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Badminton’s future stars

In the first of a series of four stories, Patriot aims at looking into the future stars of badminton in India who can replace our current icons of the game

SPORTS IN India apart from cricket has always been neglected. And while the country is aiming to soar higher in the field with improvement in more and more sports, the onus lies on the hands of the future players.

In a series of four stories, Patriot plans on looking into the future of four sport- badminton, tennis, athletics, and shooting- to see if the future of these games is bright or if there is a reason to worry.

If there is a single sport that has attempted to capture the imagination of every sports lover in India and has managed to create a mark in the world stage apart from cricket, then it definitely is badminton.

Over the years India has grown leaps and bounds in the sport. Down the years till 2009, only two people managed to scale the heights of the top of the sport- Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand having two All England titles and one BWF World Championship between them. So, essentially there were only three titles for India to boast of, that was until Saina Nehwal broke the scene in 2009 with her win in the Thailand Own, becoming the first Indian to do so.

This was quickly followed by her bronze medal win in the 2012 Olympics, and since then Indian badminton has been on the rise and has been emerging as one of the top powerhouses in the sport. This was followed by the rise of another superstar PV Sindhu, who recently became the third Indian to clinch a gold in the BWF world championships, after Padukone, in addition to clinching silver in the 2016 Olympics.

In the men’s singles division, Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth and Parupalli Kashyap have emerged in the past decade and ruled the roost, with multiple championships to their credit.

But what about the future? The question about the uncertainty of Indian badminton has come to the fore now with Saina Nehwal joining the BJP. The forerunner of the rise of Indian badminton, Saina is now 29 years old and has only one Olympic and mostly three years left in her career. Sindhu too, at 23 has a long future ahead, but the thought of shouldering the entire country on her shoulders seems a bit tiring.

The lack of depth in India’s women’s singles field is well reflected in the rankings. With Sindhu at world no. 6, and Saina at 9, the list sees the next entry only at 56 (Rituparna Das). Vaishnavi Reddy Jakka follows at 65, and there are five more outside 70.

In the men’s side too, the picture hasn’t quite been that rosy. 2019 was perhaps the worst year for India’s top male star Kidambi Srikanth, as he was without a title for the first time since 2017, and he even slipped the rankings below the top ten. The best a male star could achieve this year was a sole bronze medal by B Sai Praneeth.

So, in this tumultuous times who are the future stars of Indian badminton? The Premier badminton league season four which starts from 20th January may throw in some great stars in the making.

Here is a look at a few of them.

Lakshya Sen

There is much to marvel about the 18-year-old Lakshya Sen who has more or less, taken the badminton world by storm ever since his arrival. At a time when the top order of reliable Indian men’s shuttlers is failing to restore faith, it is Lakshya who has been the saving grace

The past season of 2019 has seen the youngster being the most improved and definitely, talented shuttler as he went on to win five BWF titles. Transitioning from the junior to the senior level, Sen smoothly conquered the courts at the Belgian International, the Dutch Open, the Scottish Open, the SaarLorLux Open and finally the Bangladesh Open, where he entered as the top seed.

So amazing was his run in 2019 that the youngster bagged a whopping purse of INR 36 lakhs at the auctions and was bought by the Chennai Superstarz. After veteran player Tommy Sugiarto, Sen is the highest-bid player in the Chennai team.

Given Sen’s incredible 2019 season, it should be of no surprise if this little big man will pull off a few surprises for his team in the crucial moments. He is a powerful weapon for Chennai and when used wisely, can prove to be fatal to the other teams.

Rituparna Panda

Ranked 56 in women’s doubles, 20-year-old Rituparna Panda is amongst the most sought-after youngest players in this season of PBL. She would undoubtedly turn out to be one of the major contributors to the game. With a ranking of 105 in mixed doubles, Panda has put an exceptional series of wins that will make her play this PBL. Bagged by North Eastern Warriors, Panda’s career breakthrough came in the year 2018 when she was selected to be part of the Indian team for the Asian Games.

She currently trains at the Hyderabad Academy. In July 2018, she won the women’s doubles title at the All-India senior ranking badminton tournament in Bengaluru. She is a player to stand against the storm and put her name in the league of the brightest stars at the age of 20. With her in the team, North Eastern Warriors surely has a bright prospect to bank on.

K Sathish Kumar

Another youngster to watch out for this season is Tamil Nadu’s K. Sathish Kumar. With an experienced side in Chennai Superstarz by his side, the 19-year-old will have a lot to learn and can use those skills to cause trouble in his matches for opponents. Recently last year, he captained the boy’s singles side at the BWF World Junior Championship 2019 Kazan, Russia.

He has also amassed an impressive total of 925 points from the All India Junior Ranking tournaments held in Panchkula and Bangalore in the month of August last year. The mindful player and energy with the swift foot Sathish is a versatile young player to assess the court and hit the nail on the edge.

Rituparna Das

Scooped up by the Pune Aces for INR 8 Lakhs, the 23-year-old Rituparna Das has been creating quiet ripples through her matches. The year 2019 has been pretty decent to her as she began the season well and ended it on a similar note. 2019 has been quiet spectacular for the spirited shuttler.

At the Italian International, Das set up a date with former World No. 1 Spanish player, Carolina Marin. Although Marin had the last laugh, Das did put up a commendable fight. At the Dubai International also, Das finished as the runner-up. A former National Champion, Das shot into the limelight when she went ahead till the semi-finals at the Syed Modi International Badminton tournament. Das went down fighting to Thailand’s Phittayaporn Chaiwan in 22-24, 15-21 in the semi-finals.

Das will be a key player for the Pune Aces given her recent form. Egged on by her sheer talent, Das can prove to create trouble on the court once her rhythm is set, after which there won’t be any stopping her

Ashmita Chaliha

For the rising Northeast superstar, the PBL is going to prove crucial for the long run of the season. Riding on the success of her double gold win at the South Asian Games, Chaliha has her eyes set onto the future and aspires to break into the Top 50 hopefully. Bagged by her home team, the North Eastern Warriors, Ashmita was bid for INR 3 Lakhs. At 20 years of age, Ashmita’s highlight moment of her career came with the gold medal victory at the South Asian Games.

Pestered by an injury, the majority of Chaliha’s 2019 had gone in nursing it but the sprightly girl from Northeast managed to bounce back in time. Powered on by her skills and talent at the sport, Chaliha made the gold victory seem so natural to her.

Chaliha began to show signs of promise when she stirred us up to take notice of her wins at the Dubai International Challenge and the Tata Open International Challenge.

Set to debut at the PBL, the young shuttler is keen to explore her talent further and rub shoulders with the best in the game. With Michelle Li, Lee Yong Dae and Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk on her team, she will have a lot to learn and can use those skills to cause trouble in her matches for her opponents.