PBL 5 preview: League aims to make splash despite several stars missing

The new PBL edition has already made news for the absence of star players, reduction in the number of teams and venues, lower budget and other off-court issues.

S. Sankar Muthusamy, (Chennai) Satwiksai Raj Rankireddy, (Chennai), Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, (New Warriors), Sai Praneeth, (Bengaluru), Christinna Pedersen, (Awadhe Warriors) and Lakshya Sen, (Chennai) with the Premier Badminton League (PBL) Trophy.   -  M. Vedhan

The Premier Badminton League (PBL), one of the world's biggest leagues in the sport, will return on Monday with its fifth season beginning here at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium. 

The new edition has already made news for the absence of star players, reduction in the number of teams and venues, lower budget and other off-court issues, including the unavailability of Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.

With 2020 being an Olympic year, Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, Viktor Axelsen, Carolina Marin, H.S. Prannoy, Sameer Verma and Anders Antonsen have decided to skip the new season. Indian star Ashwini Ponappa and Indonesia's Mohammad Ahsan, the men's doubles gold medalist at the World Championships, went unsold during November's auction, reducing the star power even further.

However, the biggest foreign recruit this season, women's singles world No. 2 Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei has stated that she is looking forward to an exciting season with defending champion Bengaluru Raptors.

"I am looking forward to my time with the Raptors and playing in South India. The sunshine and warmth are something I want to experience to go along with a great time of badminton. I haven’t met my team yet but you can be sure of the performance that all of you will enjoy," she said.

Another overseas shuttler Christinna Pedersen of Denmark, two-time Olympic medalist, called PBL the strongest badminton league in the world. She will turn up for the Awadhe Warriors this time as well.

READ | Tai Tzu Ying: I want to win in Tokyo Olympics

"This (PBL) is for sure the world's strongest badminton league. I'm glad to come back to India and play the fifth edition of PBL. This is my third time here and I'm in the same jersey. I can't wait to get started. It will be really exciting as all teams look strong. There will be some very good matches," said Pedersen.

Even Axelsen and Marin have always said they enjoy being part of PBL, reinforcing the popularity of the league among international stars remains strong.

Meanwhile, the Delhi Dashers and Ahmedabad Smash Masters are not part of PBL-5. The Chennai Smashers is now under new ownership and the team has been rechristened as Chennai Superstarz. The competition will now be a seven-team affair, as opposed to nine teams from 2019. These changes were enforced because the team owners were unable to fulfil financial obligations of PBL.

Last season, the venues used were Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru, This time, only Hyderabad, Chennai and Lucknow will host the matches. Initially, Bengaluru was supposed to host the last leg of fixtures, including the semifinals and final but those ties have since been moved to Hyderabad. Top officials of the State denied the Raptors from using the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, leaving the side disappointed.

Keeping aside the pre-tournament issues, the emergence of youngsters will be a point worth noting this year. Every team, except Awadhe Warriors, has at least one Indian under-22 shuttler, while the team from Chennai boasting four teenagers - Lakshya Sen, Sankar Muthusamy, Sathish Kumar and Dhruv Kapila.

The youngest of the lot, 16-year-old Sankar, Asian U-15 & U-17 Championships winner, said his side has a good chance to go all the way. 

"The chance of winning for Chennai is very high this time. We have a balanced side. I'm looking forward to playing alongside Satwiksairaj (Rankireddy) and Tommy Sugiarto. I'm very excited because I can gather a lot of experience by working with the international shuttlers in PBL at such a young age," he claimed.

PBL is one of the most-watched leagues in India and this year it will be telecast in around 70 countries across the world. With the players and organisers involved being confident of the league's success, only time will tell if it turns out to be a hit or miss.

- CHENNAI FACES HYDERABAD IN SEASON OPENER -

Home side Chennai Superstarz will face 2017-18 champion Hyderabad Hunters in this edition's season opener. An important subject of this tie will be the women's singles matchup between star player P.V. Sindhu and another 16-year-old Gayatri Gopichand.

Scotland's Kirsty Gilmour was expected to face Sindhu in Chennai, however, the world No. 31 will now join the Superstarz only during the Lucknow leg, making way for the Sindhu-Gayatri encounter.

In men's singles, former world No. 3 Sugiarto from Indonesia and India's Lakshya, who won five titles in 2019, will represent Chennai. On the other hand, Hyderabad will be represented by Malaysian shuttler Daren Liew, 2018 World Championships bronze medalist, and Indian world No. 28 Sourabh Verma. 

After Manu Atri was ruled out for the Superstarz, Satwiksairaj would be expected to do a double shift for the team in mixed doubles, with England's Gabrielle Adcock, and in men's doubles, with Sumeeth Reddy. The English duo of Ben Lane and Sean Vendy, world No. 32, will most probably be the Hunters' pick for men's doubles, while Russian Vladimir Ivanov will pair up with Sikki Reddy in the mixed.

With PBL returning to Chennai after two years and a new franchise representing the city, the host will be looking to make maximum use of its three home games. Meanwhile, Hunters, the only team to make the semifinals in all of the last three years, will be trying to make a statement once again at the expense of the Superstarz.

THE SQUADS:

Chennai Superstarz - Sumeeth Reddy, Gabrielle Adcock, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Tommy Sugiarto, Lakshya Sen, Kirsty Gilmour, Sankar Muthusamy, Gayatri Gopichand, Dhruv Kapila, Sanjana Santosh, Satish Kumar.

Hyderabad Hunters - Ben Lane, Daren Liew, P.V. Sindhu, Vladimir Ivanov, Sikki Reddy, Sean Vendy, Sourabh Verma, Ruthvika Shivani, Kiran George.

 

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