Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


Anmol Kharb, the roaring hope of India who basked in Asian team glory

17-year-old Anmol Kharb, playing a high-stakes decisive rubber in the final against Thailand at the Badminton Asia Team Championships, registered a cosy straight-game win against Pornpicha Choeikeewong as she guided India to the historic gold after Thailand neutralised Sindhu and Treesa-Gayatri's wins.

Anmol Kharb, the roaring hope of India who basked in Asian team glory

FILE PHOTO: Anmol Kharb celebrates after winning her match against Natsuki Nidaira in India's semifinal win against Japan on February 17. 


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 21 Feb 2024 12:35 PM GMT

Unseeded Indian girls, whose previous best was a quarterfinal finish, created history on Sunday by conquering the Badminton Asia Team Championships.

The national women's team brought unbridled joy home along with the coveted trophy and the gold medal, India's first at the prestigious Championships.

The joy of watching sports becomes boundless when the most unexpected thing happens. That is the pleasure of experiencing any sport.

The Indian women's team winning the gong at Shah Alam, Malaysia, was quite an unforeseen upshot given the players' raw experience and below-par form before the event.

Superstar PV Sindhu was making a comeback to the international arena for the first time since October 2023, recovering from a left knee injury.

Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand were not at the best of their form when they headed to the Championships. If truth to be told, they were India's second-choice pair. In the middle of the tournament, Ashwini Ponnappa's women's doubles partner Tanisha Crasto suffered a niggle. Ashmita Chaliha, a brilliant left-handed talent, on her day, can pierce through any top player's defence as seen in her semifinal win against Japanese star Nozomi Okuhara but inconsistency is her biggest enemy. And then, we have Anmol Kharb, a raw and inexperienced talent.

Before the shuttle started flying at Shah Alam, Malaysia, on February 13, the focus was on the starstudded men's team. But things do not always unfold on expected lines in sports; predictions and expectations tend to go wrong.

As it happened, the team of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty, HS Prannoy, Lakshya Sen and Kidambi Srikanth succumbed to the Japanese spirit in the quarterfinal.

In contrast, the Indian girls were on a roll from the very beginning. They hunted down China, undoubtedly the mightiest side in any team event.

Even though China fielded a second-string side, given the track record of our youngsters, India was no pre-match favourite in the group tie. Moreover, our women's team in the past never fared well in team events. But Indian players rose above the clamour of tea table discussion and thumped China 3-2.

The victory of the Indian women's team in the final against Thailand, also a first-time finalist, is an underdog achievement, steered especially by three youngsters who remained unbeaten and punched above their weight beating much higher-ranked pairings against seeded teams.

On paper, it was never a battle of equals. Though India had the upper hand with PV Sindhu leading from the front and giving India a 1-0 lead with a straight-game win over Supanida Katethong, it was way behind Thailand in rankings when it comes to women's doubles and remaining singles matches. But given the current red-hot form of the Indian players, the ranking hardly had anything to do with the outcome.

World no. 10 Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Pranjongjai are ranked 13 places above India's best in the tie and had a 4-1 head-to-head record against Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand, who are always under pressure to deliver even though they are just 20 now.

But the Indian duo resumed from where they finished against Jongkolphan and Rawinda at the All England Open in 2023 and rode on their blazing form of a three-game win against world no. 6 Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida in the semifinals. Imitating their win in the Round of 32 in Birmingham a year ago, Treesa and Gayatri prevailed over the Thai combo 21-16, 18-21, 21-16 to put India in a 2-0 lead.

When Treesa and Gayatri found their mojo back just at the right time, there was Anmol Kharb, a 17-year-old national champion.

The Haryana girl's temperament and wristy game floored her opponents, fans and coaches alike throughout the Championships as her carefree game against experienced players from 2-2 situations made her the obvious find of the tournament. She is the queen, the hero and the cynosure of all eyes in India's epoch-making campaign.

Despite playing for the first time on the international senior level, she did not let her unfamiliarity with an alien condition in faraway land play into her mind.

Anmol displayed her uncanny consistency, a consistency that is usually unfound in a youngster playing a high-stakes deciding clash at a tournament finale, which comes only biennially. Our eyes are tired of seeing Indian youngsters getting overawed under pressure and failing to live up to their promises.

We usually hold high esteem for Chinese and Korean youngsters, who are known for taking the world by storm on their first landing at the international circuit, but not for any Indian emerging player.

But Anmol is a nonchalant player as she demonstrated in Malaysia. In the battle of two unheralded players in India's group-stage clash against China, she dismantled Wu Luo Yu. India required her service then directly in the semifinals, there too, against a BWF Tour regular, Natsuki Nidaira, she prevailed in straight games.

In the final, Thailand drew 2-2 level after Busanan Ongbamrungphan toyed with Ashmita Chaliha, and Aimsaard sisters - Benyapa and Nuntakarn - defeated Shruti Mishra and Priya Konjengbam to restore the parity. But Anmol showed little sign of nerves going up in the deciding match.

She can be a lithe figure player, but it was evident that she has a cool and mature head over her light physique, and she knows how to manipulate the game as per her strength.

After taking down the Chinese and Japanese players, confidence soared in her game.

"I was hoping someone would lose, so we could watch her play a toughie against China. She is just a breath of fresh air, so innocent and fearless and naturally clever on the court. She would just turn around and ask which serve to use next – high toss or straight," coach Pullela Gopichand told Indian Express after Anmol's win in the semifinal.

Big talks unfurled from the guardians of Indian badminton. Vimal Kumar was quick to point out that the girl reminds him of the early days of legendary Saina Nehwal.

Former star player turned coach Gopichand, who was on the sidelines throughout the tournament and continued to devise Anmol's game with his crucial advice during her straight-game win over Pornpicha Choeikeewong in the final, is astonished.

"She has a natural reading of the game which refreshingly surprised me. She takes instructions happily; she is a livewire talent," Gopichand added.

On Sunday, Pornpicha, ranked 45th in the world, looked baffled at Anmol's use of wristy flicks, angled returns, surprising smashes and swift court movement as Wu and Natsuki. Emotions flared as her Indian teammates, led by Tanisha and cheered by Sindhu from the sidelines, kept chanting, Anmol, Anmol and Bharat Mata Ki Jai to keep their last hope, Anmol, boosted.

The Indian shuttler delivered by guiding India to the historic Asian team gold with a cosy 21-14, 21-9 win. Anmol and her wins in decisive rubbers are also the reason that India will now leave Malaysia as the unbeaten champion.

In badminton, every player strives for the elusive consistency. But only a few like Viktor Axelsen and An Se Young among their contemporaries could achieve complete control over their fields in recent years.

But they rose to that level after playing many dogged matches. For a player like Anmol, who had never played any senior player of another country before coming to Malaysia, to win three matches in a row, that too in the rubbers, is as incredible a feat as India's Badminton Asia Team Championships winning show.

Before now 22 An Se Young, the world no. 1, rose to the all-conquering level of her career, there was this kind of spark in her performances when she stepped into the intense BWF World Tour as a teenager.

Anmol, as promised now with her sheer consistency at the Asian level, could be the one to follow the trajectory of Young, considering she is fed with the requisite services in the coming years to be a future champion women's singles player.

Next Story