Each time a Chinese shuttler moved to the backcourt and jumped up for a smash, the crowd went ‘Shā’. It simply means kill.
And a figurative ‘kill’ is what China does in badminton at the Asian Games. The nation had – before the Hangzhou Games – won 43 gold medals in the sport across editions, and six gold medals in the men’s team event.
On Sunday, it was up against India, which had no gold in badminton and no medal at all in its team’s event.
The Chinese team was ranked higher than the Indians in both singles and doubles. If India had to upset the continent’s best in its own cauldron, it had to do without its best singles player, H. S. Prannoy, who was injured, and by winning its first three matches for the gold medal.
At the Binjiang Gymnasium, in front of a packed audience, India got two-thirds of the job done, but its lack of depth and China’s overwhelming quality helped the host clinch another team gold at the Asian Games.
Thunderous ‘Jiayou, China! (Come on, China!)‘ greeted every time the Chinese won a point, lost one or trailed behind. The Indian bench, joined by the cricket team and head coach V. V. S. Laxman, tried to get the ‘Jheetega India’ going from the sides, but they were quickly drowned out ‘Jiayao’s by the 4000 spectators in the arena.
But there was a moment when those chants died down when India took a stunning 2-0 lead, thanks to Lakshya Sen in the singles and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty in the doubles.
Lakshya’s superb defence-into-attack game took the opening match into the third game where he was trailing 15-16. Then, he switched gears out of nowhere to fire a series of forehand smashes to which Shi Yuqi had no answer to race into four match points before clinching the tie.
Among the five rubbers, India would have felt secure in the knowledge of Satwiksairaj and Chirag getting the win for the team and they did it with ease. World No. 2 pair Weikeng Liang and Chang Wang threw everything at them only to see the Indians find answers.
And in no time, India was up 2-0.
In the opening game of the next match, Kidambi Srikanth, who has not had his best year, channelled his vintage self in pushing the All England champion, Li Shifeng.
A fan covered her face in disbelief as Srikanth was a point away – twice – from securing the game against the World No. 8.
But Shifeng found the reserve to fight back and when Srikanth’s return went wide, the Chinese dropped his badminton and roared towards his bench.
The team, which was still 0-2 down, celebrated like they had won the gold. The Chinese bench knew it and the Indian bench would have seen it coming too.
And when China smelt blood, they went for the shā!
Shifeng rode the momentum to pile on the smashes, sealing the set 21-9 and giving China a lifeline. Most importantly, it gave the host a point on the scoreboard.
Everyone in the venue knew what was to follow.
China had its second-best doubles team, and world no. 8 pairing taking on the scratch pair of Dhruv Kapila and Sai Pratheek, followed by world no. 20 Hongyang Weng facing Mithun Manjunath, ranked 33 places below.
Manjunath found out he was playing on the morning of the final after a back issue ruled Prannoy out of the final. With Prannoy, India could have stood a chance – he had beaten Weng in the Malaysia Masters final in May – but it wasn’t to be.
“We missed the services of Prannoy. He is our top-ranked player. He was unwell after yesterday’s match and couldn’t recover on time. We didn’t want to play through his back injury. His presence would have actually added to the team’s strength today. Still, we think we fought well but the Chinese deserve the credit,” said the Indian team coach Pullela Gopichand.
The scorelines in the next two matches read 21-6, 21-15 and 21-12, 21-4 in favour of China as it added a seventh team gold medal.
As the Chinese team got onto the court, jubilantly rejoicing in another victory, the stadium PA system blasted Wo Ai Ni Zhong Gou (I love you China), with the whole arena singing along and revelling in the nation’s domination.
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