PBL: Doubles a bigger hit!

The leading Chinese names once again stayed away from the league. This being an Olympic year, several illustrious singles players chose to use the time to train for the bigger events leading to qualification for the Games in Rio. Therefore, the field was clearly inferior to the one seen in 2013.

Delhi Acers team, the Premier Badminton League champion.   -  Sandeep Saxena

NEW DELHI, 17/01/2016: Filmstars Akshay Kumar (centre), Abhishek Bachchan (right) and Ritesh Deshmukh seen in action during the Premier Badminton League (PBL) final in New Delhi on January 17, 2016. Photo: Sandeep Saxena   -  Sandeep Saxena

When it comes to holding ‘leagues’ across sports, India should be placed in a different league. The cricket Indian Premier League set the ball rolling in 2008 and since then many disciplines have followed suit.

Backed by pro-active television broadcasters, hockey, tennis, football, kabaddi, wrestling and badminton have enjoyed varying degrees of success, with table tennis set to join the bandwagon.

Of the lot, badminton remains the only one that struggled to hold its second edition as scheduled after a fairly volatile inaugural event in 2013. Controversy after controversy courted the Indian Badminton League. Right from the day of the players’ auction when the base-price of Jwala Gutta and her doubles partner Ashwini Ponnappa was sliced to half, the conduct of the league was far from smooth.

Therefore, it was not surprising to find the second edition remaining a non-starter despite tentative dates being floated by the Badminton Association of India.

Eventually, it needed a court intervention to let BAI go ahead with the league but not before their former commercial partner Sporty Solutionz won a case to protect their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), thereby denying the BAI to retain the name, logo or title used in the first edition.

Finally, 28 months after the first edition, the re-christened “Premier Badminton League” got under way, after the BAI decided to take total control of the event.

The leading Chinese names once again stayed away from the league. This being an Olympic year, several illustrious singles players chose to use the time to train for the bigger events leading to qualification for the Games in Rio. Therefore, the field was clearly inferior to the one seen in 2013.

Not surprisingly, the competition in singles lacked quality. But doubles proved a bigger hit with supreme intensity standing out all the way.

In singles, though former World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei was around for Hyderabad, his surprise defeats to Bangalore’s K. Srikanth and Delhi’s Tommy Sugiarto proved that the costliest male player in the fray was not fully into the competition mode.

Saina Nehwal, the top-draw among the women in the players’ auction, also made limited appearances in the six-team league. Hampered by a leg injury, this Lucknow-spearhead lost in the semifinals to Mumbai’s lesser-known Chinese import Han Li in a battle that decided the contest.

From an Indian perspective, the men failed to make an impression with Srikanth and a half-fit P. Kashyap falling short of playing to their reputation. H. S. Prannoy and R. M. V. Gurusaidutt, too, lacked consistency and failed to rise to the occasion.

Collectively as a team, Delhi surpassed expectations after losing their first two encounters. Not rated among the title-contenders in the Rs. 6.5 crore league, Delhi covered the distance mainly owing to the consistent show of Tommy Sugiarto who won all his six matches. In fact, Delhi’s show in the two men’s singles more than made up for their poor performance in the women’s singles. In men’s doubles, the Malaysian duo of Koo Keat Kien and Tan Boon Heong raised the bar whenever needed.

Mumbai, one of the favourites, were routed 5-0 in the final league match by Delhi. Earlier, Mumbai managed to reach the final with a surprise semifinal victory over formidable Lucknow.

In the final, where four out of five matches produced predictable results, the doubles match proved a clincher for Delhi. In a gripping battle, Koo Keat Kien and Tan Boob Heong subdued Vladimir Ivanov and Mathias Boe by winning the tie-deciding point, the score-line being 14-15, 15-10, 15-14.

For a change, a ‘trump’ match was introduced this time for every tie. In these matches, a victory was worth two points while a loss attracted a negative point. Though introduced with the best intentions, this made a mockery of the best-of-five match format. A team could win three matches and still lose the contest by losing both ‘trump’ matches in a tie — as Bengaluru discovered against Hyderabad in their opening encounter.

With spectators failing to fill the stadium — except the final in New Delhi — actors Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan and Riteish Deshmukh were roped in to play an exhibition fun-match midway through the final. Indeed, it was sad to see the sideshow gaining precedence over the serious competition for which the singles players had warmed up, leading to the finale.

Eventually, the BAI will pat itself for the “success” of the league but the truth of the matter is, the event is limited to the television audience, if any.

Unlike the IPL where the gate-collection is meant for the host franchisee and a key component to the revenue model, all other leagues are struggling to get the crowds to come to the venue. There are very few paying spectators while a vast majority of those who make it to the venues across the country are armed with complimentary tickets. Given the lack of a revenue-generation model for the franchisees, one wonders how long badminton’s million-dollar extravaganza could survive.

The final:

Delhi Acers beat Mumbai Rockets 4-3 (Mixed doubles: Akshay Dewalkar and Gabrielle Adcock lost to Vladimir Ivanov and Kamilla Juhl 6-15, 12-15; Men’s singles 1:Tommy Sugiarto bt H. S. Prannoy13-15, 15-9, 15-9; Men’s doubles: Koo Kean Kien and Tan Boon Heong bt Vladimir Ivanov and Mathias Boe 14-15, 15-10, 15-14; Women’s singles: P. C. Thulasi lost to Han Li (Trump) 15-12, 8-15, 8-15; Men’s singles 2: Rajiv Ouseph (Trump) bt R. M. V. Gurusaidutt 15-11, 15-6).