible by refusing to do an ad for Coke, saying that he would not promote a fizzy drink in the name of a endorsing a health product. Injuries cut short a career which had promised to match that of Prakash.

He is probably reliving his dream by standing behind Saina, who is striving to become the world's best and going by the talent she possesses and the hard work being put in, we might well have a world champion among us.

Though this may not happen next month in Hyderabad which is hosting the World Championship and where Saina and other players have forced the organisers to switch off the air conditioners while the game is on. This has been done to avoid the drift which affects the players' control over the shuttle.

The same drift had affected Prakash's game.

While chasing his dream of winning the All-England championship at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Prakash complained of a drift which was making him lose his uncanny control of the shuttle and it was found that a door in the hall was ajar.

Champions don't let circumstances control them and have the ability and the strength to master those factors which might limit their ambitions.

Saina has all the makings of a Prakash and we could well go back to a time when badminton and not cricket would dominate the sports pages.