The Indian badminton team is not going to have it easy at the Asian Games in Incheon (Korea) starting Friday. First of all, this is by far the stiffest global badminton competition, lasting 11 gruelling days. The Commonwealth Games, in comparison, is a walk in the park for the top shuttlers.
PV Sindhu (left) and Saina Nehwal during their Uber Cup match against Thailand earlier this year. Pic/Getty Images
The Sudirman Cup is just a week of mixed team competition whereas the Olympics and All-England Championships are a week of high calibre individual events. Ditto for all the premium Super Series and Grand Prix Gold events.
The Asian Games in contrast, is a cauldron of absolutely top-class fare, the most difficult to excel in. The first five days belong to team championships in which the men and women compete separately in a format that involves three singles and two doubles matches in a best-of-five face-off.
Plenty of contenders
China, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia — you name them — and they are all there, vying for the team gold.
As far as India are concerned, the men have won bronze in team events on two occasions, but the prospects look rather bleak this time as they do not have the depth in doubles. On the singles front, P Kashyap won gold at the Glasgow CWG recently, but lost in the first round of the World Championships. No other singles specialist did well.
Problems in the women's team are far more severe. Jwala Gutta has pulled out due to injury. That leaves Ashwini Ponappa without a partner.
To add to their woes, the government and the Sports Authority of India have axed four players, including doubles specialist Aparna Balan and Ponappa's mixed doubles partner Tarun Kona from the squad. Hours before the team flies to Incheon, it is still not clear whether SAI will have a change of heart and recommend that at least Balan accompany the squad.
Ponappa left stranded
If Balan gets the go-ahead, she could play the second doubles with Pradnya Gadre. What's more, Ponappa may well be a passenger in the side as she neither has a regular partner for the team event nor any entry in the open competition.
In all likelihood, PV Sindhu or Saina Nehwal or both will be roped in for the doubles contest — a format they are not very fond of playing. It would also mean that two of our best singles stars would have to shoulder additional burden that is totally unwarranted.
Things have got muddied further with Saina deciding to split from coach Pullela Gopichand just 15 days before the mega event.
Another question that is unresolved is, if Vimal Kumar is going as Saina's personal coach, then would he be guiding her from the sidelines or would the national coach be around. These are questions which will be answered over the next fortnight.
The writer is a former India badminton player
The number of times the Indian men have won bronze in the team competition at the Asian Games