Led by the iconic Saina Nehwal, Awadhe Warriors appears to be the most balanced of the six teams participating in the Premier Badminton League (PBL), which gets underway at the National Sports Club of India on Saturday.
India's HS Prannoy hits a return against Ugandan shuttler Edwin Ekiring during their men’s singles qualifying match of the 2015 World Championships badminton tournament in Jakarta, Indonesia on August 12, 2015. Pic/AFP
Bought at the auctions for the highest price of USD 1,00,000 (the same as Malaysia's former World No 1, Lee Chong Wei), the current World No 2 Saina should be full value for the amount the Lucknow franchise shelled out for her, particularly as none of the other top-10 women's singles players will be seen in action in the league.
The innovative introduction of a "trump match" in this edition of the league should see Awadhe opt for Saina's singles as their nominated match for the extra point. It is virtually a foregone conclusion that the Indian shuttle queen, if fully fit, will deliver two points for each of her five league matches, with little fear of the team being hit with a -1 penalty in the event of a loss.
While Awadhe admittedly lacks a really strong men's singles player in the mould of Lee Chong Wei, they could be reasonably confident of picking up one of the two men's singles points on offer in each tie by juggling their playing order judiciously, and nominating either Thailand's Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk or the redoubtable B Sai Praneeth (both ranked in the early 30s in the world) in the second men's singles.
The Lucknow squad has strength and depth in the paired events, with the tall Dane Christinna Pedersen, ranked No 2 in the world, likely to be paired with either China's Cai Yun or Indonesia's Hendra Gunawan.
Ordinarily, Chong Wei — who is bound to be nominated for the "trump match" — would have ensured two points in each tie for the Hyderabad Hunters. But he is only available until January 10, the half-way stage of the tournament; and his likely singles replacement, AS Siril Verma, fails to inspire too much
Mumbai Rockets, this time, appear to be the weakest of the six teams on paper; and will require something extraordinary from their talisman of the 2013 Indian Badminton League (IBL), Vladimir Ivanov, if they are to remain in contention for the semi-finals.
The gangling Ivanov had helped the Mumbai side in all three events in the inaugural IBL, and played with great skill and heart to pluck vital points. Mumbai's men's singles effort is being led by HS Prannoy, who has climbed steadily to the 20th spot in the world rankings, and the combative RMV Gurusaidutt. But it is the presence of the left-handed Dane, Kamilla Rytter Juhl, that would give Mumbai a decent chance to claim the mixed doubles point.
Sadly, the style of the auctions has meant that virtually none of the world's top established combinations will get the opportunity of parading their wares together on the court. Rytter Juhl and her regular partner Pedersen are in different camps, as are Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen, and the husband-wife combination of Chris and Gabrielle Adcock.
The one pair to be picked intact is Malaysia's Koo Keat Kien and Tan Boon Heong; and there is little doubt that the World No 17 combination will have its say on behalf of Delhi Acers, who forked out a total of $66,000 to have the two in their fold.
The scoring format of best-of-three games of 15 points each on the point-per-rally system (with no setting permitted at 14-all) promises badminton's equivalent of Twenty20 cricket, with all the thrills, chills and spills associated with the instant variety of the game.