Less than a day after Saina Nehwal’s decision to stay away from the National championship citing injury, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) made attempts to persuade the Olympic bronze medallist to change her mind.

Although some BAI officials said no “official” communication was received by the association from Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) about Saina’s withdrawal, they confirmed that she had indicated that she was suffering from “cough and cold” and wished to rest.

Saina is part of the Petroleum’s ladies team that includes P.V. Sindhu, P.C. Thulasi, first reserve Arundhati Pantawane and the doubles combination of G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponnappa, with Prajakta Sawant being the reserve player.

It is also learnt that efforts were being made to approach National coach P. Gopi Chand and persuade Saina to play, at least in the team events. Indeed, Gopi is known to draw the line when dealing with a reluctant player. Going by Saina’s battles with injuries for the past 15 months, her poor form and the resultant low confidence, many feel that it is better to allow her to take a break. It is obvious that for Saina, winning the Nationals for a second time is no great motivation.

Meanwhile, injury worries to P. Kashyap and B. Sai Praneeth have put a question mark over their participation in the team championship, starting on Wednesday. Kashyap is nursing a shoulder injury while Praneeth has a sprained shin. The latter has indicated his preference to play only in the open event and Kashyap, too, is keen to give the team events a miss. Petroleum will finalise its playing squad on Tuesday afternoon.

Focus on Sindhu

Over the next week, the focus will obviously be on Sindhu who has every reason to look forward to finishing a good year on a high. The World championship bronze medallist, honoured with the Arjuna Award this year, justified her seeding in two Grand Prix events besides recording some notable victories during the season. The coming year could well see Sindhu overtake Saina in the world rankings.

Although Gopi is quick to point out that Sindhu needs a year, or a little more, to perform consistently well, the teenager has done enough to inspire confidence among the country’s badminton fraternity.

Among the men, fierce battles are in the offing. For a change, the doubles action is likely to catch more attention, especially in view of the Thomas Cup and Uber Cup finals set to be hosted at the same venue — Siri Fort Indoor Stadium — here next summer.

Interesting battle

With Pradnya Gadre and Sikki Reddy scoring over Jwala and Ashwini in Mumbai on Sunday, the Commonwealth Gold-winning pair can be expected to give it their all when they cross swords here.

Pradnya, who went for $46,000 against the base price of $10,000 in the Indian Badminton League auction, has proved her worth, winning a ‘double’ in the Tata Open on Sunday. The Pradnya-Sikki combination is fast emerging as another option for the selectors.

The pair enjoys the top seeding here and the second seeds, Jwala and Ashwini, will have a point to prove.

Similarly, one can expect some fireworks from the seasoned duo of Rupesh Kumar and Sanave Thomas in men’s doubles. They will be keen to win the Nationals one more time to prove that the selectors have not been fair in investing in youth just for the sake of it.

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