Nothing of note was achieved by the Indians in Malaysia as the men and women lost by identical 3-1 margins to China and Indonesia respectively in the quarters of the Badminton Asian Team Championship. The closest they came to sniffing a shy at the semis was when India’s second Men’s Doubles pairing of Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy, ranked 30, won the opening set against Chinese World No 51 Han Chengkai and Zhou Haodong. The grinning curve promptly turned to a frown as the Indians couldn’t sustain their speed and went down 21-14, 19-21, 14-21 in 53 minutes in a must-win match after India trailed 2-1.
The Indian pair were two points away from levelling with China – at 19-17 in the second. A four point flurry from the pair of 21-year-olds from China chomped into the Indians’ floating hope and ended the challenge like a prick to a bubble. It’s not the first time that India’s stock pair of Olympians couldn’t finish off after a good start – but this might hurt more, given how they’d set it up nicely before imploding. It needed a heart of steel – or steady badminton in the least – to match that intensity in the decider. The Indians came up short against China’s fifth-best pairing in the rankings.
Earlier, Kidambi Srikanth shrugged off a lapse of concentration in the opening set break which saw him go from 11-all to losing 21-14, to come back commandingly in the next two sets. He would play like an India No 1 – aware of his responsibility against China’s Shi Yuqi, ranked two places below him – to give his country a solid start.
Something snapped – for the better – as the 25-year-old would take off from 8-all in the second to relentlessly attack and rattle the Chinese and claim the next 21-16. He was in blistering touch in the decider, winning 21-7, with dashing disdain.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, of whom much was expected, learnt the hard way that the Chinese have been world beaters for a fairly long time owing to their ability to tie up the finishing flourish. It didn’t matter that the Indians were in the hunt – breathing down the Chinese necks till 16-16 in the first and 18-18 in the latter.
He Jiting and Tan Qiang, ranked 41, would allow the Indians to snap at their heels but only till the start of the home stretch, when they would fiendishly summon the winners at a hastened pace. It is a technique – the closing out gameplan – that the young Indians will need to learn swiftly, if they want to be more than exciting prospects.
Sai Praneeth playing the second singles, has a Super series title to his name. But he looks like a player who on rough days will pinch himself to believe that he actually went the whole hog in a competition. He started spectacularly against Qiao Bin. But there’s no mystery really to his meltdown from that 21-9 first set start. He just progressively tired.
Sai has a tricky game to read – when he can pull it all together. To continue to confound, he needs endurance and a massive dose of confidence. But he runs out self belief faster than compulsive downloaders run out of limited dataplans. So a visually attractive game is reduced to nought – tangled in an irresolute mind and a body that sags in self doubt. He would let the second game drift 21-11, and freeze mid-decider to gift away a six point surge, only to never recover from that huge gap that the Chinese happily gobbled when offered.
Painful 68 minutes
It was a typically painful 68 minutes leading upto inevitability that is Sai Praneeth walking off lost, and a colossal waste of a pretty game that the man boasts. China was vulnerable, but not beatable in the end – and only because the Indians couldn’t collectively push forward the boat that sunk.
The women offered little of resistance – with just PV Sindhu beating back the jousty challenge of Fitriani Fitriani 21-13, 24-22 as Indonesia walloped Indians 3-1. Rankings are pretty good indicators – if not of form or class – but the store that players put on those reputations. Whether it was Saina Nehwal in the last decade or Sindhu now, India’s elite performers get the job done with or without support.
It was a disappointing scoreline for Ashwini Ponappa – Sikki Reddy who went down 21-5, 21-16 in 29 minutes against seasoned Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu. Indonesian pairs will always be known for their court craft and speed, but the Indians got properly blitzed as tie scores went 1-1. Then Shri Krishna Priya was shot down 21-8, 21-15 by Hanna Ramadini, and Sindhu combinng with Sanyogita Ghorpade were similarly whirlpooled 21-9, 21-18 despite leading for most part of the second set.