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The making of a legend

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J. Pitchaiah, wizard of ball badminton, turns 92

As badminton stars from Andhra Pradesh like Saina Nehwal, Chetan Anand, Jwala Gutta and others carved a niche for themselves at the international level, it is time to salute a sporting icon who had inspired countless youngsters in the State and in the South to take to the game.

He is Jammalamadaka Pitchaiah , Grand Old Man of ball badminton, who at 92 years, has not lost any of the verve or the fascination for the racquet.

He dominated the sport for over 25 years smashing and lobbing his way into the Hall of Fame. Rival teams believed that hockey wizard Dhyan Chand wielded ‘mystique' and not ‘stick' which enabled him to score at will. Similar aura surrounded Pitchayya.

Born in Kuchipudi, cradle of the Andhra dance form, in Krishna district on December 18, 1918, he moved to Warangal in search of a living in 1947 and has since become its darling son. Sports was in the family genes, three of the four Pitchaiah siblings having played ball badminton. Those days, ball badminton was more popular in the State than the shuttle game. Pitchaiah played football too while at Machilipatnam, but settled for ball badminton as a career.

He had made a name for himself in the early 40s at Tenali, where he was employed. Here he caught the attention of a trade union leader who invited him to Warangal to join the famous Ajam Jahi Mills.

He did not get the job on account of the Razakar movement, but soon built up a lot of goodwill among the elite and sports lovers of Warangal who raised Rs. 6000 (in Osmania Sikka, currency then in vogue in Nizam's dominions) to help him set up a sports and general store in 1948-49. He still runs it! Pitchaiah, who took on top players of the day like Rajagopal from Madras, used to play doubles (as ‘back') and in team of Fives (as ‘centre'). His first major win was at the Madras State championship in 1951. ‘The first ball badminton nationals were held in Hyderabad in 1955. I played in 14 nationals and won nine'.

In 1958, Pitchaiah won a tournament in Madurai, known as ‘the Wimbledon of ball badminton', and the sports-loving people arranged a grand felicitation (Ponnadai) and conferred upon him the title, ‘Wizard of Ball Badminton'.

DASU KESAVA RAO

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