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Asian Games

Asian Games Badminton: Srikanth loses, Prannoy misses - India drops gold against China

India lost the gold medal to China despite Lakshya Sen and Satwik-Chirag giving it a crucial 2-0 lead. Srikanth's defeat to Shi Feng in the third match saw a momentous shift in the final, as China would win the next two matches in straight games to retain the title.

Indian badminton team

Indian badminton team displaying medals at victory podium at Asian Games (Source: PPBA)


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 2 Oct 2023 2:04 AM GMT

HS Prannoy, the missing piece in the final, turned out to be the difference between India and China. The Indian men's badminton lost the gold medal to China despite jetting off to a 2-0 lead with dominating wins in singles and doubles matches.

Yet, it was a so-near yet so-far story for India, who dropped the gold medal from its greasy hands as shuttlers gave away easy points in the final three matches. India was just one match short of scripting history but ended up losing 2-3 to China, who defended the gold medal, showing intense willpower and a never-say-die attitude, scripting a one for ages comeback. India, however, managed to win a silver medal, a first for the country in the team event at the Asiad.

Kidambi Srikanth, the once invincible shuttler turned inconsistent bloke, could not help India propel to a 3-0 victory. The scratching pair of Dhruv Kapila and Sai Pratheek failed to put up any fight either, against world no. 8 Liu Yu Chen and Ou Xuan Yi.

After India cruised to a 2-0 lead with absolute dominating victories crafted by Lakshya Sen in opening men's singles and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty in men's doubles matches, Srikanth, the former world no. 1 and Thomas Cup winning star, was tasked with playing the third match, with chances of a clean sweep awaiting India.

Srikanth's inconsistency deprives India

Lakshya, playing his final match at the Asian Games, came back from a game down against world no. 6 Shi Yu Qi to win the match 20-22, 21-14, 21-18 in an 84-minute thriller. With thunderous shots, winning net battles with hard pushes, converting defence to offence and winners with half-angled smashes - Lakshya was a changed man. The sharpness and confidence missing from his play in the first game was in view in the next two. He grew in confidence and overwhelmed Shi Yu Qi.

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty were fast and full of vigour. The Brothers of Destruction, a title they won for a reason, made it 2-0, absolutely bombarding world no. 2 Laing Weikeng and Wang Chang with relentless smashing. Satwik and Chirag won the match 21-15, 21-18 to set the stage for Srikanth.

A 2-0 lead for India should have made Srikanth confident to go for the winner against Li Shi Feng, the reigning All-England Open champion. They previously met twice and Srikanth won once but lost the last match at the Indonesia Open 2023. Given Srikanth's magnificent win in the semifinal against Cho Geonyeop, there was a belief that the world no. 21 should pull one off at Court 1 of the BJ Gymnasium.

There was no dearth of craft and skills from Srikanth. Some of the kills he has served from the net left Shi Feng stunned. His angled smashes were brilliant enough to fetch him the winners. Srikanth led for most part of opening game and took a crucial 18-14 lead against Shi Feng, who was operating under tremendous pressure to turn things around for China.

But a momentous shift in the game would see Shi Feng fighting his way back with five straight points to draw level. He then not only ruled out Srikanth's game point twice but also won it 24-22 in 41 minutes. Shi Feng's ruckus celebration said it all. He celebrated like he won the match. It was a big psychological blow for Srikanth. Coach Pullela Gopichand and Gurusai Dutt's constant inputs from the dugout could not uplift his morale. Numerous errors doffed the killing instinct off his game.

It became apparent more as the second game began. Shi Feng ramped up his game and bemused Srikanth with speedy movement. Under pressure Srikanth got a cold feet and lost the game 21-9 in just 22 minutes, letting China revive its hopes for the gold medal. The Red Army eventually snatched it from India's grasp. Had Prannoy been there, given the kind of track record he has maintained in recent times, the script could have been different. India could have sealed the contest here itself. But luck was not with India.

That Srikanth found the net frequently and saw his flat-angled smashes going wide several times against a fast Shi Feng, he lost the plot entirely. This match brought the smile back on the Chinese camp and the fans, creeping into every point and sometimes running into the Indians' minds, knew what they had achieved by beating Srikanth. They avoided an inevitable defeat against India and resurrected their hopes of winning the envied gold medal.

Manjunath no match for Hong Yang

With M. R. Arjun, Dhruv's regular men's doubles partner, following the action from the dugout, Dhruv and Sai succumbed to a 21-6, 21-15 defeat in 44 minutes in the fourth match of the tie. China, out of the blue, levelled the parity 2-2, forcing the decider, where a battle of unequals awaited.

And this was where Prannoy's absence was felt more. World no. 53 Manjunath, who did not play in India's enchanting 3-2 semifinal win over South Korea, was a shadow of his own self.

Up against a wily Weng Hong Yang, the world no. 20 and Australian Open winner, for the second time in 2023 after losing a three-setter at the Japan Open from a game up, Manjunath was no match for the Chinese emerging star. He could not put up any fight against a crafty and agile Hong Yang.

Hong Yang's fast movement, swift court coverage and deceptive placement of the shuttle kept Manjunath guessing throughout the match. Mithun's intent to put up a fight did not yield any result either, as there was a gulf in qualify and approach. The Indian shuttler lost the first game 12-21 and in the second game, he trailed 2-12 and then 2-15. From there on, Manjunath could collect only two points as Hong Yang raced away to a 21-4 win in the game and match in straight games. He then burst into celebration as the arena applauded China's rapid ascendancy in the Asian Games badminton.

A silver medal, historic though, would not make India any happier. That they failed to win the gold medal from the Planck length will haunt them for a long time.

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