"Just about anybody can win" - Sameer Verma gauges new competition at badminton selection trials
Although he is out of the race in the ongoing BAI Selection trials, former World No. 11 and veteran shuttler Sameer Verma reflects on the NextGen and the challenges they pose for the senior lot.
New Delhi: Former World No. 11 Sameer Verma may be out of contention for the men's singles spots available for the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, but if there is one thing that the veteran shuttler has sensed, it is that things are no longer the same old about Indian badminton - the field is fast-changing.
At the ongoing BAI Selection Trials, other than the all-important squad selection affairs for the Thomas & Uber Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, the turnout of players is a sight in itself, given the range of their ages.
Inside a bustling KD Jadhav Indoor Hall within the Indira Gandhi Stadium Complex in New Delhi, a motley crowd of new faces and old dot the hallways and the eight courts set up for the BAI Selection Trials, including two practice ones.
From a 14-year-old Super 100 winner Unnati Hooda to a 29-year-old World Championship bronze medallist B. Sai Praneeth and a 32-year-old Ashwini Ponnappa, the mix is interesting, making the playing field an exciting one to witness.
Although one may be skeptical about the quality of play involved in a national-level tournament, sans any international threats, the trials have oddly panned out as an exciting revelation with the mix of young and the old, being pitched against each other.
This isn't like the usual scene anymore and with it, the expected competition has also changed drastically for the better as Sameer Verma relays to The Bridge, on the sidelines of the Trials.
"In India right now, just about anybody is playing well, you can't even imagine!" Sameer mentions with a laugh.
"You can't take things lightly at all anymore, anybody can win now. Earlier you could only be 70-80% good and that would be enough to make you win the match, but now things are different," Sameer noted, indicating the newfound depth of badminton in the country.
"The trials have seen some really good matches, right from the first day, the quality is very surprising but a welcome sight," Sameer reflected.
While a complete takeover from NextGen may still be a big ask especially with the Verma's and Praneeth's still present, they are doing just enough to show that they have what it takes to go the distance.
"Right now, Kiran George, Priyanshu Rajawat and another new guy, Ravi are doing very well and they will be ones to watch out for in the immediate future," Sameer gathered, judging from their recent streak of performances at the Trials where they notched up the heat on the court.
Factoring in age and experience
For the senior lot of players, the struggle with injuries is the one bogging them down, making them take hard decisions every now and then.
Sameer, when asked why he gave a walkover in his match against Priyanshu Rajawat in a League 2 match, Sameer briskly replied, "I don't want to make the same mistake I did by playing on during Denmark last year, my body can't afford every kind of toll," he said.
At the Denmark Open, Sameer made a dash to the quarters, with a niggling calf injury, defeating Thai sensation Kunlavut Vitidsarn and World No. 3 Dane, Anders Antonsen before retiring against Indonesia's Tommy Sugiarto.
With the new crop of players, the scene of badminton is on the brink of a major change now and the trials is only a trailer of the days to come soon.
"Yes, it can be challenging for us but it's also the same for them as they are upcoming players," Sameer mentions, reflecting on the fresh competition from Kiran George and co.
"If they are on the same level after some time, you need to have a game idea, which only comes with experience. For now, we are ahead with experience and they are ahead with their quick movements and are fitter," Sameer reasoned.
In recent history, the competition, especially in men's singles has intensified with Lakshya Sen being the frontrunner, armed with a World Championship bronze and a silver from the All England Championships.
The situation is such that there is only one spot up for grabs for the men in the squads of the Asiad and CWG with Lakshya, Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy already selected based on their rankings and recent performance.
Packed with a tinge of unpredictability now, Indian badminton's next phase is a melting pot of all things exciting, with all of it pointing towards a new dawn and an eventual change of guards.