PBL 2018: Saina Nehwal-PV Sindhu clash to kick-start 3rd edition; Tai Tzu Ying adds lustre to star-studded line-up
The opening clash of PBL 3 between Chennai Smashers and Awadhe Warriors will feature a repeat of the 2017 Nationals final between PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal
It is almost a given that the opening clash of the third edition of the Premier Badminton League (PBL) between defending champions Chennai Smashers and Awadhe Warriors, on 23 December at Guwahati, will feature a repeat of the 2017 Nationals final — between 2016 Rio Olympic medallist PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal — which had ended in a compelling 21-17, 27-25 triumph for the latter in Nagpur.
There will be a distinct advantage for the 27-year-old Nehwal, five years older than her compatriot, since the match will be played in the best of three games of 11 points each (3x11) format, rather than the substantially longer regular format of 3x21 points. With matches in PBL being tailor-made for television audiences, one could consider this to be badminton’s T20 format.
While the previous two editions were played over a fortnight, the forthcoming edition will be contested over 23 days until 14 January, as the league has been expanded to an eight-team league after the introduction of two new teams. There are just five centres — Guwahati, New Delhi, Lucknow, Chennai and Hyderabad — at which the teams will congregate, to play a solitary tie on each day.
Two new teams, Ahmedabad Smash Masters and North Eastern Warriors, have joined the league, with the latter due to make their debut on Christmas Eve, the second day of the competition against Hyderabad Hunters. Their squad is led by two-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist, Carolina Marin of Spain. The four other squads in the fray, apart from the ones named earlier, are Bengaluru Blasters, Hyderabad Hunters, Delhi Dashers and Mumbai Rockets.
Even though the league features some of the top names from around the world — including reigning world champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, who was bought back in the October auction by Bengaluru Blasters for Rs 50 lakh — the broadcasters Star Sports have surprisingly chosen to dispense with the popular Hindi channel which had taken the sport to all corners of the country, including far-flung rural areas.
At the round-robin group stage, a total of 20 group stages matches will be played at the five chosen centres, in which Mumbai controversially does not feature. The four teams that end up at the top of the table on points at the end of the group stage will progress to the semi-finals. The semi-finals and the final will be played in Hyderabad over the weekend of 12-14 January.
Each tie will have two men's singles matches, and one match each in women’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles. As in earlier editions, the women’s doubles event has been dropped.
Every team would be required to designate one of these five matches as its “trump” match. If the team wins its trump match, it will benefit by an additional point, while the team that loses its designated trump match will be stripped of a point. The team that topples its rival squad’s trump match does not, however, get any extra points.
The likes of Marin, Sindhu and Nehwal have given the league a touch of glamour in the past, but the addition, this year, of World No 1 Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei, will provide additional buzz to the league. Tai was the stand-out player of 2017, and bagged five Superseries titles, but missed out on the World Championships and the cash-rich year-ending Superseries Finals in Dubai.
It is interesting to note that a rank outsider was the costliest buy at the auction in October. There was heavy bidding for World No 10, HS Prannoy, who eventually went to one of the two new franchises, Ahmedabad Smash Masters for Rs 65 lakh. It may be remembered that Prannoy had been unbeaten in all his seven matches in the second edition of the PBL; and that factor may have swayed the bidding in his favour.
World No 3, Kidambi Srikanth, who won four Superseries titles from five entries into the finals in the course of the year, was retained by Awadhe Warriors for Rs 56.1 lakh, and forms a potent singles combination with Nehwal. The Lucknow side had used their “Right to Match” card to retain his services.
China’s Tian Houwei, at Rs 58 lakh, was an even more costly purchase than Srikanth, though Delhi Dashers thought he was worth paying that price. Taiwan’s Tai was picked up by the Ahmedabad Smash Masters for Rs 52 lakh, while reigning and former world champions Axelsen and Marin were seen to be worth a purse of Rs 50 lakh each, by Bangalore and Hyderabad, respectively.
Left-handed doubles specialist Chris Adcock of England (Rs 54 lakh to Chennai Smashers), Wang Tzu Wei of Taiwan (Rs 52 lakh to North East Warriors), Son Wan Ho of South Korea (Rs 50 lakh to Mumbai Rockets), and retired doubles specialist Lee Yong Dae of Korea (Rs 46.8 lakh to Mumbai Rockets) were the other major purchases at the action-packed auction.
While Singapore Open champion B Sai Praneeth (Rs 40 lakh to Hyderabad Hunters) and Sameer Verma (Rs 52 lakh to Mumbai Rockets) were among the biggest earners, India's top-ranked doubles shuttler, N Sikki Reddy, managed only Rs 6.25 lakh when she was retained by the Blasters.
It all promises an exciting 23 days of high-quality badminton, albeit in a gimmicky format that will make for short, sharp matches, calling on the stroke-making skills of the players, rather than on their staying powers.
The full match schedule is as follows:
|Chennai vs Lucknow||Saturday, 23 December||Guwahati|
|North East vs Hyderabad||Sunday, 24 December||Guwahati|
|Delhi vs Mumbai||Monday, 25 December||Guwahati|
|North East vs Ahmedabad||Tuesday, 26 December||Guwahati|
|Chennai vs Mumbai||Wednesday, 27 December||Delhi|
|Delhi vs Bengaluru||Thursday, 28 December||Delhi|
|Ahmedabad vs Hyderabad||Friday, 29 December||Delhi|
|North East vs Lucknow||Saturday, 30 December||Delhi|
|Delhi vs Hyderabad||Sunday, 31 December||Delhi|
|Bengaluru vs Mumbai||Monday, 1 January||Lucknow|
|Lucknow vs Ahmedabad||Tuesday, 2 January||Lucknow|
|Chennai vs Delhi||Wednesday, 3 January||Lucknow|
|Lucknow vs Mumbai||Thursday, 4 January||Lucknow|
|Bengaluru vs North East||Friday, 5 January||Chennai|
|Chennai vs Ahmedabad||Saturday, 6 January||Chennai|
|Hyderabad vs Lucknow||Sunday, 7 January||Chennai|
|Chennai vs Bengaluru||Monday, 8 January||Chennai|
|Mumbai vs Ahmedabad||Tuesday, 9 January||Chennai|
|Delhi vs North East||Wednesday, 10 January||Hyderabad|
|Hyderabad vs Bengaluru||Thursday, 11 January||Hyderabad|
|Semi-final 1||Friday, 12 January||Hyderabad|
|Semi-final 2||Saturday, 13 January||Hyderabad|
|Final||Sunday, 14 January||Hyderabad|
The following are the full team lists (names not in brackets are Indian):
Ahmedabad Smash Masters:
Men's singles: Sourabh Verma, Siril Verma, HS Prannoy
Women's singles: Tai Tzu Ying (Taiwan), Sri Krishna Priya
Men's doubles: Law Cheuk Him (Hong Kong), Lee Chun Hei Reginald (Hong Kong), Kidambi Nandagopal
Women's doubles: Kamilla Rytter Juhl (Denmark), Stefani Stoeva (Bulgaria)
Men's singles: Parupalli Kashyap, Kidambi Srikanth, Harshit Agarwal
Women's singles: Saina Nehwal, Sai Uttejitha Rao
Men's doubles: Hendra Setiawan (Indonesia), Or Chin Chung (Hong Kong), Tang Chung Man (Hong Kong)
Women's doubles: Christinna Pedersen (Denmark), Mahima Agarwal
Men's singles: Viktor Axelsen (Denmark), Chong Wei Feng (Malaysia), Harsheel Dani
Women's singles: Kristy Gilmour (Scotland), Rituparna Das
Men's doubles: Manu Attri, Kim Sa Ran (Korea), Mathias Boe (Denmark)
Women's doubles: K Maneesha, N Sikki Reddy
Men's singles: Brice Leverdez (France), Aditya Joshi, Daniel Farid, Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (Thailand)
Women's singles: PV Sindhu, Tanvi Lad
Men's doubles: Chris Adcock (Great Britain), Lee Yang (Korea), B Sumeeth Reddy
Women's doubles: Gabrielle Adcock (Great Britain)
Men's singles: Lee Hyun Il (Korea), B Sai Praneeth, Rahul Yadav
Women's singles: Carolina Marin (Spain), Rasika Raje
Men's doubles: Lu Ching Yao (Taiwan), Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Yoo Yeon Seong (Korea)
Women's doubles: Pia Zebadiah (Indonesia), Anoushka Parikh
Men's singles: Tian Houwei (China), Wong Wing Ki Vincent (Hong Kong), RMV Gurusaidutt
Women's singles: Sung Ji Hyun (Korea), Shreyanshi Pardeshi
Men's doubles: Pranaav Jerry Chopra, Ivan Sozonov (Russia), Vladimir Ivanov (Russia)
Women's doubles: Ashwini Ponnappa, Arathi Sara Sunil
Men's singles: Sameer Verma, Son Wan Ho (Korea)
Women's singles: Beiwen Zhang (USA)
Men's doubles: Lee Yong Dae (Korea), Tan Boon Heong (Malaysia), MR Arjun, Tarun Kona, Sanyam Shukla
Women's doubles: Gabriela Stoeva (Bulgaria), Kuhoo Garg
North Eastern Warriors:
Men's singles: Ajay Jayaram, Pratul Joshi, Tzu Wei Wang (Taiwan)
Women's singles: Michelle Li (Canada), Ruthvika Shivani
Men's doubles: Chirag Shetty, Shin Baek Cheol (Korea), Kim Gi Jung (Korea)
Women's doubles: Prajakta Sawant, Sanyogita Ghorpade
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Former World No 1 Srikanth, who had last made it to semis at the Hong Kong Super 500 in November, 2019, will clash with top seed and world no. 2 Viktor Axelsen of Denmark.
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