The 19th Asian Gamesto selectfor were the ideal place to create history for our 16-strong badminton squad And though we did create history by reaching the finals of the men’s team we could have actually won the gold had it not been a myopic decision by the BAI and selector.
The decision was not to select Lakshya Sen for open events the much in form Sen who could do nothing but twiddle his thumbs. The reason is that the squad was selected as per the rankings three months back. While they could have been close to as much as a month. One cannot say 3 months prior to the tournament what your form will be on that date. The second hoopla done was when HS Prannoy did not play due to an injury in team events, but two days later he was given the green signal to play. Rumours have it that Prannoy was asked to concentrate on the individuals.
Anyhow let’s see how our stalwarts performed at the asian games. Our ladies’ team led by PV Sindhu lost to Thailand 3-0. Starting with the two-medal winner PV Sindhu at the Olympics, who was supposed to give us a good start lost the first singles to Pornpawee Chochuwong, in three games, after winning the first game easily 21-14. It did look as if she would run away with the match she lost the plot and the next two games 15-21\15-21.
Our best doubles team of Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly could not get past Jongkolphan Kititgarakul and Rawinda Prajong Jai. The Indian pair could have done much better as they kept the opponents engaged in the first game losing 19-21. But in the second they crumbled 5-21 under pressure. Ashmita Chaliha playing our third match was easy meat for the highly experienced Busanan who won in 45 minutes 15-21\9-21.
The men hammered Nepal 3-0 to set up a meeting with the talented Korean team in the Semifinals. Korea had defeated the top-seeded team of Indonesia. This was a resounding match, and India was assured of a medal, the first in 37 years after the bronze in 1986 at Seoul. India beat Korea 3-2 in this Asian games to enter the finals thereby we are assured of at least a silver medal. This was a thriller, with a nail-biting finish.
Indian captain and world number 7, HS Prannoy gave us the perfect start defeating Hyeokjin Jeon the 47th ranker,18-21\21-16\21-19.
However, we lost the next match when Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty lost to world 4th ranker Seung Jae Seo and Minhyuk Kang13-21\24-26.
The tie score was now 1-1 when Lakshya Sen entered the arena with deep concentration written on his face. And in just 44 minutes he showed the exit to YungyuLee 21-7\21-9 to give India a lead of 2-1, but we lost the lead again when our doubles pair of Dhruv Kapil and Arjun Ramachandran bowed out tamely to Wonho Kim and Sungseunhg Na 16-21\11-21.
It was now left to our former world-ranked Kidambi Srikanth to deliver the final blow for India by taking the Korean Geonyeop Cho to task. Cho was all over Kidambi in the first game, never allowing the Indian to get into any rhythm. but Kidambi Srikanth, a slower player now, played the match of his lifetime and propelled his team into the first-ever finals in any Asian games. Cho had lost the second game 16-21 but came out for the decider with all guns blazing to edge out with short leads But with the score tied up at 12-12 after the interval. Srikanth reeled off 6 points in a row, to win the game 21-14 to take India in its very first entry into the finals. Here India was to face China, playing in their record 7th entry in the finals.
India v China finals of Men’s team championships
Heading into the finals against the defending champions the India team had the odds stacked against it. It was a big blow for the squad when they came to know that Prannoy was withdrawing due to an injury sustained in that marathon match against Korea. But we had diehard shuttlers who had tasted world glory after winning the Thomas Cup last year. Anything was winnable in the game for them. Impossible was not a word that existed in the dictionaries of the likes of Lakshya Sen, Saisatwik Rangareddy or Chirag Shetty. As they say ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ with Prannoy sidelined, Laksya and the deadly doubles duo of Saisatwik and Chirag Shetty stepped in to rise to the occasion with victories against really tough opponents in front of a screaming home crowd.
They gave a scintillating display of class badminton and a 2-0 lead to India which the rest of the team failed to exploit.
Lakshya took on the top Chinese Shi Yu Ki 22-20\14-21\21-18. He played his heart out but couldn’t win the second which he lost. In the third too, he was trailing 13-8 but never let go of the target which simply put was to give his team a flying start. Diving all over he blunted the furious attack of Yuki and ran for a winner.
Sairaj Ranka Reddy and Chirag Shetty stepped on the court and annihilated Weikeng Liang and Chang Wang, the world 2-ranked pair who also got a bronze medal at the world championships a few weeks back, 21-15/21-18. The onus was now on Kidambi Srikant to make our dream come true. But despite leading with two game points, he could not put the shuttle across the net for one last time.
This was a classic case of so near, yet so far. The bad luck for India continued unabated. Doubles specialist Arjun Ramachandran also got hit by an injury and had to be substituted by Sai Praneeth. This scratch combination played against the current world no 8 pair Yuchen Liu and Xuanyi Ou. They were far too good in comparison and won the match for China, 21-6\21-15 bringing the tie score at 2-2. A rookie Mithun Manjunath world 53 ranked stepped into the boiling cauldron in the absence of Prannoy but he was far too slow against Weng Hongyang world 20 and crashed out 12-21\4-21 in 22 minutes giving the gold to the hosts.
In the open events, while PV Sindhu lost to He Bingjiao of China in the quarter-finals 16-21/12-21, there was good news for Indian fans as HS Prannoy assured himself of a bronze medal when he showed his undoubted class in defeating Malaysian Ace in 80 minutes. Prannoy was also a Matchpoint point down. But the quintessential street fighter in him never gives up.
Prannoy also became the second Indian after Syed Modi to win a medal in the Seoul Games 37 years back. Suffering from severe back spasms his never-say-die attitude was apparent as he battled with concentration to win the marathon 21-16\21-23\22-20.
The history-creating dynamic duo of Satwiksairaj and Chirag Shetty had a gala time as they toyed with Prajogo Johann and Nge Joo Jie of Singapore winning 21-9/21-7. Next, they had a very tough match coming up as they had to face China Aaron and Wooi Yik Soh of Malaysia.
HS Prannoy could not capitalise on an 8-3 lead in the first game against Li Shifeng of China and lost 17-21/12-21. Thus Prannoy had to be satisfied with the bronze.
But nonetheless, it has been a good outing for him.
This was the first medal in 41 years for India after the late Syed Modi got one in the Asian Games of Seoul, in 1982. This was the first time Prannoy lost to. the reigning all-England Champion after defeating him 4 times before.
But the best performance for India was given by the incredible men’s team pair of SaiSatwik RangiReddy and Chirag Shetty when they snatched the gold with a class performance against the Korean pair of Choi Sol Gyu and Kim Unhone 21-18/21-16.
But it was their victory over constant nemesis, Aaron Chia And Soh Wooi Yik in the semifinals that was really the reason why they had the confidence to win the gold.
Head to Head it was A mind-blowing 10-1 in the favour of the Malaysia pair. But the determination written loud on the face of SaiSatwik RangiReddy and Chirag Shetty said the whole story. The Indians were like bulls on a rampage- very good at the net and followed with furious attacks they never allowed opponents to get into any rhythm. It was 46 minutes of cruelty.
There was a double whammy for the Indian duo. They also became world number 1 after winning the title.
The Indian contingent winning 9 medals was in stark contrast to the once powerhouse of the game, Indonesia, who went home without a single medal.