Mumbai: History was created at the Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium on Tuesday night, when one of the six teams in the ongoing Premier Badminton League (PBL) inflicted not just a total whitewash on a side that happened to be defending its title, but also left it with a negative final net score – something that has never happened before.
Hosts Mumbai Rockets, making their bow in this year’s PBL, imposed a 6/-1 scoreline on Delhi Acers, who had won the crown last year at Mumbai’s expense. The comprehensive annihilation was completed 40 minutes after midnight, in the presence of an adoring home crowd that continued to pack more than three-quarters of the 5,000 seats in the stadium, despite the late hour.
It was a superlative performance by Mumbai’s advance vanguard – the two men’s singles exponents – against illustrious rivals ranked far, far above them on the official Badminton World Federation ladder, that helped the home team achieve the unprecedented result. The momentum created by the opening two victories remained with the Rockets right through the highly entertaining encounter.
First, Ajay Jayaram, ranked No 19, came charging out of the blocks in Usain Bolt-like fashion, against the world’s second ranked player, Jan O Jorgensen, whom Delhi had nominated as their trump for the tie. Spectators rubbed their eyes in disbelief as Jayaram inflicted a convincing 15-14, 11-4 defeat on the Danish star.
Jorgensen, who held the World No 1 position for two weeks in December 2016, has been sorely troubled by Indian players of late. He was sidelined by Kidambi Srikanth in the pre-quarterfinal of the Rio Olympics in August, and then had to eat humble-pie at the hands of young national champion Sameer Verma in the semifinals of the Hong Kong Open in November.
On Tuesday, he found himself clueless against a speedy, totally focused Jayaram, who had had the misfortune of narrowly missing qualification for the 2012 London Olympics, but who has since climbed steadily up the ladder to be currently the second highest ranked Indian, behind Srikanth.
Jayaram, who trains in Bengaluru, was consistently the more positive and aggressive of the two players, using the dribble-and-smash pattern to cause no end of trouble to the Dane, who appeared ill at ease in the windy conditions that did not permit proper control over the shuttle.
The Indian remained ahead by a point or two, right through the first game, until he suffered an untidy patch at 9-6 to allow Jorgensen four points in a row. Jayaram restored parity at 10-all, and the two then fought for every point until it came to the sudden-death situation at 14-14.
Jayaram somehow managed to get back Jorgensen’s tight net dribble; the bird literally climbed over the tape and dropped on the other side. But it appeared to have dropped a centimetre out along the sideline, and Jorgensen celebrated with a clenched fist.
Having nothing to lose and everything to gain, Jayaram challenged the “out” line call. As he frankly admitted later, he thought he had lost the point, and the game along with it. But Hawk-eye came unexpectedly to his aid, ruling that the cork had clipped the outer edge of the line. Bingo! It was Jayaram’s fist that punched the air, even as a rueful smile flitted across Jorgensen’s visage.
The fortunate capture of the first game seemed to send the Indian into overdrive. Adrenaline pumping, he flew all over the court, dictating the pace of every rally, and opening out 4-0, 5-1 and 6-2 leads, before delivering the coup-de-grace to the Delhi player with minimal further loss, at 11-4.
If that result was tough for badminton aficionados to digest, it was even more difficult to assimilate the brilliant defence, court-craft and temperament that Haseena Sunilkumar Prannoy, ranked 27th in the world, exhibited against Korean World No 4, Son Wan Ho, who had been runner-up to Viktor Axelsen in the BWF Super Series grand finals in Dubai last month.
Visibly rattled by the loss of his side’s trump, that posted an unprecedented 1/-1 scoreline on the tie board, Son did not appear to be at his best as he frittered away a handy 6-4 lead to allow his Indian rival six of the next seven points, to allow the Mumbai player to lead 10-7. The first game was in the bag in a jiffy, at 11-9.
Amazing as it would seem, Prannoy was able to control the flight and trajectory of the shuttle better, as he repeatedly pushed deep to Son’s forehand baseline corner and pounced on even the slightest of weak returns. His own backhand returns were as graceful as they were sharp and measured, and his defence gave nothing away.
The Korean tried every trick in the book, but found his obdurate rival getting everything back with interest. In sheer frustration, he eschewed his normal patient rallying style and began going for smashes to the sideline even when he was not in an ideal position beneath or behind the bird. The smashes kept finding the net, and Prannoy was able to withstand Son’s final despairing onslaught to wrap up the game and put his team two-up, with a negative mark continuing to stand in Delhi’s name.
Then Mumbai pulled out their ‘Brahmastra’, arguably the strongest player in the side – Korean doubles specialist Lee Yong Dae, who has been ranked World No 1 with four different partners in the men’s and mixed doubles. Lee was paired in the mixed doubles with little-known, 32-year-old Polish player, Zieba Nadiezda, and would later form a formidable men’s doubles combination with Thailand’s Nipitphon Phuangphuapet.
Delhi wisely decided against fielding Jwala Gutta, whose lack of form and fitness had been amply apparent in Delhi’s opening tie against Bengaluru Blasters. They reposed their faith in upcoming 21-year-old Kukkapalli Maneesha, giving her the gangling company of 6’ 6” Russian giant Vladimir Ivanov, who had played with distinction for Mumbai in the previous edition of the PBL.
Ivanov, this year, has not seemed the player of yore, even though he is the reigning All-England men’s doubles champion with Ivan Sozonov. The Russian’s smashing power has not waned, but his reflexes are not as sharp as in earlier years, and he was unable to make meaningful returns of the strong pushes and taps employed by both his opponents against Maneesha’s weak service.
Nevertheless, the match went the full distance, with the Delhi pair capitalising on Nadiezda’s errors in the closing reaches of the second game, to drag the match to a decider. There was little to separate the two pairs at 9-all in the rubber game, but the liability of the Maneesha serve prevented Delhi from closing out the match.
Mumbai’s judicious use of the trump, by fielding Korean Sung Ji Hyun, against India’s No 3 ranked player, Tanvi Lad, for what proved to be a reasonably facile win, ensured that the two points from this outing swelled their tie score to 5/-1.
And when, in the company of the Thai powerhouse Nipitphon, Lee Yong Dae unleashed his full power and angles and showed off his acrobatic reflexes at the net, Ivanov and Sozonov had no answer, and could not prevent a total rout of the Delhi Acers team.
For Mumbai, it was more than sweet revenge for the loss suffered at Delhi’s hands in last year’s PBL final, while for Ivanov, a winless streak continued over four matches in this year’s edition.
The results of the two PBL ties played at the Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium on Tuesday were as follows:
Chennai Smashers beat Bengaluru Blasters 5-0 (Parupalli Kashyap beat Saurabh Verma 11-8, 11-5; P. V. Sindhu (Trump) beat Cheung Ngan Yi 12-10, 11-6; Chris and Gabrielle Adcock beat Yoo Yeon Seong and Ashwini Ponnappa 11-6, 8-11, 15-14; Tommy Sugiarto lost to Viktor Axelsen 7-11, 11-13; Mads Pieler Kolding and Chris Adcock beat Koh Hyun Sung and Yoo Yeon Seong (Trump) 11-7, 7-11, 13-11)
Mumbai Rockets beat Delhi Acers 6/-1 (Ajay Jayaram beat Jan O. Jorgensen (Trump) 15-14, 11-4; H. S. Prannoy beat Son Wan Ho 11-9, 11-9; Lee Yong Dae and Zieba Nadiezda beat Vladimir Ivanov and K. Maneesha 11-5, 8-11, 11-9; Sung Ji Hyun (Trump) beat Tanvi Lad 11-6, 11-8; Lee Yong Dae and Nipitphon Phuangphuapet beat Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov 11-9, 11-9)
Updated Date: Jan 04, 2017 12:50 PM