Badminton Asia Team C'ships: Young guns steer India into final - Hindustan Times

Badminton Asia Team Championships: Young guns steer India into final, set up title clash against Thailand

Feb 17, 2024 11:33 PM IST

India beat Japan 3-2 in the semis, set up title clash against Thailand on Sunday.

When PV Sindhu lost to Aya Ohori – for the first time in 14 meetings – most watching wouldn’t have bet on the Indian women’s badminton team after their spearhead went down in straight games in the opening rubber on Saturday. But India punched above their weight to beat Japan 3-2 and enter the final of the Badminton Asia Team Championships for the first time, in Shah Alam, Malaysia. The Pullela Gopichand-coached side is young and short on experience, but they displayed impeccable spirit and maturity to down the second seeds, even though not at full strength, at the Setia City Convention Center.

India rode on the shoulders of Ashmita Chaliha, Anmol Kharb and the doubles combine of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand
India rode on the shoulders of Ashmita Chaliha, Anmol Kharb and the doubles combine of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand

India rode on the shoulders of Ashmita Chaliha, Anmol Kharb and the doubles combine of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand – the four with an average age of 20 — to defeat the two-time champions, who had players ranked way higher than the Indians. In Sunday’s final, they will face Thailand, who defeated Indonesia 3-1 in the other semi-final.

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It must be noted that most teams have not turned up with their top players. China, who India beat 3-2 in the group stage, did not have Olympic champion Chen Yufei, world No.6 He Bingjiao and world No.1 doubles combine Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yifan. Japan too reached Malaysia without two-time world champion Akane Yamaguchi and two of their top pairs. Thailand on Sunday will be without two of their top singles players, including former world champion Ratchanok Intanon. The top teams decided to rest their seniors and provide exposure to youngsters ahead of the BWF World Tour that resumes next month with the European swing.

But for Sindhu, who is returning to the circuit following a four-month injury break, it is all about gaining match time before the season properly kicks off. The former world champion started strong but a dip in concentration helped Aya take the opening game.

The twice Olympic medallist lost nine straight points at the start of the second game till she stitched together a run of nine points to draw level at 19-19. Sindhu managed to save a match point but could not sustain her momentum and lost 13-21, 20-22.

But 20-year-olds Treesa and Gayatri caused a major upset when they stunned former All England champions Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida 21-17, 16-21, 22-20 in a marathon match lasting one hour and 13 minutes, earning their first victory in three meetings against the world No.6 pair to keep India in the hunt.

After sharing the first two games, the Indians found their footing and opened a 19-13 lead before they were put under pressure by their more experienced opponents. To their credit, the world No.23 combine didn't lose heart despite their opponents levelling the scores at 19-all and then converted their second match point.

World No.53 Ashmita then delivered one of the biggest wins of her career that she will cherish when she defeated former world champion Nozomi Okuhara. The 24-year-old rose to the occasion and was at her aggressive best to put India 2-1 ahead with a 21-17, 21-14 win.

Sindhu then turned up to shoulder the responsibility of playing the second doubles as Tanisha Crasto is injured. The five-time World Championships medallist teamed up with Ashwini Ponnappa but they lost 14-21, 11-21 to world No.11 Rena Miyaura and Ayako Sakuramoto. The pressure of putting India into the final once again fell on the young shoulders of Anmol Kharb. And the 17-year-old didn’t disappoint.

Playing her first major senior event, the world No.472, who also helped India beat China 3-2 in the group stage, hardly showed any nerves and dominated the proceedings for most part of her 52-minute clash to beat world No.29 Natsuki Nidaira 21-14, 21-18 and seal India’s victory.

Though the prestigious individual Asia Championships have existed since 1962, Badminton Asia (BA) formed the team championships for both genders in 2016 that now serves as a qualification tournament for the Thomas and Uber Cups.

While the Indian men’s team has already qualified as defending champions for the Thomas Cup to be played in Chengdu, China in April-May, the women made the cut once they reached the semi-finals by beating Hong Kong in the quarters on Friday.

This is the first time Indian women have made it to the final, never having made the cut for the semi-finals in the previous four editions.

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    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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