India’s obsession with the sport of badminton got the necessary boost a few years ago when Saina Nehwal rose to the pinnacle of the sport. That followed by PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth’s success which led to the formation of the IBL which was quickly renamed the PBL a few years later.
Three years on, the competition has become an important part of the badminton calendar and serves as a warm-up to the strenuous season that lays ahead. The unique style of scoring added to the change of turning a sport that is predominantly an individual one to a team-oriented one and that has captivated not just fans but the teams as well.
Ahmedabad finally decided to throw their hat into the ring as well and announced their team for the ongoing season by the name of the Smash Masters. While the name might not be the best decision their franchise ever made, everything else certainly has been. From attracting the World No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying to last season’s best player HS Prannoy, they have made nothing but fabulous calls since their introduction to the league.
Whether or not the team would be able to get together was a big question with a lot of big influences in the squad was a big question, but all those apprehensions were answered as soon as the first shuttle was tossed up in the air. I had the opportunity to witness the team practice in Delhi and the camaraderie that they players shared was the only thing that set them apart from the other teams that came in to practice after them.
But team morale isn’t the reason they have a great chance of winning the PBL this year. The biggest reason is that they appear to be guaranteed three points in every game they play. The team’s strategy looks pretty straight-forward – Use Prannoy or Tai as the Trump cards and put the pressure on the opponents. Tai, in particular, appears to have an aura of invincibility around her game. Granted that she has not really squared off against any real challenger so far, it is highly unlikely that Saina Nehwal will outplay the Taiwanese. While Sindhu might be able to put up a strong challenge, her frailty at the net could lead to her downfall. Marin has a 4-5 record against Tai but the Spaniard has lost four matches in a row to the World No. 1.
Prannoy, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether. After winning every match in the PBL last season, the Indian started exactly where he had left off in the previous season. However, there was one major difference between the two seasons. For the Rockets last season, Ajay Jayaram was seen as the top-ranked singles player while Prannoy played second fiddle. However, this season, not only has he been promoted as the main go-to guy in singles, he is also the face and the captain of the franchise. In terms of results, he might not have faced the most dominant opponents, but Tzu Wei Wang and Sai Praneeth are no scrubs. Prannoy’s real challenge will be against Srikanth in the next match but his record at home against all players certainly makes him a slight favorite for the match.
If Prannoy does actually do the unimaginable and lose a game, the Masters still have Sourabh Verma to fall back on. His main opponents include the likes of Parupalli Kashyap, Chong Wei Feng, and Aditya Joshi who in all honesty he can beat. He will enter all the games as a favorite and he needs to win just one or two in the league stage to ensure his team makes it all the way to the knockout rounds.
What this means is that in two of the remaining three league matches, the Smash Masters would require just one more point to secure a win. That again should not be too much trouble for the team from Ahmedabad. While their fans might being gaga over their exploits in the singles matches, most of them might not realize the potential their doubles teams possess. In Kamilla Rytter Juhl, they have an absolute monster who has won almost everything that is on offer for a doubles player. Along with Lee Chun Hei Reginald, they can form a partnership to be feared by every team in the league. After looking rusty in the first match against North Eastern Warriors, and the first game of the match against the Hunters, the duo appeared to
The only combination that the Masters would be worried about is their Men’s doubles match. In both the matches that they have played thus far, they have been well and truly outplayed. Lee Chun Hei Reginald is the only constant in the team. He has been partnered by Law Cheuk Him and Kidambi Nandagopal in the two matches so far but it was only with the latter that we saw some sort of partnership. They might have lost that game but Nandagopal’s exploits at the net not only won him plaudits but also showed the management another viable and possibly more reliable option for the remainder of the tournament.