For Saina Nehwal, her non-selection for the Commonwealth Games was not about desperation to play at the Games: she has two gold medals from 2010 and 2018 editions. “It’s about the amount of disrespect shown to a player. It’s about your own people treating you like s*#@,” raged fellow CWG gold medallist (2014), coach and husband, Parupalli Kashyap soon after Nehwal ousted Chinese He Bingjiao, to make quarters of the Singapore Open.
It’s been two emotional wins in two days, albeit on two ends of the spectrum. In the opening round, Nehwal brought on immense pressure upon herself, Kashyap says, in downing compatriot Malvika Bansod, herself a gutsy player, but who was blown away on the day. Bansod beat a visibly unfit Nehwal at the India Open in January, a win that Kashyap insists emboldened the federation to use as a stick, to weed Nehwal out of CWG contention. The win against He Bingjiao was her first against a top-tenner in two years.
Selection trials were announced at a time when Nehwal was still nursing injuries, and her “aloof, stand-offish behaviour” during a past Uber Cup campaign was cited in federation circles as the reason to show her the door. Kashyap says it led to frequent breakdowns for the former World No 1. “She’s been in tears often, and the issue of non-selection crops up in conversations every second day when she speaks. It’s very very tough to even practice, and you are not sure, mentally, whether you are preparing to fight your own people or opponents. Your intentions in the match go all wrong in such times, and it’s a terrible mind space,” he said.
It’s why the opening round against Malvika had an added edge. “It meant a lot because BAI based their entire selection on that one loss in January. Saina wanted to prove a point, and the pressure showed in the first game. She could play freely only in second,” Kashyap admits.
What has boggled the pair is the radio silence from the federation. “It’s a wrong notion that she’s arrogant because she doesn’t talk that much. She just minds her own business. No doubt what happened spurred her on, but this situation was not required. They should’ve given her minimum respect of (having) a chat. If you want to be strict I understand, but a simple chat is not a free ride. You could’ve disciplined her in a chat, speaking to her. No one replied to her messages. It’s extremely hurtful,” he said.
Radio silence ‘extremely hurtful’
“There was no conversation from BAI saying ‘this is what we are thinking’ or ‘this is what we want to do’. No coach watched her at the All England Open and there was no review of her performance,” he adds. BAI contends they requested her to furnish her fitness status, and Kashyap says they were confident in rehab of getting ready in time for the Games.
Nehwal didn’t have the ranking or results to stake direct claim, and the federation insists they followed a process. “We have given up on a sure shot medal by not trusting our player,” Kashyap seethes. Youngster Aakarshi Kashyap won the trials fair and square and will head to Birmingham, hopeful of adding to the medals tally, with PV Sindhu a favourite for gold.
Kashyap is aware that the win on Thursday is just one riposte and might not convince everyone, and says, “Yes, Saina won’t be satisfied with just one win. It might mean nothing in the larger picture. She wants to win tournaments and we are getting there. She’s only 30-40 percent of her ability, I’ll say,” he urges. “But did we forget basics of badminton and who can win medal when selecting the squad? She’s won 11-12 tour titles, and is a multiple medallist at the Games. It’s taken time to recover from the nonsense of non-selection. I don’t think she’s still recovered from how she was treated,” he adds.
The CWG will remain a trigger point, Kashyap says, though adding, “It might well be a blessing in disguise. Or we just look at the torture like that now. But maybe it’s good she’s not going to CWG and can focus on the World Championships. She knows she can beat the top players, and has never respected any opponent to think she’s unbeatable. Today from the first aggressive point, she made her point,” he ends.