Unfazed by coronavirus fears, a full-strength Indian men’s team landed in Manila, Philippines to compete at the Asia Team Championships from Tuesday, eyeing a medal-winning performance which will give the players crucial ranking points in Olympic year.
The Indian women team, which was supposed to be led by young shuttlers Ashmita Chaliha and Malvika Bansod, chose not to travel for the competition, fearing the spread of coronavirus, which has claimed over 900 lives in China so far.
A 44-year-old Chinese tourist from Wuhan had died on February 1 in Philippines, which has reported three virus cases so far. The two others were discharged from hospital after their tests were reported to be negative.
Former world number one and 2019 world championship bronze medallist Kidambi Srikanth will lead the Indian team which also has H. S. Prannoy, Subhankar Dey and young Lakshya Sen.
The men’s team, which won the bronze medal in the 2016 Championship, has been clubbed with two-time defending champion Indonesia and host Philippines in group A.
The top two teams in each group will make it to the quarterfinals.
India, which lost to China 1-3 in the last edition in 2018, will begin its campaign against Philippines. This is only the third edition of the Asia Team championship, which serves as Asia qualifiers for the Thomas and Uber Cup.
Praneeth and Co. are expected to have an easy outing against the host, which is not a prominent badminton nation, but the clash against Indonesia will be a tough one.
Indonesia boasts of Asian Games champion and world number seven Jonatan Christie and world number five Anthony Sinisuka Gintingd. It also has the world number one pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo apart from formidable Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan.
Praneeth was the brightest star for India in 2019 with a medal at world championship and a runner-up finish at the Spain Masters. He was consistent at the BWF World Tour events that saw him emerge as the best placed Indian in BWF ranking at number 11.
World No. 15 Srikanth and 27th ranked Prannoy, however, endured a difficult year with the former finding it difficult to cross the first rounds, while the latter showing sparks of recovery in a season during which he was bothered by health issues.
Sen, however, has been a revelation with five title wins in 2019, including two Super 100 events at SaarLorLux Open and Dutch Open. The 18-year-old from Uttarakhand, who is a 2018 Youth Olympics silver medallist and 2018 Asian Junior champion, is expected to play one of the three singles.
In the doubles events, Thailand Open champions Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty and fast-improving pair of Dhruv Kapila and MR Arjun would carry the onus of spearheading the Indian challenge
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