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PBL: Delhi Acers beat Mumbai Rockets in thrilling final to win title

New Delhi: One point — one single, solitary point — was eventually worth R1 crore. That, in a sentence, encapsulates the story of the Premier Badminton League (PBL) final, which Delhi Acers won at the Siri Fort Complex on Sunday night by a narrow 4-3 margin, at the expense of Mumbai Rockets.

Delhi Acers pose with PBL Trophy. Pic/PTI
Delhi Acers pose with PBL Trophy. Pic/PTI

At 14-all, match-point-all, in the third game of the men's doubles, Russian Vladimir Ivanov served for the 'decider point' against Malaysians Tan Boon Heong and Koo Keat Kien, in an effort to bag Mumbai's second tie point, and put the visitors in the driver's seat to bag the Rs 3 crores top prize.

Ivanov and Mathias Boe had recovered from a 10-14 deficit in that bitterly contested final game to restore parity, and had the momentum going for them. Alas, after an intense 16-stroke rally, played at a scorching pace, Ivanov’s defence cracked, the shuttle sped out along the sidelines, and Mumbai had to settle for the Rs 2 crores runner-up purse.

Alas, after an intense 16-stroke rally, played at a scorching pace, Ivanov's defence cracked, the shuttle sped out along the sidelines, and Mumbai had to settle for the R2 crores runner-up purse.

The crucial 2-1 lead that Delhi obtained after the men’s doubles was certain to net the home team the top prize. For, although China’s Han Li expectedly won the trump match for Mumbai against P C Thulasi, and dragged her team into a 3-2 lead, Englishman Rajiv Ouseph’s victory in Delhi’s own trump match against R M V Gurusaidutt, at the fag end of the tie, was a foregone conclusion.

Had Boe and Ivanov won that heart-stopping final rally, Mumbai would have been 2-1 ahead after the first three matches, and would have taken an unbeatable 4-1 lead when Han Li proved her undoubted superiority over Thulasi. There would have been no need at all for the Ouseph-Gurusaidutt clash!

The final had opened propitiously for Mumbai, with the gangling Ivanov raining down smashes from his great height on Akshay Dewalkar and Britain’s Gabrielle Adcock, and receiving sterling support from left-handed Dane, Kamilla Rytter Juhl, for a facile 15-6, 15-12 triumph.

Tommy Sugiarto, bronze medallist at the 2015 World Championships, pulled one back for Delhi by wearing down H S Prannoy at 13-15, 15-9, 15-9. The Indonesian was without doubt Delhi’s most valuable player, winning all the six matches he was involved in, as Delhi’s 'three musketeers' of Sugiarto, Ouseph and Ajay Jayaram won 13 of the 14 men’s singles ties they played in the tournament.

Then came the men’s doubles in which three of the four players on court had occupied the world no.1 position at one time or another in the past six years, the odd man out being Ivanov. And it was the Russian’s slightly inferior defence that proved Mumbai’s Achilles heel, as Tan and Koo pipped the Boe-Ivanov combination at 14-15, 15-10, 15-14, in an ending that raised the mercury to dizzy levels.

27 year old Han Li, who had lowered the colours of a less-than-fully-fit Saina Nehwal in the course of the Mumbai Rockets-Awadhe Warriors semi-final, was initially rocked by a spirited showing by Thulasi, and made some uncharacteristic unforced errors. But class could not be denied, and the Chinese won at 12-15, 15-8, 15-8.

That left Gurusaidutt with the difficult task of beating Rajiv Ouseph in Delhi’s trump match. The doughty Gopichand Academy trainee has always had trouble against the British player of Indian origin; and Ouseph was comfortably able to repeat the win he had achieved during their group clash. A 15-11, 15-6 scoreline for Ouseph; and the home team was able to write its name on the glittering trophy.

The Delhi-Mumbai final was truly a magnificent peroration to a tournament that captured the imagination of badminton-lovers in the country, with its shorter, 15-points-per-game format, the sudden-death ending to the game, and innovative trump rule that provided an extra point for a win, but a negative point for a loss.

That Delhi won the top prize was in no small measure due to their strength in the men’s singles department, and the fact that they used their trump card brilliantly. The Acers were the only side in the fortnight-long competition to win all the seven trumps they played; and that, in the final analysis, helped the team go the extra mile.

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