Sania Mirza's Indian controversies should heed Dipika Pallikal's rise

When weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari claimed bronze at the 2000 Olympics, she became India's first female medal winner since the modern Olympics started in 1896.
It is unfortunate that society and attitudes towards Indian sportswomen have been at fault for this lack of success when you consider the huge exposure given to the likes of Indian cricketers. For India's women it is a barrier that is unlikely to be broken in the near future.
Take the career of Indian tennis pin-up Sania Mirza as an example, without doubt the nation's biggest female sports star (in terms of looks not success at present). The world No 98, who despatched Anne Keothavong this week in Nottingham, has courted controversy ever since she entered the spotlight after being beaten in the fourth round by Maria Sharapova at the US Open in 2005.
A fatwa was issued against the 22-year-old by a Muslim organisation later that year, describing her short skirts and sleeveless shirts as "un-Islamic". She then had to strenuously deny pre-marital sex remarks attributed to her in the Indian press. (Mirza's effigy was burned amid protests in her home state of Andhra Pradesh).
Last year she defended herself against charges of disrespecting her country's flag over a photograph taken in Perth in which she appeared to rest her feet near the Indian flag. There was talk she could be jailed for up to three years. There was the uproar over an advertising shoot in front of a mosque, too.
Such is India's press that Mirza rarely plays back in her homeland now. Controversy would rein. The fact that she doesn't has left the media to speculate that she was not offered the amount demanded by her as 'appearance fees'.
So it is lucky then that Dipika Pallikal, India's next big hope from the world of squash, is enjoying life in Yorkshire and about to study at Leeds University. At the tender age of 17, Pallikal has racked up an impressive array of titles on the European junior circuit.
She is currently ranked world No 49 and plays club squash at the famed Pontefract Squash Club, under the watchful eye - and no doubt prying eyes in the galleries - of coach Malcolm Willstrop. The club is owned by the amiable Mick Todd, manager of Wilstrop's son James, who has been quick to see the talent offered by Pallikal.
Trips have been made to a London agency about her marketing and sponsorship potential and there is no doubt that as she progresses, interest will swell. Squash is popular in India and the sport is crying out for a eye-catching star [world No 1 Nicol David is a superstar back in Malaysia] to bring the sport much-craved global appeal.
But the fact of the matter is that Pallikal's current environs should play a big part in how she develops. Perhaps then she will be admired in the Indian media for her qualities and not for any controversies that may arise from the hype.