A league for the Indians

Hyderabad Hotshots players celebrate with the trophy after winning the inaugural Indian Badminton League. They defeated Awadhe Warriors in the final.-VIVEK BENDRE

With the Chinese players opting out for various reasons, the Indian Badminton League obviously suffered, lacking the representation of the strongest badminton nation. However, there were plenty of gains for the home players. By Rakesh Rao.

It was indeed a million-dollar idea. A lucrative league featuring city-based franchisees, a congregation of some of the world’s best badminton players and a caravan travelling through six cities in 17 days, the inaugural Indian Badminton League promised a great deal.

With Saina Nehwal being the flag-bearer of the country’s badminton in the world arena, the game’s following in the country had clearly risen in the past few years. The bronze medal at the London Olympics had elevated Saina’s status to a new high. The country’s corporate sector was showing interest and Saina’s growing number of endorsements pointed to a good investment.

This being the background, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) decided to cash in on the situation. With Sporty Solutionz as commercial partners and chief national coach P. Gopi Chand playing a significant role in enrolling overseas players, the BAI was ready to present its version of the highly successful Indian Premier League cricket.

There were hurdles all the way but eventually six franchisees came on board — one each from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Lucknow. A prize-money of a million dollars was put up to make it the world’s richest badminton league.

The idea to have all ‘icon’ players, barring one, from India did not quite go down well with the franchisees. Though Saina, P. Kashyap and P. V. Sindhu looked ‘sellable’ over their base price of $50,000, the absence of women’s doubles in the format was always going to make it difficult for G. Jwala and Ashwini Ponappa to attract higher bids.

Sensing a ‘no-bid’ for the doubles partners, Sporty Solutionz consulted the franchisees and eventually reduced the base price of Jwala and Ashwini to $25,000 on the morning of the auction. Worse, they did not inform the players concerned and the resultant controversy took much of the sheen from the obvious monetary bonanza enjoyed by many lesser-known Indian players.

With the Chinese players choosing to stay away for various reasons, the IBL obviously suffered, lacking the representation of the strongest badminton nation.

The Saina Nehwal versus P.V. Sindhu clash was a top draw. Saina twice defeated Sindhu to show that the teenager still had some groud to cover against the best in the country.-VIVEK BENDRE

In all, $861,000 was spent on 36 Indian players by the six franchisees. The sum was $96,500 more than the amount bid for 24 overseas names, led by the World No. 1, Lee Chong of Malaysia, who went for highest call of $135,000 to Mumbai.

Among the leading Indians, Saina went to Hyderabad for $120,000, P. V. Sindhu to Lucknow for $80,000 and P. Kashyap to Bangalore for $75,000.

The response to the event picked up after a low-key opener in Delhi. With all the matches going live to several countries, indeed it was a great advertisement for the sport. However, the poor quality of commentary, replete with regular spells of sycophancy, diluted the pleasure of watching some intense battles.

Later, the controversy that erupted out of a delayed match between Delhi and Bangalore dragged Jwala into the middle of an unpleasant row. She was issued a show-cause notice and later the BAI’s Disciplinary Committee recommended a life-ban. Strangely, the committee also indicated that Jwala could be exonerated if she apologised to the BAI President.

A furious Jwala promptly moved the Delhi High Court, which rapped the BAI on the knuckles. These unwanted developments pushed into the background the gains the IBL brought to the Indian players. Besides getting the biggest pay cheque of their lives, some of the players used the stage to showcase their talent.

Lucknow’s R. M. V. Gurusaidutt, ranked No. 20, upstaged Delhi’s higher-ranked Darren Liew; Hyderabad’s Ajay Jayaram, ranked No. 24, beat Pune’s Nyugen Tien Minh twice and took Lee Chong Wei to three games; K. Srikanth, ranked No. 38, too, stretched Lee Chong Wei and Kashyap and scored wins over Jayaram, B. Sai Praneeth, former National champion Saurabh Verma and Hyderabad’s Saemsomboonsuk Tanongsak.

Praneeth, ranked No. 27, too, had his moments as he stunned the seventh-ranked Nyugen Tien Minh. Saina won all her matches; she twice defeated Sindhu to show that the teenager still had some ground to cover against the best in the country.

Sindhu, after a slow start, twice beat the reigning All-England champion Tine Baun and once defeated the higher-ranked Juliene Schenk.

Though Jwala won just one mixed doubles match out of the two she played, Ashwini used the stage to win four out of five matches. She also gained a lot from playing alongside the lanky Danish player Joachim Fischer Nielsen.

Overall, there were plenty of gains for the Indians in the first edition. Next year, the BAI is sure to make efforts to maximise the upside and establish the league as the one to wait for.