Sports Nikhat Banu scores, yet again

She's just a 16-year-old but making big strides in the field of Indian table tennis. Nikhat Banu of the Gujrati Seva Mandal (GSM) Academy, Secunderabad is again in the news, into the first week of the New Year itself.

The precocious paddler from Kendriya Vidyalaya, Picket, finished a losing finalist in the junior and youth National table tennis championships that concluded at Raipur earlier this week. Her progress to the showdown round of the junior girls' category was most impressive.

In the semi-finals, Nikhat, seeded ninth, toppled international and second seed Ankita Das 14-12, 5-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-9. But for that second set reversal, Nikhat's domination of Das was near complete. Nikhat matched the North Bengal lass's aggression, stroke for stroke, smash for smash.

Only a couple of weeks before, Nikhat's coach Maduri Venugopal had seemed worried about the plateau his ward's performances had reached. Her recent showing, very much in his presence and under his guidance, should dispel any doubts about her peaking form.

If Venugopal had any misgivings about her mental strength, Nikhat's fierce fighting in the final should have allayed those fears.

The aggressive and attacking youngster wrested the first game 11-4 against Mallika Bhandarkar. The Maharashtrian girl equalised 11-5 in the next. Nikhat clinched the subsequent two 11-5, 12-10. Thereafter, Bhandarkar marched to victory bagging the last three games 11-6, 11-8, 11-4.

Despite her stunning displays in national and international competition, Nikhat's career is sustained by support of her mother, who works for a small private firm and her retired grandfather.

Travelling and tournament expenditure is met mostly through scholarships she has won for her sports or academic achievements. Steady sponsorship should ease her off-the-table burdens and take her places.