Hyderabad: New Year’s Day 2017 was witness to a fabulous triumph for badminton of the instant variety. The second edition of the Premier Badminton League (PBL) got off to the kind of start that even the most optimistic supporter of the event would have found hard to script.
Amidst some edge-of-the-seat suspense, hosts Hyderabad Hunters and newcomers Bengaluru Blasters fashioned hard-fought, come-from-behind, 4-3 victories in the presence of a delirious crowd packed to the rafters of the 5,000-seater Gachibowli Stadium in Hyderabad.
The home team trailed by a 1-3 margin after the first three matches (which included a trump match of the visitors) of their opening tie against Chennai Smashers, while Bengaluru were in exactly the same situation when they took on defending champions Delhi Acers in the second tie that dragged on until 40 minutes past midnight, despite the truncated scoring format of best-of-three games of 11 points each.
Both the winning teams dramatically bagged the final two clashes of their respective ties, each including a judiciously placed trump match that guaranteed an extra point to the winner, but could have had a disastrous effect of a -1 point in the event of a loss.
Whereas the crack Malaysian combination of Tan Boon Heong and Tan Wee Kiong secured the bonus point for Hyderabad, with an expected degree of comfort against the scratch combination of Mads Kolding and Sumeeth Reddy put up by Chennai, Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi – brought in at the last moment by Bengaluru in place of an injured Porntip Buranaprasertsuk, and nominated as trump – had to struggle for three games stretching over 40 minutes against Tanvi Lad, who had herself been drafted into the Delhi Acers’ side, a day before the start of the tournament.
As had been forecast, the short and tight scoring system favoured the underdog, but also those of strong a temperament – like the unflappable Englishman, Rajiv Ouseph – for there was scant chance of making a recovery after conceding a big initial lead.
Yet, the players had to be constantly on their toes, for even a small, temporary lapse of concentration could lead to an opponent suddenly reversing the trend of the game, and running away with it.
This could be seen in the penultimate match of the Bengaluru-Delhi tie, when the brilliant Korean duo of Ko Sung Hyun and Yoo Yeon Seong, who appeared vastly superior to the Russian combination of Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov, suddenly lost focus while leading 10-6 in the first game. It was sufficient for the reigning All-England champions to wrest six points in a row and claim the first game at 12-10.
However, once normal service was restored, and the Koreans bent their minds to the task at hand, their textbook game of leaving no gaps proved too smooth for the unconventional style of the Russians, while their defence proved impenetrable against even the most powerful 350-plus kph smashes of the gangling 6’ 6” Ivanov.
As their own defence crumbled in the face of the Korean counter-attack, the Russians faced a level of humiliation they were not used to, in their 3-11, 6-11 defeat.
The same lapse of concentration took place in the very next encounter, the final match of the Delhi-Bengaluru tie, in which two 23-year-olds took the court for the women’s singles, just after midnight. Bengaluru’s speedy Cheung, ranked number 19 in the world, and with a triumph over Saina Nehwal in her home Hong Kong Open last November, was all over the hardworking but nervous 57 ranked Tanvi Lad, running up identical 5-0 leads in each of the three games.
Unaccountably, after being in the driver’s seat at 11-9, 5-0, Cheung lapsed into errors galore, and allowed the Indian to take ten points in an unbroken reel, to reach 10-5. Tanvi grabbed the game at 11-6, but could do little in the decider as Cheung recovered her focus and held on to it with grim determination, to deliver the trump point with a clinical 11-2 demolition, and take Bengaluru across the finishing line with a 4-3 verdict.
While Bengaluru surprised everyone by placing their faith in Cheung as their trump card, neither Hyderabad nor Chennai in the opening clash of the day were willing to risk a negative point by marking either Carolina Marin or Pusarla Venkata Sindhu as their respective trumps.
The gap between the two elite players, on paper, was far too narrow, considering the world and Olympic champion’s loss of speed and form in the wake of the Rio Games, coupled with Sindhu’s marked improvement in the final two months of 2016, and her revenge victory over the Spaniard in the year-ending BWF Super Series finals in Dubai last month.
In the event, the match fizzled out as a contest poised on a razor’s edge, as it had been built up to be. Marin was swifter on her feet than she had been in Dubai, and her deceptive drops were every bit as effective as they had been during their gold medal clash in Rio last August.
Sindhu, perhaps hampered by the burden of expectations in front of her home crowd (she is a Hyderabad girl, and trains at the city-based Pullela Gopichand Academy), was a tad laboured on her feet, and lacked the speed to be able to dictate the pace and trend of the rallies.
Marin’s fervent appeal to the Hyderabad crowds to support her as the home team’s icon player, in preference to the national hero in Sindhu, found ready response amongst the fans thronging the stadium; and their lusty cheering of the European champion may have surprised Sindhu, even though she was technically the enemy!
The left-handed Spaniard should have actually won the match in straight games, for she held four match-points in the second game after winning the opener handily. Sindhu managed to save all four with a typically gutsy effort, raining down her power-packed jump smashes, and angling them both down the line and crosscourt, to keep Marin guessing.
That fighting 14-12 win in the second game appeared, sadly, to have drained Sindhu’s mental resources, and she was simply not in the match in the decider. Marin broke her resolve by winning a bruising 52-stroke rally at 3-0 that had the players using every corner of the court in an effort to gain even a slight advantage. The 11-2 scoreline in the decider destroyed Sindhu’s unbeaten 6-0 run in the PBL.
However, her team-mate, Tommy Sugiarto, son of 1983 world champion Icuk Sugiarto, was able to maintain his unbeaten record in the tournament, and extended it to 7-0 by being far too fast and positive against former Indian national champion B Sai Praneeth.
The result was never in doubt as the 28-year-old Indonesian, who has dropped to 21 in the world rankings, showed quicksilver reflexes in defence and exemplary power and direction in attack, to win handily.
The husband-and-wife pair of Chris and Gabrielle Adcock were far too wily and experienced to be in any sort of trouble against the rugged 16-year-old Satwik Sairaj and Chau Hoi Wah, and fully justified the trump status endowed on them by Chennai.
Hyderabad had clearly decided to sacrifice this match, since their two nominees were playing together for the first time and lacked coordination, though the teenager showed with his bullet-like smash that he was a player for the future.
Hyderabad appeared to be up against it when the mercurial Thai left-hander Tanongsak looked all set to extend his 3-2 career head-to-head against Briton Rajiv Ouseph by taking the opening game easily at 11-6.
But the Englishman changed his gameplan in the second stanza, prolonging the rallies and keeping the shuttle in play, yet not losing the chance of finishing off the rally with a well-placed smash whenever the opportunity presented itself.
And the temperamental Tanongsak, visibly wilted in the face of that sustained, accurate barrage of strokes directed to the corners of the court, to lose the remaining games at 8-11, 6-11. Ouseph eventually left the court with an impressive 5-1 PBL record.
That left the task of delivering the trump points for Hyderabad in the hands of Malaysians Tan Boon Heong (29) and Tan Wee Kiong (27), who have illustrious individual records behind them in doubles play. The exciting Dane, Mads Pieler Kolding, might have been able to give them a better run for their money, had he been playing with regular partner Mads Conrad Petersen. But with Sumeeth Reddy unable to give him that level of support, the Chennai pair was ruthlessly decimated by the Malaysians, leaving the home team victorious by a slim 4-3 margin.
The scores of the two ties played on Sunday were as follows:
Hyderabad Hunters beat Chennai Smashers 4-3: (Carolina Marin beat PV Sindhu 11-8, 12-14, 11-2; B. Sai Praneeth lost to Tommy Sugiarto 6-11, 8-11; Satwik Sairaj and Chau Hoi Wah lost to Chris Adcock and Gabrielle Adcock (trump) 7-11, 9-11; Rajiv Ouseph beat Tanongsak Saensomboonsak 6-11, 11-8, 11-6; Tan Boon Heong and Tan Wee Kiong trump) beat Mads Pieler Kolding and B Sumeeth Reddy 11-7, 11-8)
Bengaluru Blasters beat Delhi Acers 4-3: (Viktor Axelsen lost to Jan O Jorgensen 9-11, 8-11; Ko Sung Hyun and N Sikki Reddy beat Vladimir Ivanov and Jwala Gutta 11-6, 11-6; Saurabh Verma lost to Son Wan Ho trump) 15-13, 9-11, 6-11; Ko Sung Hyun and Yoo Yeon Seong beat Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov 10-12, 11-3, 11-6; Cheung Ngan Yi(trump) beat Tanvi Lad 11-9, 6-11, 11-2)
Updated Date: Jan 02, 2017 13:02 PM