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Badminton

Anmol Kharb, the hero of Badminton Asia Team Championships ceases India's long wait

That Anmol Kharb propelled India to the final on a day when Olympian and world champion PV Sindhu lost holds endless significance for Indian women's singles. It is only imperative that she rises from here and sustains her stardom.

Anmol Kharb, the hero of Badminton Asia Team Championships ceases Indias long wait
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FILE PHOTO: Anmol Kharb won two deciding clashes at the Badminton Asia Team Championships to keep India's unbeaten record intact in Malaysia.

By

Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 18 Feb 2024 4:19 AM GMT

Indispensable. This is the meaning of the Hindi word 'anmol', and the 17-year-old lithe figured Anmol Kharb from Haryana's Faridabad manifested she is truly a priceless gem.

Anmol is India's reigning national champion. Usually, at the international level, being an Indian national champion hardly gives any shuttler an edge. We have seen it in the past. Hence, our national champions hardly fetch any attention, neither from the fans nor from the media. India never had a youngster who took the whole continent by storm on her debut.

But Anmol, who won her maiden senior national championship crown only last year, demonstrated the fact very well that being an Indian national also holds weightage at international events.

Called upon in the national women's team for the Badminton Asia Team Championships, Anmol destroyed her opponents from China and Japan - considered the epitome of badminton, and she filled Indian fans with unbridled joy by steering the team to the final, for the first time since 1962, when the inaugural edition of the event was held.

Anmol hogged the headline when she beat Chinese youngster Wu Luo Yu in a show of temperament and skills in the deciding fifth match to give India a 3-2 win in the group stage.

Her win at the climax of the tie propelled her to overnight stardom, and the vague comparisons have already been made.

National coach Vimal Kumar declared, "This girl reminds me of young Saina Nehwal -- fearless, gritty, determined."

But Anmol is not the first Indian player who has been compared with Saina, the flagbearer of Indian women's singles in the early years of the 2000s, or PV Sindhu, her successor. In the past, we have had several players being compared with these stars but none lived up to their billings. Our junior players have always been in 'arrival mode', but they never really made the landing in the senior circuit or sustained the comparisons. None delivered as stunning a performance as Anmol at the tender age.

Anmol perhaps does not belong to the same leg as attested by her in Malaysia. She is a Saina fan, and on the legend's influence on her life, Anmol said, "It is special, I am very happy that people are comparing me with Saina Nehwal."

"She (Saina) is an aggressive and attacking player. Me and Saina Nehwal are a bit similar because we both are from the same state, and like her, I am also an aggressive player," she stated.

"I have been following her for the last 5-6 years. I have learned from her strokes and variation," Anmol added.

That her performance against the Chinese player under pressure was no fluke, Anmol demonstrated it again on Saturday, in the semifinal against Japan.

Playing under an identical situation on Saturday, with the tie at level 2-2, but against a better player, world no. 29 Natsuki Nidaira, Anmol cruised like an experienced player and made the Indian crowd at Shah Alam, Malaysia, thrilled.

But things did not look very promising for India at the onset of the tie when Sindhu, the leader of the team, lost the opening match in straight games to Aya Ohori. When India's hope looked dashed, young pair Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand stood out and prevailed against all odds to hand out world no. 6 Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida a three-game defeat.

Ashmita Chaliha, a left-handed talent, would then toy with former world champion Nozomi Okuhara with her magnificent reach, smash, and subtle net play to put India in a 2-1 lead.

Sindhu had to digest her second defeat of the day, when she formed a scratch pair with Ashwini Ponnappa in the absence of injured Tanisha Crasto and lost in straight games against Rena Miyaura and Ayako Sakuramoto.

The tie was finely poised at 2-2. The task then fell on Anmol, the baby of the team. Given the track record of Indian youngsters in the recent past in international events, nobody would have liked to bet on Anmol. But after her win against China, she managed to instil a sense of confidence among her teammates, fans, and team management.

Against Natsuki, when she displayed brilliant judgement, fetching several winners by just letting the shuttle go long and earning clinchers with angled placement at the net, pushing the Japanese player far away from the shuttle, there was murmur (read appreciation) can be overhead in the streaming in the Indian think-tank, over her superb game awareness, variations in strokes and deft placements.

In her straight games win Anmol did not concede the lead at the interval in both games. Her control at the net, and ability to manage the court from rear court to frontcourt and vice versa were impressive. Her ability to keep her opponent guessing also helped as Natsuki struggled to fathom Anmol's next possible stroke. Her down-the-line and picture-perfect tosses at the rear courts were also awe-striking.

There was no lack of moments of brilliance from Anmol.

At 16-12 in the first game, Anmol slowed down the pace of the shuttle by employing her brilliant top-of-the-racquet shot. Natsuki bent and drove the shuttle into the net.

Anmol completed the rout in her first match point itself as the Indian women's team reached the final of the Badminton Asia Team Championships and also secured a place in the Uber Cup, to be held later this year.

Reflecting on her approach to the deciding rubber, Anmol, after the semifinal, said, "I was not expecting (to win). But I was like I will give my 100 per cent, it is not about winning or losing. As it was a crucial match, I was thinking if I could win my team could be the finalist or gold medallist."

While Anmol's attacking game will only get better over time, her defence was tested by Natsuki on a few occasions, and Anmol has not shied away from saying, "My attack is superior to my defence, which I need to strengthen. depend on power and I like to get points with my attack but I need to work on my control a lot more."

As improvement is an essential element in a player's progress, India might have finally found a player who could potentially give us moments of joy in women's singles.

That she propelled India to the final on a day when Olympian and world champion PV Sindhu lost holds endless significance for Indian women's singles. It is only imperative that she rises from here and sustains her stardom.

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