PBL: North Eastern Warriors trumps Bengaluru Blasters

Bengaluru Blasters won three of the five matches on Friday at the JN Indoor Stadium in Chennai, but still ended up losing 2-3.

Viktor Axelsen during a PBL clash in Chennai on Friday.   -  M. Vedhan

North Eastern Warriors’ choice to opt for the women’s singles match as its trump defied logic. Canada’s Michelle Li had lost all her three matches so far in the current edition of Premier Badminton League. The first game also seemed pretty much a continuation of the same script. But Michelle Li showed a lot of spirit and willpower to overcome Scotland’s Kristy Gilmour 7-15, 15-14, 15-13 in a closely fought match to give North Eastern Warriors’ an unassailable 3-0 lead and ensure its first victory in the league. Bengaluru Blasters won three of the five matches on Friday at the JN Indoor Stadium in Chennai, but still ended up losing 2-3. Viktor Axelsen’s win in the match of the day against Tzu Wei Wang and Manu Attri-Sikki Reddy’s come from behind victory in the mixed doubles reduced the deficit for Bengaluru. 

Ajay Jayaram had earlier done his bit by defeating Bengaluru Blasters’ trump card Chong Wei Feng in straight games.

It almost felt like Bengaluru Blasters was teasing its luck. After losing just one match in the first two ties, the southern team had all but sealed the semifinal spot.

READ: AS IT HAPPENED

It seemed Blasters had taken a gamble by choosing Chong Wei Feng for its trump match against North Eastern Warriors’ Ajay Jayaram. Maybe the decision had more to do with underestimating the opponent. Sure, Ajay Jayaram couldn’t muster a win in the first two ties and was left out of the side for the third tie. But on Friday, Jayaram turned the tables.

Delicate touches at the net, sure-footed smashes and clear strokes – the Indian looked the better player against the 30-year-old Malaysian and cruised to a 15-8 win in the first game. But early in the second game, the duo played the first long rally of the match. Jayaram won the point with a smash, but Feng had played enough number of good shots by that time to finally find his bearing in the match. He then won a series of points with some well angled strokes to run to a 5-2 lead.

Despite a change in the flow of points, Jayaram never looked flustered and that helped. It was okay to lose points on merit rather than play unforced errors; Ajay knew it was his day; he was particularly effective at the forecourt, with his deft lifts and clever drop shots at the net. Though Feng was clearly the better smasher of the shuttle, Ajay made judicious judgement calls on the line to earn some crucial points and close out the match 15-8, 15-13.

The men's doubles, the first match of the day, lacked the quality we have grown accustomed to seeing on badminton courts. Both the teams matched each other in terms of unforced errors and kept finding the net at regular intervals. Bengaluru Blasters’ Mathias Boe and Kim Sa Rang rode their luck to win the match 15-12, 7-15, 15-12.

Though a dead rubber at least in terms of this particular tie, the fourth match between World No. 1 Viktor Axelsen and Chinese Taipei’s Tzu Wei Wang was undoubtedly the best, fastest, and the most entertaining show of the day. It was a day when everything was going against the popular script; Tzu Wei Wang had decided to do his bit to add to the chaos.

Axelsen had tamely conceded the first game 9-15 and was trailing in the second. He was staring at his first defeat of the year.  The World champion from Denmark, however, was not ready for it. He cranked up his smash speed to supersonic levels, mixed up his shots for the rally that followed after to snatch back the second game at 13-15.  After coming that close to victory, Tzu Wei Wang was clearly hard done. So he decided to up his game as well. The third game turned out to be a battle of smashes and some high intensity exchange of shots. The quality of the game was simply breathtaking. 10-10, 11-11, 12-12, 13-13, 14-14...There was nothing to separate the two, but Axelsen is the reigning world champion for a reason. He won the point that mattered the most to close out a fantastic win. 

In the last match of the day, Indian mixed doubles pair of Manu Attri and Sikki Reddy defeated Prajakta Sawant and Shin Baek Cheol 12-15, 15-8, 15-9.