Top assists at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Top steals at the Asian Championships for basketball five years later. Two gold medals in Asian 3X3 basketball, an event included at the Tokyo Olympics. A staggering 11 national championships with Railways — one of the longest streaks of domineering dominance in Indian sport. Anitha Pauldurai had all of that to her credit before she took a break to have a baby.
In a 16-year-long international career, the 31-year-old has easily managed to become one of the more recognisable and feared faces on the Indian women’s team, alongside Geethu Anna Jose on the annual FIBA Asian Championship sojourn.
An easy fluid action on the three-pointer outside shot and some serious savvy for a ball handler apart from natural leadership skills meant the tangoing duet of Geethu-Anitha lifted a very average Indian squad to respectability, maxing their performances at the Asian level. While the playmaker of modest height set up a gazillion baskets for Geethu, also blindsiding rival defences often with her long rangers, she had been India’s most winningest player after Geethu’s retirement. Anitha returned after childbirth to lead India to a Group B Asian title a few days ago at Bangalore only to wake up to the shocking news of being superseded in the Arjuna Award race by team-mate Prashanti Singh.
“The basketball federation had recommended Anitha’s name. And we’ve sent her entry earlier as well. You have to be blind or seriously ignorant or wilfully favour any other name if you can’t see that Anitha’s achievements are bigger, and by a mile,” said a federation official, hoping that Anitha’s name was given a reconsideration.
“If basketball does get a look-in for the Arjuna, it ought to have been Anitha ahead of Prashanti,” the official added, scandalised by the turn of events. Anitha, a resident of Chennai is known to be shocked by this blatant oversight, but refused to comment on the matter on Sunday. It is however learnt that her Arjuna recommendation was forwarded by the official federation, while her name was also put forward by the Tamil Nadu sports authority. Her employers Railways have recommended her name in the past on multiple occasions while the federation too have put forward her name as official entry for basketball. “Just compare the two sets of achievements,” the official added. While Prashanti too has led India in the past and was a canny player on the court, she will easily be out-pointed by Anitha if sheer stats or sporting success were considered.
The case gets even more curious when you learn that both names were debated in the meeting, and Anitha’s cast aside in favour of Prashanti. Details of what merits and demerits turned the scales in the latter’s favour are unknown.
“There is shock in the basketball community over what’s happened, also because even someone like Geethu who was called for trials to USA and who played in Australia and finished top scorer in Asia had to patiently wait year after year to get the Arjuna nod,” says an India international.
“No one would grudge Prashanti the award down the line, if the system had played fair. But this year they’ve blatantly superseded a very deserving candidate. It’s a very bad message to young players — that the best might not get rewarded because they don’t have backing of big names in Delhi. If Anitha could be ignored this way, the rest of us should just give up,” she said dismayed that the Chennai ticket checker with the Railways and mum-of-one was blindsided in the face of blaring facts. “Yeh unnees-bees ki baat nai thi. Anitha is leagues ahead of Prashanti who’s not played since 2014. So how did this suddenly happen?”