PBL: Saina-led Awadhe encounter with Bengaluru promises rich fare

Lucknow: The near-capacity crowds that turned out at the Babu Banarasi Das Stadium on Monday to watch the leader of their own Awadhe Warriors squad, Saina Nehwal, will have another opportunity of watching the nation's darling in action when the Lucknow side takes on Bengaluru Topguns in the only Premier Badminton League (PBL) tie on Wednesday.

Saina Nehwal. Pic/AFP
Saina Nehwal. Pic/AFP

The extent of the crowd's love affair with Saina could be gauged from the fact that, after the 25 year old shuttle queen destroyed her former Gopichand Academy stable-mate P C Thulasi in the second match of the tie against Delhi Acers (which also happened to be the trump match for Awadhe), the fans almost miraculously melted away, and the final two matches of the tie were played to a near-empty stadium.

Saina, however, may have two minds over taking the court on Wednesday against Bengaluru's Chinese import Suo Di, who was impressive on Monday while decimating the challenge of the world's no.7 ranked junior, Supanida Katethong of Thailand. Playing on consecutive days while carrying an Achilles tendon injury may not be Saina's idea of the ideal preparation for the Rio Olympics, later this year.

The crackle of electricity will, however, be heard in the two men's singles ties when the home side's Indian national champion Sai Praneeth and Thai southpaw Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk cross swords with two 21 year olds – the in-form Kidambi Srikanth and Sameer Varma, younger brother of former national champion Saurabh.

It would be great if Tanongsak were to clash with Srikanth, with Bengaluru placing their trump on the Indian, who was ranked no.4 in the world at one time, before sliding to his current ninth spot. Both are attacking players with power-packed smashes in their respective arsenals, and neither will give or take any quarter.

The men's doubles clash should provide spectators with plenty of opportunities of clearing their vocal chords, as the Chinese-Thai combination of Cai Yun and Bodin Issara take on the regular Malaysian pair Lim Khim Wah and How Hoon Thien.

Really, this match is too close to call, as all the five doubles clashes seen on the first three days of the PBL have been desperately close, with barely a point or two separating the two sets of adversaries.

In the mixed doubles, Awadhe will doubtless dispense with the experiment of pairing Indonesian Hendra Gunawan with K Maneesha, and revert to using the services of Danish world no.4, Christinna Pedersen with Issara. Their face-off with Joachim Fischer-Nielsen and Ashwini Ponnappa should provide edge-of-the-seat fare, with Awadhe carrying a slight edge.

The tie will no doubt go down to the wire, but Awadhe will hold a slight edge if their captain and icon plays with a trump riding on the result of her match.

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