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PBL Analysis | Prannoy brilliance and Juhl’s return to form earns ASM another PBL win

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PBL Analysis | Prannoy brilliance and Juhl’s return to form earns ASM another PBL win

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Faizan Qadiri


Hyderabad were expected to put up a strong fight against Ahmedabad Smash Masters yesterday, but the latter showed their class with a comfortable 4-3 win. While HS Prannoy’s win would have shown the coaches that he can play the Trump card, Kamilla Juhl’s return to form would be the biggest positive.

K.R. Juhl/L.C.H. Reginald vs P.Z.Bernadeth/ S.Rankireddy

After losing both their doubles matches in Guwahati, there was some pressure on the Smash Masters’ doubles team to perform yesterday. But they got off to a start that was nothing short of an absolute nightmare. Juhl and Lee appeared to be taken aback by the sheer ferocity of Rankireddy’s smashes as the 17-year-old started off in a similar fashion as he had against the North Eastern Warriors and in no time had the first game wrapped up at 15-4. 

The Smash Masters’ duo, who have won the biggest prizes in the sport, was quick to make a not so subtle change in their tactics in the second game. They ensured that they restricted the number of smash opportunities that they afforded Rankireddy. With their main weapon neutralized, it was only a matter of time before Ahmedabad made it a one-way traffic. Even if the Hunters’ teenager put in a smash, he didn’t get a chance to back it up with another one. Lee, too, had loosened up and his trademark smashes were finding either the bodies of the opponents or the lines. 

The third game was pretty much the same with one massive change – Juhl came into her own as well. The four-time World Championship medalist has not shown her best so far in the two games but, yesterday, it appeared that her partnership with Lee was finally beginning to take some sort of shape. Her net play and more importantly defence in the final game was absolutely tremendous as she made sure that the tempo was at a level where the Hunters had no chance of winning the game. If she can start playing at the level that fans have come to expect, the other teams should well and truly be worried.

Sourabh Verma vs Lee Hyun IL

Both players came into the game with a win under their belt and after losing the first match, the Hunters needed a win to keep their chances alive. The match started with both players just testing each other out but the game soon set into a routine – IL won the long rallies while Sourabh won the shorter ones. However, in no time IL had taken a 9-2 lead. While no credit can be taken away from the Korean, Sourabh didn’t help his cause by trying to be too perfect with his shots. He tried to catch the line on every occasion and on most times ended up hitting the shot with venom but wide. Although he did launch a fightback later on in the game, he fell six points short in the end.

The second game had a similar pattern to it. However, while it should have been Sourabh who came up with a fresh gameplan it was actually the other way around. Realizing that he might not be able to outlast Sourabh, IL decided to target the Indian’s weak point – his backhand. IL kept hitting the shuttle long forcing the Indian to backtrack and hit the shuttle with his back facing his opponent. Although Sourabh did stay in touching distance throughout the game, IL’s tactics resulted in the Indian giving away as many as five points, including the final point of the game. 

Tai Tzu Ying vs Rasika Raje

After Marin pulled out due to an injury niggle, it was always going to be hard for anyone who replaced her. The job fell into the lap of the 22-year-old Rasika Raje, who, quite frankly as the game progressed looked a little overwhelmed by the occasion. Tai didn’t even have to bring her B game to the fore as she dominated the proceedings from the very first instance the shuttle was tossed. From crafty drop shots to searing smashes, it was all there for the fans to see. Yet there was an unerring calmness to her approach. She lost just 11 points in the two games she played and there were only a handful occasions, where she was actually outplayed. Although there is hardly anyone who understands badminton that will doubt he natural talent that she possesses, she hasn’t really been tested so far. In her next match, she will go up against Saina Nehwal and that too in Saina’s backyard. That will be the true test for Tai and would be a welcome sight for Ahmedabad who would want her to play a “big game” before the knockouts arrive.

HS Prannoy vs B Sai Praneeth

Game of the match. With Tai expected to go up against Marin, the Smash Masters decided to hand their Trump card game to HS Prannoy and he did not disappoint. After losing the first two points, Prannoy started playing a more aggressive brand of badminton and won six on the stretch. While the points were won in a variety of ways, there was the common element of Prannoy looking to attack as soon as possible. Realizing this, Praneeth went on a 7-0 run as well by being more proactive but there were far too many points that Prannoy was just giving away, be it missing easy drops or just misjudging shots. As Prannoy started showing his wide range of shots again, Praneeth just lost his cool. He started committing uncharacteristic errors handing the Ahmedabad star an easy win. 

Prannoy has been on a magical run in the PBL since last year and a major reason for that has been his backhand exploits. He used that to great effect as he combined his great net play with deception to leave Praneeth scampering towards the backcourt on multiple occasions winning easy points. While Praneeth got some of his shots spot on, the difference between the winners was too big to put any sort of pressure on the National Champion. Prannoy’s ability to keep Praneeth at the net played a huge part in the second game being a one-sided affair. If he can continue with his form, there is a good chance he can go unbeaten in the PBL yet again.

K.Nandagopal/ L.H.C Reginald vs M.Kido/ Y.Y Seong

Having already wrapped up the match, Ahmedabad had a great chance to add some more misery on the Hunters and it looked like that was exactly where the game was heading. Playing his first game of the tournament, Nandagopal looked like a seasoned pro, outscoring the more prolific Lee in the first game. In a see-saw affair that saw the lead being exchanged constantly, Kido and Seong played right into the Masters’ hands by trying to match them in offence. It backfired spectacularly as Nandgopal at the net and Lee in the backcourt just took them apart. The duo even had a couple of game points but failed to convert them and handed the game to the Hunters.

The second game was the exact opposite as Kido and Seong played a more defensive game and waited for Ahmedabad to commit the errors while taking their chances when they arrived. It panned out exactly as they would have hoped as their opponents were dragged into long rallies that they were no longer able to control. Despite Kiddo missing two glorious chances in the game, there was never going to be any other winner as the Hunters’ duo wrapped up the win with four points to spare.

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