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Anaka`s recommendation for Arjuna Award raises serious questions

New Delhi: Twenty-year-old squash player Anaka Alankamony is not a national champion, her ranking has slipped from a career high 59 to 151 in the last four years and she has not done anything notable on the professional tour to have her name recommended for the prestigious Arjuna Award.

Anaka`s name was one of 15 the Kapil Dev-led Awards committee recommended to the sports ministry yesterday. The ministry is expected to take the final call later this week.

A member of the committee said Anaka`s inclusion was backed by Kapil Dev in the wake of recent squash results, including the historic women`s doubles gold at the Commonwealth Games.

"It is very tough to have a consensus in these meetings. Luckily Mr. Kapil Dev was there to help us zero in on the names. He thought squash should be encouraged further after the CWG success and the award would give a young player like Anaka much-needed motivation," the committee member told PTI today.

The Chennai-born player`s presence in the committee`s list attracts attention as her ranking has seen a freefall in the last four years due to lack of major individual achievements at the senior level. However, she had won team medals at the Asian Games (bronze in 2010 Guangzhou) and gold in 2012 Asian Championships.

And in all team events, she has been a third or fourth player with Dipika Pallikal and Joshana Chinappa sharing the bulk of the responsibility.

The slide in Anaka`s ranking shows that she has not been at her best in the last couple of years and is playing lesser number of tournaments, mainly due to her studies in the United States.

Her success on the Asian junior circuit has not carried on to the highest level.

India`s top squash player Saurav Ghosal feels Anaka has not done enough to earn the prestigious honour.

"I think it is a bit too soon for Anaka. She is not a regular on the professional tour and has not even won the senior nationals. Having said that, I am happy for her and hope the award gives her that extra motivation to excel in the game," Ghosal told PTI.

Ghosal, the highest-ranked Indian male on the professional tour at 16, himself won the Arjuna Award in 2007 after winning the country`s first squash medal at the Asian Games in the 2006 edition in Doha.

Ghosal, Dipika Pallikal (Arjuna Award 2012) and Joshana Chinappa (2013) are the only regulars on the tour besides leading India`s challenge at multi-sporting events. Joshana won her 12th national title in 2013, the year she was chosen for the award.

Kolkata-based Ghosal said the benchmark needs to be higher for the sporting honour, second only to the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.

"I am only taking about squash here. You would have to win the nationals multiple times before you get something as big as Arjuna. Even winning it once is not enough," the 28-year-old reasoned.

He gave the example of his retired senior teammate Ritwik Bhattacharya, who was India`s highest-ranked player at 38 until Ghosal himself took up the mantle.

"We looked up to Ritwik in our early days. He was the first one to enter world top-50 and won five national titles. He is still contributing to the game as a coach. It is unfortunate someone liked him missed out on the Arjuna and it also says a lot that how tough it is to get the award. It should not come easy anyway," added Ghosal.