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Time to Hit ‘Refresh’ For India’s Male Shuttlers After Asiad Washout

Srikanth’s compatriot, HS Prannoy, who was beaten by the non-fancied Ygor Coelho of Brazil in the pre-quarters, also made an early exit from the Asian Games, ending India’s men’s singles campaign in Indonesia earlier than most badminton followers would have anticipated.

Suprita Das | News18 Sports

Updated:August 25, 2018, 4:48 PM IST
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Time to Hit ‘Refresh’ For India’s Male Shuttlers After Asiad Washout
File image of India shuttler Kidambi Srikanth. (Getty Images)
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The signs were there. Earlier this month, Kidambi Srikanth crashed out of the World Championships in China in the pre-quarter final stages. His opponent, 31 year old Daren Liew of Malaysia, who had in fact beaten him five years ago. This time too, Liew took just about 40 minutes to beat Srikanth 21-18, 21-18, with no challenge whatsoever from the Indian.

Couple of weeks later in the men’s team event at the Asian Games, the World No. 8 lost in three games to Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting. Days later, in the individual event, when Srikanth faced Hong Kong’s Wong Vincent, he put up a fight yet again, but went down 21-23, 19-21 to make a shock second round exit.

Srikanth’s compatriot, HS Prannoy, who was beaten by the non-fancied Ygor Coelho of Brazil in the pre-quarters, also made an early exit from the Asian Games, ending India’s men’s singles campaign in Indonesia earlier than most badminton followers would have anticipated.




For a country whose male shuttlers were just about starting to rise to prominence after years of staying in the shadows of Saina and Sindhu, there seems to have been a sudden dip in the performance. At roughly the same time last year, two Indian men were, for the first time, playing each other in a global badminton final – B Sai Praneeth and Kidambi Srikanth in the Singapore Open Super Series, that the former won.

Super Series titles, as anyone who follows the sport will tell you, are the sport’s highest level of competition. You have to play six extremely good rounds of badminton without any gaps in between to get your hands on the trophy. In 2017, Srikanth won four of them. His wins came against Olympic and World champions. Prannoy too beat the likes of Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long.

Earlier this year, in fact, Srikanth even became World No. 1 although it was only for a very little while. However, with the ranking, the consistency has fallen too.

“After the high of last year, you can see the dip, and it’s inevitable,” says former Asian champion Dinesh Khanna. “When the inconsistencies creep in, it leads to loss in confidence, and I think we can see that in his game now. Even weaker opponents can take games out of him in such a situation.”

The workload on modern day badminton player is tremendous, and the calendar is gruelling. Those in the top 15 have to play a minimum of 12 tournaments a year. Now, in a year which also has the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and of course, the World Championships, fulfilling that commitment is bound to take its toll on the body, and hence affect the results.

“Post the Commonwealth Games they played a couple of Super Series tournaments. I think there was a lack of long term planning,” says former India No. 1 Parupalli Kashyap. “Both Srikanth and Prannoy didn’t look fit enough to me. Srikanth was under pressure, and it was showing in his body language.”

Even though the bulk of the players on the international circuit are Asian, to take them on in a tournament like the Asian Games is different, simply because it’s a tournament that comes once in four years.

“In 2014, I played the Commonwealth Games, World Championships and Asian Games all ten days within each other, and my body just couldn’t take it,” says Kashyap. “That’s why in these tournaments, rankings don’t matter. And if you go in to them tired or unfit, then you’re already a step behind. Movements become heavier because you’re mentally not fresh. Easy shots can go wrong, and the game becomes more physical than it already is because your mind is loaded, and not giving the body the support it needs.”

The key then is to pick and choose tournaments. Play base level tournaments if need be, refresh the mind and body, and then start with smaller tournaments, once ready. But it’s easier said than done. To get off the circuit for a few months means losing valuable ranking points, which are a struggle to gain while on a comeback trail. Not to mention, there’s a lot riding on today’s badminton players. The sport’s profile has changed drastically over the years.

That an Indian badminton player would ever feature on a Forbes list for the ten richest sportswomen of the world was unthinkable, but PV Sindhu has made that happen. It’s not just the coaches or fans who have expectations from them, but sponsors too.

“In 2015, when I wasn’t playing for four months or so due to an injury, I realised I hadn’t got my quarterly payment from a sponsor,” says Kashyap.

There are clauses in player contracts about pay cuts if the player is out of action for a certain period of time.

Now for someone like Lin Dan, who took a year’s break after the Olympics, to recharge his batteries, it doesn’t matter. But for Indian players to apply the same formula is next to impossible.

Which is why, they will be heading for the Japan Open soon after the Asian Games. Unless coach Pullela Gopichand draws up a different plan after the poor string of results, but more importantly the long term damage the wear and tear of being on the road constantly, may cause.
| Edited by: Pratik Sagar
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