PBL: Mumbai Rockets banking on Lee Yong Dae

The South Korean, team’s designated captain, is world number one in doubles and a legend in the world of badminton.

Ajay Jayaram, world number 19 and the second highest Indian in men’s singles, is ready to take up the responsibility as the first singles player.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Home side Mumbai Rockets will be banking on the experienced Lee Yong Dae, who is set to make his debut in Premier Badminton League 2017, as it hosts defending champion Delhi Acers in the first match of the Mumbai leg.

The South Korean, team’s designated captain, is world number one in doubles and a legend in the world of badminton.

Watching him on court and playing alongside will be a huge learning experience for his teammates and Indians, singles specialists Ajay Jayaram, and H. S. Prannoy, who are all set to soak it in.

“After playing on the international circuit for many years, this is the first time we are on the same team. Lee Yong Dae mixes with others well, especially the younger ones. He is always ready with advice, so I feel his doubles partners will benefit competing with him,” said Prannoy, the second singles option for Rockets.

Ajay Jayaram, world number 19 and the second highest Indian in men’s singles, is ready to take up the responsibility as the first singles player. “I will be facing the main players in other teams and wish to give Mumbai Rockets the start by doing well,” said the local talent, adding: “Our team is strong in singles, with Sung Ji Hyun (South Korea) also playing women’s singles. A strong doubles pair gives us the edge.”

Two-time Olympics medallist Lee Yong Dae is eager to do his part in men’s/mixed doubles. “As captain, my role is to give my best for teammates and fans,” said the South Korean, competing in India after a stint in the Chinese league, where games are 21-point and three sets-long.

He felt the 11-point format in PBL was fan-driven. “Games are shorter and more intense, aimed at making badminton exciting to watch. The mood and quality here is better than the Korean league, Lee Yong said, adding: “As a leading world doubles player, pressure was there even in Grand Prix and Super Series since I was representing my nation. Now I am an individual and pressure is there to do well for teammates.”

The South Korean won the Beijing Olympics 2008 mixed doubles gold, and also took part in London 2012 and Rio 2016 before retiring from the national team. Mumbai starts PBL 2017 campaign against formidable Delhi Acers, pitting Jayaram against his teammates from last season. “It is a whole new team with new players. The coaches I sat with will now be against me,” said the Mumbai shuttler, who is likely to face Jan Jorgensen in the opening men’s singles.

Delhi possesses a powerful men’s doubles pair in Ivan Sozonov/Vladimir Ivanov and maverick Indian Jwala Gutta in mixed doubles. South Korean Wan Ho Soon is the second men’s singles option. Bengaluru Blasters will take on Chennai Smashers in the first game on Tuesday evening at the NSCI indoor complex. Both teams have names with big reputations to defend in Viktor Axelsen, Koo Sung Hyun, Ashwini Ponappa (Bengaluru), P. V. Sindhu, Parupalli Kashyap, Chris Adcock, Gabrielle Adcock, Tommy Sugiarto (Chennai). Mumbai fans will witness Axelsen of Denmark and India’s Sindhu trying to overcome defeats in the Hyderabad leg and strike form in the second match for both teams, apart from Suzunov/Ivanov for Delhi and the two Adcocks in Chennai put on a stunning show of doubles play.

Match schedule: 6.30pm--- Bengaluru Blasters vs Chennai Smashers, followed by Delhi Acers vs Mumbai Rockets (NSCI indoor stadium)