The Second Sunrise is a treasured card in Magic, a computer game with a dedicated legion of fans. ”The bright tunnel sometimes leads back to life,” reads the card. It is a sentiment that resonates well with badminton in India. After a false start in 2013 and a lengthy period of hibernation, the Premier Badminton League (PBL) is set to add life to an already vibrant landscape.
The Indian Badminton League (IBL) came to life in August 2013. Despite a moderately successful run, the league languished in the tramlines battling existential issues. But the problems are a thing of the past now and the second edition, rechristened PBL is set to kick off the New Year with a big bang. As the Sun goes down this evening on the west coast, it will mark a second sunrise for the badminton league.
The six team league has players from Asia and Europe combining forces to represent Delhi Aces, Hyderabad Hunters, Mumbai Rockets, Awadhe Warriors, Bengaluru Topguns and Chennai Smashers. Hyderabad won the league in 2013, when Saina Nehwal lead the Hotshots to victory in Mumbai on 31 August 2013. In a sense life comes full circle for the league when Mumbai plays host today to the inaugural encounter between the Rockets and Warriors.
The semifinals of this edition are scheduled for 14th and 15th January in Bengaluru and Hyderabad respectively. The grand finale will be played in Delhi on 17th of this month. Star Sports, the title sponsor and broadcast partner is set to throw its visual might behind the event. The association of Akshay Kumar as the brand ambassador will help carry the league to the masses.
The star cast is loaded with some of the best Indian and international players and it appears that the necessary ammunition is in place for a memorable event. The auction in December saw plenty of churn with Saina moving to Lucknow for the Warriors and PV Sindhu moving from the Warriors to the Smashers.
The two ladies will be among a bevy of badminton stars on display during the two week extravaganza. Lee Chong Wei has made a strong comeback after serving an eight month suspension for doping and will be a force to reckon with from a strong stable of international players in the league.
While Saina and Sindhu have garnered plenty of attention over the past few years, there is no dearth of talent among Indian men – with Kidambi Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, RMV Gurusaidutt and Ajay Jayaramplaying for the Topguns, Hunters, Rockets and the Aces respectively.
The format of the event offers a recipe for racy action, strategic intervention and intense battle. The 15 point best of three form with sudden death at 14-14 means there will no dearth of nail biting intrigue during both the league and knockout stages.
"The league will be interesting as a few new rules that are introduced will keep us on our toes. At no point can we leave our guards down," said the Smashers’ Sindhu.
"A 15-point game means that we have to keep our hold on the game throughout, not allowing the other to run away with it. So yes, it will be an exciting time during the league as each day can see a new team ruling the points table."
The introduction of a “Trump Match” will allow the coaches and players an opportunity to maximize their strength by gaining a bonus point by taking on some risk. The fact that a loss could inflict a negative point will add to the pressure and increase the responsibility of the players in the match.
"What is exciting me the most is the new rule of 'Trump Match',” said Saina. “I think that will be the turning point for any team during any day. So using it effectively will be the key for each team."
There will be five ties in each match - Men’s Singles, Men’s Doubles, Women’s Singles,Mixed Doubles & Men’s Singles. With no player allowed to play back to back matches and no more than two ties, players are likely to be at their best throughout the match.
The tough thing about being an Oracle for the PBL is that the players are all coming off a break and the frantic action and hectic travel could lead to some injuries. Any such change could alter the landscape significantly, creating space for some upheaval in the points table leading to the semifinals.
Even so, Hyderabad Hunters should begin among the heavy favourites – the presence of Kashyap and Lee Chong Wei give them a clear edge in singles. Carsten Mogensen and JwalaGutta will provide them some options to garner the doubles point and gain victory.
Saina and Sai Praneeth should also be able to keep the Awadhe Warriors in the hunt for honours in the $1mn tournament. The Warriors have a strong lineup of doubles players too in the form of Christina Pedersen andCai Yun. TanongsakSaensomboonsuk is an interesting international option for the Warriors in singles, and the leftie could help the team deal with some specific challenges along the way.
The Smashers too seem to have found a good combination of players. PV Sindhu and Pranav Chopra along with Chris Adcock provide a strong lineup of players. N Sikki Reddy and Sony DwiKuncoro will strengthen their arsenal in the doubles.
Fasten your seat belts and get set for some high octane action over the next fortnight. We shall all hope too that this second start is for real and the start of a strong annual league in India for badminton.