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India’s Poor Outing at Sudirman Cup Puts Question Mark on Depth of Badminton Programme

After two consecutive losses in the preliminary group stage -- against Thailand (4-1) and China (5-0) -- the Indian badminton team, without its star players, are out of contention for the knockouts at the 2021 Sudirman Cup.
MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila at Sudirman Cup

The Indian men’s doubles pair of MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila were the only ones who managed a win in the Sudirman Cup Group A ties (against Thailand on Sunday and China on Monday) with the rest of the contingent falling in straight games.

India, seeded ninth in the 16-team Sudirman Cup, were underdogs to start with, having been placed in Group A alongside top seeds China and fifth ranked Thailand. It was all the more uphill as India were missing their stars -- PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and the men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy gave the tournament a skip. And with two back-to-back defeats India have all but crashed out of the biennial tournament in Vantaa, Finland. 

India’s chances to qualify for the knockout stage of the Sudirman Cup ended after a heavy 0-5 defeat against China on Monday. They had lost the Group A opener to Thailand, rendering the final group match against hosts Finland on Wednesday a dead rubber.

While the defeats were expected considering the missing star players, the way India lost makes us wonder about the depth of talent in Indian badminton and its much vaunted programme that is supposed to be a production line of champions. Forget a match in the tie against China, the Indians could not even win a single game. To add insult to injury, even a seasoned player like B Sai Praneeth fared rather poorly.

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The nightmare outing against China began with the men’s doubles pair of MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila going down 20-22, 17-21 against Liu Cheng and Zhou Hao Dong. To their credit, the duo did put up a fight in the opening game, but folded under the relentless pressure from the Chinese pair.

Aditi Bhatt then faced Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei, who expectedly notched up an easy 21-9, 21-8 win. The 18-year-old was no match for Chen.

Indian hopes rested on World No. 15 Praneeth, who took on former All England Champion and World No. 10 Shi Yuqi in the men’s singles tie. Going by sheer rankings, Praneeth was expected to put up a fight. Instead, the Indian was routed 10-21, 10-21 as China took an unassailable 3-0 lead.

It was Praneeth’s fifth defeat to Shi Yuqi, who was a notch above the Indian in all departments. The pace, power and skill differential was so glaring that we could sense Praneeth being a step or two behind right through the match, making last-ditch efforts just to recover the shuttle. 

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Praneeth lagged 4-11 in the first break of the opening game Yuqi made it 15-4 before promptly sealing it in just 16 minutes. Praneeth tried to step up his pace in the second game but looked wayward. Errors crept in too. The Chinese player controlled the net exchanges and produced winners almost at will to again lead 11-4 at the break.

The duo played some fast-paced rallies thereafter but Praneeth just couldn’t find a way to penetrate the defence of Yuqi.

In the last two inconsequential matches, Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy lost 16-21, 13-21 to Zheng Yu and Li Wen Mei, while in mixed doubles, Du Yue and Feng Yan Zhe beat Kidambi Srikanth and Rutaparna Panda 9-21, 9-21.

In India’s opening match against Thailand on Sunday, the men's pairing of Arjun and Kapila was the only bright spot. They scored an impressive 21-18, 21-17 win over Supak Jomkoh and Kittinupong Kedren while India suffered a 1-4 loss with seniors such as Srikanth and Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy failing to rise to the occasion and carry the team through.

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Srikanth, former World No. 1, could not match three-time world junior champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn, going down 9-21, 19-21 in 50 minutes. Sikki and Ashwini, meanwhile, ran out of steam during a 21-23, 8-21 loss to world No. 8 combine of Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai.

Junior player Malvika Bansod was up next and looked clearly overawed by the occasion. She went down 11-21, 14-21 in the women's singles match against Pornpawee Chochuwong.

In the fifth and final match, the pair of B Sai Praneeth and Tanisha Crasto lost 13-21, 11-21 to world No. 3 Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai.

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