At the recently-concluded Badminton World Championships in Nanjing, China, of the 20 medal winners, Carolina Marin, who won the women’s singles gold, was the only non-Asian. This, if anything, should show the kind of challenge India has to be up for at the Asian Games in Jakarta.
There will be some respite because unlike at the Worlds, the continental competition limits the number of entries from a country to two players in singles and two pairs in doubles. But India’s isn’t a rich history at the Asian Games. While Syed Modi remains the only individual medallist (bronze, Delhi 1982), the bronze that India won in the women’s team event at the 2014 edition in Incheon was the nation’s first medal since 1986 Seoul.
“The first goal should be to try and defend what we won,” legend Prakash Padukone told
. “Then we should look to improve upon that. But it will be tough because this is almost like the Olympics or the World Championship. We did well at the Commonwealth Games. But with due credit to the effort, this is going to be totally different.”
India’s chances will again rest on the trio of Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu and K. Srikanth. However, if recent form is any guide, only Sindhu emerges with credit, courtesy her gallant silver in Nanjing.
Saina’s loss to Marin was dispiriting, as she won a mere 17 points in a contest which lasted just 31 minutes.
Srikanth, who was the World No. 1 not so long ago, has had a middling season and his inability to capitalise on a relatively easy draw, won’t help his confidence.
Sindhu, on the other hand, was outstanding for most part, reserving her best for the twin defeats of the Japanese duo of Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi in the quarterfinal and semifinal respectively. A repeat performance, though easier said than done, will fetch a medal in all certainty.
It will be in the team events however that India’s depth will be severely tested, with the format — three singles and two doubles matches constituting a tie — requiring a country to be good at both. Among women, the huge a gap in quality below Saina and Sindhu will put a premium on a doubles win. While the seasoned Ashwini Ponappa and N. Sikki Reddy, along with Rutaparna Panda and Aarthi Sara Sunil will share this responsibility, the non-selection of a standby doubles team seems a gamble.
A scratch doubles pair involving one or more singles players is something India hasn’t been averse to in the past but the inclusion of youngsters Akarshi Kashyap and Gayathri Gopi Chand — the latter, daughter of National coach P. Gopi Chand — despite their chances of playing seemingly remote, has invited controversy. The addition of Gayathri in particular has seen allegations of nepotism and bias levelled against Gopichand.
The men, though, aren’t as top heavy with a clutch of quality players in H.S. Prannoy, who won the bronze at the Badminton Asia Championships in April, B. Sai Praneeth and Sameer Verma out to prove their worth alongside Srikanth.
In Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, there is a doubles team with potential. Satwiksairaj, all of 17, even impressed in mixed doubles at the World Championships, as he and Ashwini became only the second Indian pair after V. Diju and Jwala Gutta to reach the quarterfinals.
It will be tough because this is almost like the Olympics or the World Championship.— Prakash Padukone
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