Minnows Maldives were never going to be a problem. India’s men shuttlers, riding on the back of a storming 5-0 win against the Philippines on the opening day of the Asia Team Badminton Championships in Alor Setar, repeated the dose in even more emphatic fashion on Wednesday, blanking the Islanders, to ensure their entry into the play-off quarter-finals, with a tie to spare.
Playing the same combination that they had against the Filipinos, India finished the embarrassingly one-sided encounter winning all their five matches in straight games, and without conceding more than ten points per game in any of the matches. In fact, second singles player, Ahmed Nibal, was the only Maldivian to get into double figures in a game, losing 10-21, 4-21 to B Sai Praneeth.
Before that, captain and World No 3 Kidambi Srikanth, had faced no difficulty against Hussein Zayan Shaheed at 21-5, 21-6, playing at less than half-pace, and yet proving streets ahead of his rival. Sameer Verma claimed the distinction of conceding the fewest number of points, as he thrashed Mohamed Arsalaan Ali by an unbelievable margin of 21-5, 21-1 in just 14 minutes.
Later, in the fifth and final match of the tie, the youthful pairing of Shlok Ramchandran and MR Arjun took one minute less than Verma, and conceded one point more, while running roughshod over Nibal and Arsalaan Ali 21-2, 21-5. That result was posted after Indian national runners-up, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty had decimated Shaheed and Hassan Afsheem Shaheem 21-8, 21-8.
It could be said that the Indian squad would have been presented with a better challenge by any one of the numerous badminton clubs that dot Hyderabad city, where most of the national players train and practise – at the Pullela Gopichand Academy.
On Thursday, however, it will be time for much more serious badminton, when the Indian men face Indonesia, the other unbeaten team after two matches each in Group D. It promises to be a tie that could end in a 3-2 result for either team, but neither side will worry overmuch, as both teams will feature in Friday’s play-off quarter-finals.
The Indian women had a rest day on Wednesday, but would have been far from happy at watching the full effect of the enormous all-round strength and depth of the Japanese squad. The women from the Land of the Rising Sun notched a comprehensive 5-0 win over Hong Kong China, against whom India had huffed and puffed to a narrow 3-2 triumph on the previous day.
What’s more, the Japanese dared to play without their ace-in-the-hole, World No 2 Akane Yamaguchi, and allowed their lesser lights, Aya Ohori and Sayaka Sato, an opportunity to get a feel of the courts and conditions. Despite fielding a team that was below full strength, the Japanese girls did not concede a single game in any of the five matches, each of which lasted a mere half-hour, on the average.
Although Hong Kong brought Cheung Ngan Yi into the lead singles slot in preference to Yip Pui Yin, whom PV Sindhu had beaten comfortably on Tuesday, Nozomi Okuhara did not have too much difficulty in scoring a 21-14, 21-19 win. The reigning world champion was guilty of taking her foot off the gas pedal when holding a 19-10 lead in the second game, and had to scramble at the end to breast the tape.
The World’s No 1 doubles pair of Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo then strolled to a thumping 21-8, 21-9 triumph in 27 minutes over Ng Wing Yung and Yeung Nga Ting, who had beaten India’s Ashwini Ponnappa and Prajakta Sawant in a close three-game encounter on Tuesday. Sato took one minute longer to administer a 21-8, 21-11 battering to Cheung Ying, who had scored over Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli at 22-20 in the third game of a 66-minute duel the previous day.
With the tie already safe, Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota cantered to a 21-15, 21-7 win over Ng Tsz Yau and a different partner, Wu Yi Ting, who had not played on Tuesday. Aya Ohori rounded off a comfortable day for Japan with a 21-10, 21-18 victory over Yeung Sum Yee, whom Ruthvika Shivani Gadde had to struggle to beat in three games in the fifth and final match of the India-Hong Kong tie.
Watching the one-sided Japan-Hong Kong clash from the Sultan Abdul Halim Stadium stands, the Indian players would hardly have been sanguine about their prospects against Okuhara & Co on the morrow. The one match India is capable of winning is Sindhu's tie against Yamaguchi; even that one is not a dead certainty. Gadde could run Japan’s third singles player close, but the Indian doubles combinations have scant chance to bring home the bacon against Japan’s crack pairings.
The one good thing is that the Indian women’s team is assured of progressing to the play-off quarter-finals, even as the second-placed side in Group W. And if they get a favourable draw at the last eight stage, when the eight teams’ names are randomly shuffled, as per the rules of the Badminton World Federation (BWF), Sindhu & Co could be in with a chance of a medal.
Updated Date: Feb 08, 2018 11:14 AM