PV Sindhu, Anmol Kharb and doubles pair Treesa/Gayatri seal gold for India in Asia team championship

The Indian Women’s Badminton Team created history by winning the Badminton Asia Championship

Pop the cork, pour the bubbly. Say cheers to the Indian ladies’ badminton team after they defeated Thailand 3-2 to win a historic gold medal at the Badminton Asia Team Championship in Selangor, Malaysia on Sunday. Led by PV Sindhu’s return to form and inspirational performances from the doubles pair of Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly, it finally boiled down to Anmol Kharb delivering the heavyweight punch in the fifth match to seal the deal.

Sindhu routed Supanida Katethong in straight games, 21-12, 21-12, but this was a day when collective efforts were required, in the real sense. Gayatri and Treesa were put through the wringer before winning in three games against Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai.
Anmol, the rising star, had to fight hard and absorb the pressure. Having turned in a star act on Saturday, the young girl once again caught the eye with her strong presence on court to win the decisive fifth rubber on Sunday.

Hailing from Faridabad, in the National Capital Region, she is fearless. Her stroke production is bold, and she has come in for fulsome praise not just from coach Pullela Gopichand but even Vimal Kumar. The best part – her footwork, swift steps front and back, and lateral movement which is compact.

There are comparisons being made with a young Saina Nehwal, which may be a bit too much at this stage. Yes, Anmol has the potential and will continue to impress. In the long run, though, opponents will try and decode her game when she plays individual events in the open category.

Anmol Kharb after the win

It was a delight to watch her being given tips by Gopichand, a coach who has groomed so many champions in India. The scoreline for Anmol was 21-14, 21-9 against Pornpicha Choeikeewong. It was a high-pressure task, but Gopi loves this mentoring job. From All England champion to Dronacharya, he is ensuring the talent pool will not dry up and youngsters will deliver on the big stage.
On a day when badminton fans rose early on a holiday to catch the action, Sindhu showed she is back in form. At least, her body language conveys she is ready, again, in the year of the Paris Olympics.

The team format is a hard one. Yet, when you have someone like Sindhu firing on all cylinders, it inspires the younger lot to also raise their level. Against Katethong, Sindhu looked in good touch. She had been out on an injury break but the amount of work she has put in on her rehab and strengthening showed as she was jumping and moving on the court with grace.
Sindhu’s height gives her an advantage when she is hitting the shuttle. The trajectory makes it difficult for the opponent. On a day when Katethong was far too error prone, she looked in deep trouble. There was a drift, thanks to the air conditioning, which can alter the flight path of the shuttle. It worked to the disadvantage of Katethong, who, as it is, was unable to string together points against the Indian badminton queen.

To be sure, Sindhu was never in trouble at any point of the match. This is an important year for her as she aims for a hat-trick of medals at the Olympics. She won silver in Rio in 2016 and a bronze in Tokyo, three years ago. Critics had written her off last year when she had poor results, including a below-par showing at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
Watching Sindhu return in Selangor, Malaysia, offered pointers that she is taking flight again. That Sindhu won her match in just 39 minutes was a sign she is not going to waste time on the court.

In the second match of the day, Gayatri and Treesa promised a lot at the start, then stuttered before exploding to defeat the fleet-footed Kititharakul and Prajongjai in three games, 21-16, 18-21, 21-16.
Watching the first game, the Indians did a tango, mostly from the back court. Doubles is also about angles, nuances, and how much of understanding a pair can exhibit. Treesa and Gayatri did try hard but the way the higher ranked Jongkolphan and Rawinda turned on the heat was a great sight. They measured the perimeters of the court well and conjured up good angles. Unlike the first game, the Thai pair’s inclination to hit sharper and catch the Indians slow at the net made a difference.

There was a sudden change in the script, a twist, in the last 15 minutes of the one-hour-and-13-minute contest as Gayatri and Treesa changed tactics. They were being guided by Gopichand. Yet, the key was to suddenly come up with an adrenaline-fuelled burst. The hesitancy was gone and what one saw in place was the Indians respond to the shouting from the sidelines. Smashes flowed and so did the deception. The key was not to lose steam. For the record, the Indians had a 1-4 record before this match against the Thais. Plus, of course, Gayatri was coming back from an injury.

In the second singles, Busanan Ongbamrungphan was all fire and flourish as she packed off the left-handed Ashmita Chaliha 21-11, 21-14 in just 35 minutes. The Thai girl was superior in all areas and defined her intent by winning the last seven points in a row to seal the rubber.
The second ladies doubles turned out to be a tame affair as Priya Konjengbam and Shruti Mishra lost to the Aimsaard sisters – Benyapa and Nuntakarn – 11-21, 9-21. Anmol ensured, however, that India had the last word.


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