India's U-17 shuttlers brushing shoulders with PBL's best

Sixteen-year-old Akshaya Arumugam, fourteen-year-old Gayatri Gopichand and thirteen-year-old Tasnim Mir are selected to be part of the franchises through PBL's new initiative.

PBL has come up with an initiative for the 2018 season where franchises must include an U-17 Indian player in their squad.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Premier Badminton League (PBL) has a new feature this season. All teams have selected an u-17 Indian player who gets to be with the team for the entire season.

“It’s a special experience,” says Vijay Prabhakar, owner of Chennai Smashers. “It’s an exposure like any other in that these players follow the same routine as the others in the team. They basically get to be like a professional player at the highest level for the duration of the tournament.” 

Sixteen-year old Akshaya Arumugam (Chennai Smashers), the Tamil Nadu State women’s champion whose National women’s singles ranking is 28, says she gets to know the top players’ food habits besides getting to practice with them.

“For instance, I speak a lot to the French player Brice Leverdez (World no. 24 in men’s singles). He said he won’t eat ice cream, burger or pizza before a match,” she says. She adds that the players share inspirational experiences from their personal and professional life.

One aspect that has struck all these youngsters alike, is the intensity of play at the highest level. “They are very serious on-court,” is how Akshaya puts it. Fourteen-year old Gayatri Gopichand, daughter of National coach P. Gopichand, says, “They keep telling us how serious or active one has to be on-court; how your legs have to keep moving all the time.”

Gayatri, who recently won an u-19 all-India junior ranking title, is with Bengaluru Blasters. She says she has to work on her on-court flexibility. “My body is not flexible enough. I have to work on it for better court movement, stretches and dives.”

Thirteen-year old Tasnim Mir from Gujarat, who is with Ahmedabad Smash Masters, says, “They are very aggressive on-court. I realise that I have to improve my footwork.” Her father Irfan Mir is also a coach.

Vijay Prabhakar said the owners were informed about this initiative on the day of auction. He added the PBL will continue with this in the upcoming seasons. While these youngsters don’t get to play matches, Vijay said they might be asked to play if such a situation arises.

It is also discernible that the teams are now increasingly looking to invest effort into setting up their own player-grooming programmes. “Into the third season, now we’re at a stage to come up with our own programmes for player scouting and nurturing. In fact, we have planned to conduct school camps across Tamil Nadu for the next season. We intend to cover around 1000 schools. There’s also a plan to set up academies across the State,” said Vijay, speaking for Chennai Smashers.