The IBL will help the lesser-known players enjoy their 15 days of fame like never before
In the ensuing fortnight, the Indian Badminton League promises to change a lot for home-bred talent and the lovers of shuttle sport in the country. It also offers certain players an opportunity to establish their identity on a platform that is expected to raise the profile of the game in India.
For long, the ever-growing Indian middle-class has related to badminton as a friendly community sport. It wouldn’t be surprising to find a member or two from almost every family who has played the game in the open spaces in the vicinity of their residence. But ask them to name the current National champion in ladies singles and chances are that they would answer, “Saina Nehwal.”
They cannot be blamed for their ignorance. In fact, National title-holder Sayali Gokhale has done little in international events and, therefore, found no takers at the IBL auction. In the next 17 days, the IBL will allow the large followers of badminton in the country a chance to know their own stars better.
Live coverage of all 75 matches, spread over 15 league ties, in addition to the best-of-five matches in the semifinals and final will help the lesser-known Indian players enjoy their 15 days of fame like never before.
Before gaining familiarity with the likes of singles players Ajay Jayaram, R.M.V. Gurusaidutt, B. Sai Praneeth, H.S. Prannoy and K. Srikanth, the Indian fans will be looking to P. Kashyap to test World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei on the night of August 15 when Bangalore takes on favourite Mumbai at the Siri Fort Indoor Stadium here.
Simlarly, the afternoon of Independence Day offers an intriguing, first-ever clash between Saina and soon-to-be Arjuna Awardee P.V. Sindhu. Given the current form of both players, a close contest is on the cards.
In April, the much-anticipated face-off between the two never happened in the India Open as Saina made a premature exit. That week, P. Gopi Chand, coach of both Saina and Sindhu, had predicted a victory for the Olympic bronze medallist. On Tuesday, Gopi was non-committal about the result.
Overall, looking at the three ties over the next two days, Delhi Smashers and Pune Pistons open the action in what is seen as a battle of equals. On Thursday, Hyderabad Hotshots will be the favourite though it faces a formidable Lucknow before the mighty Mumbai prepares to get Bangalore out of the way.
For Pune, World No. 2 Germany’s Juliane Schenk, who is planning to retire by year-end, will be keen to justify the bid of $90,000, that many thought was way too high on the day of the auction.
Having chosen to skip the World Championship after receiving a letter of dismissal from the German Badminton Federation, Schenk continues as a professional. In the opener, she should find it easy against Arundhati Pantawane, a former National finalist.
In the two men’s encounters, there is not much to choose between World Championship bronze medallist and seventh-ranked Nyugen Tien Minh, who can help Pune’s cause should he get past Malaysia’s Daren Liew, the World No. 16, who replaced an injured Wing Ki Wong last week.
Former National champion Saurabh Verma should find it tough against an upbeat B. Sai Praneeth.
The host’s strength clearly lies in doubles. After all, it spent $100,000 for Malaysians Kien Keat Koo and Boon Heong Tan, ranked second in men’s doubles. With G. Jwala likely to join hands with Keat Koo in mixed doubles, Delhi has one more reason to fancy its chances.