PBL: Over to encounters of a different kind

It’s here again! The Premier Badminton League is all set to thrill the spectators and viewers with a dash of glitz and glamour, not associated with serious competitions.

The likely clash between defending champion P. V. Sindhu of Chennai Samshers and Saina Nehwal (facing page) of Awadhe Warriors could headline the Premier Badminton League-3.   -  K. V. S. Giri

It’s time again for another edition of the Premier Badminton League. A sport where the Indians continue to do well in the singles, badminton is surely grabbing more eyeballs nationwide, thanks to the live action available on television. As a result, players like P. V. Sindhu and K. Srikanth have become household names much faster than what a steadily-rising Saina Nehwal could manage over the past decade.

The timing of the introduction of the League also helped the Indian badminton players gain visibility like never before. Add to it the improvement some of them showed, and the exposure they received, badminton clearly became the most talked-about sport in the country, after cricket.

Against this backdrop, when the world’s richest badminton league offering Rs. six crore in prize money takes place, some players other than Sindhu, Saina, Srikanth and to an extent B. Sai Praneeth also get their share of attention.

READ: North Eastern Warriors: Something NEW this year!

For instance, H. S. Prannoy should rank as the biggest gainer of 2017 in terms the strides he made after emerging with an all-win record in the last edition of the PBL. He fell short of winning a Superseries title, but his victories against some of the leading players during the year earned him the highest bid in the auction.

READ: Awadhe Warriors: Packed with formidable warriors!

This year, on view, will be the World’s top-ranked singles players, Viktor Axelsen and Tai Tzu Ying besides the best of Indians. However, seasoned names like Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei, apart from other leading Chinese players continue to stay away. In ladies’ singles, the absence of the Japanese and Chinese players is a big disappointment.

READ: Mumbai Rockets: Hoping for a Korean rocket to ignite!

On the brighter side, many leading singles players will be around, though the options in men’s doubles are very limited and even more when it comes to picking women players for mixed doubles. Remember, there is no women’s doubles in the League.

Saina Nehwal of Awadhe Warriors, who defeated Nitchaon Jindapol of Delhi Acers, seen in action in the Premier Badminton League in Lucknow on January 05, 2017. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt   -  Rajeev Bhatt

 

Overall, there is plenty of action in store from December 23 — when defending champion Chennai Samshers’ P. V. Sindhu is likely to face Awadhe Warriors’ Saina Nehwal — to January 14. Unlike in the past editions, there will be no double-headers.

READ: Hyderabad Hunters: Everything hinges on Marin!

This year, two teams — Ahmedabad Smash Masters and North Eastern Warriors — have been added, thereby taking the total teams to eight. The auction purse for each team was Rs. 2.12 crore with a maximum cap on acquiring a player kept at Rs. 72 lakh. Six existing franchisees retained a player each and their options did not come as a surprise: Those retained were, Sindhu (Chennai Smashers), Saina (Awadhe Warriors), Sikki Reddy (Bengaluru Blasters), Satwik Sairaj (Hyderabad Hunters), Lee Yong Dae (Mumbai Rockets) and Vladimir Ivanov (Delhi Acers). Awadhe Warriors retained K. Srikanth by using their Right-to-Match card.

READ: Delhi Acers: Looking to ace it again!

New entrant Ahmedabad Smash Masters had its priority clear when it went for top-ranked Tai Tzu Ying (Rs. 52 lakh) and later bagged Prannoy for the topmost-bid of 62 lakh. In contrast, North Eastern’s options, except for World No. 11 men’s singles player Tzu Wei Wang (Chinese Taipei) for Rs. 52 lakh, left a lot to be desired. No wonder, the team’s final combination appeared the weakest in the fray.

The World champion, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, will be the key to Bengaluru Blasters’ success.   -  Sandeep Saxena

 

Interestingly, Chennai Smashers spent a whopping 1.02 crore in retaining its mixed doubles husband-wife combination of Chris Adcock (54 lakh) and Gabrielle Adcock (Rs. 48 lakh). No doubt, Chennai Smashers and Awadhe Warriors are expected to be the two biggest crowd favourites in terms of balance of the team.

Delhi Acers could well be the dark horse of this year’s title race. It may not have big stars, but Acers can be expected to pull off any of the five matches in a tie.

READ: Bengaluru Blasters: Hoping for a Danish blast!

Consider this: In Vincent Ki Wong (Hong Kong) and Tian Houwei (China), Acers have players ranked No. 15 and 16 in the world. Since the format includes two men’s singles, it helps to have two strong options capable of causing upsets. In the ladies’ singles, World No. 5 Sung Ji Hyun (Korea) lends enormous strength to the team’s prospects because of her consistency. In men’s doubles, the Russian duo of Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov come handy with their vast experience of playing together. In mixed doubles, first-choice Ashwini Ponnappa can form a combination with either the two Russians or another specialist Pranaav Chopra. No other team wears such a balanced look, though much will depend on how Acers’ players combine as a unit.

Tai Tzu Ying, playing in her maiden Premier Badminton League, will be spearhead new entrant Ahmedabad Smash Masters’ challenge.   -  AP

 

It will be interesting to see how Tai Tzu Ying plays in her maiden PBL. The World No. 1’s record against Saina, in particular, and lately, Sindhu, can be demoralising for any player.

READ: Ahmedabad Smash Masters: Some smashing selections!

The biggest gain will be for the home-bred doubles players involved with the franchisees. The opportunity to interact and train with some of the leading doubles players should be beneficial for those looking to have a career in the paired events. Much like Prannoy, who gained in confidence following his winning sequence against some of the better players in the last edition, budding doubles specialist Satwik Sairaj can be expected to emerge as the next big name from India in the paired events.

READ: Chennai Smashers: Sindhu the spearhead!

In all, the event that enjoys a ‘window’ from the Badminton World Federation (BWF) is set to thrill the spectators and viewers with a dash of glitz and glamour, not associated with serious competitions. After all, during the off-season for competitive badminton, PBL ushers in encounters of a different kind. Enjoy the difference!