With 80 medals already (at the time of writing this article), including 37 gold and 30 silver, India is unsurprisingly leading the medal tally in the ongoing South Asian Games (SAG) that is being held in Nepal. Featuring just seven nations, the 13th edition of the Games has seen plenty of youngsters from this part of the globe take the courts and battle it out for supremacy.
While the tournament allows upcoming talents to test their skills in an international platform, there is no denying the fact that the level of competition on offer is minimal, to say the least. A vast gap seems to exist between the fighting spirit exhibited by the Indians and the other nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal. This is also a major reason why the country has been able to dominate all editions of the SAG thus far.
It, however, remains an ideal opportunity for the younger guns to gain some valuable match practice, and it, thus, comes as a surprise why top-ranked badminton ace Kidambi Srikanth replaced 18-year old Lakshya Sen in the men's team event. Srikanth, who has not had the best of years on the circuit, could have instead taken some time off to gear up for what will be an important year ahead, allowing Sen to compete.
Already an Olympic Gold Quest athlete, Sen, ranked 41 in the world, has shown immense improvement in his game and managed to win four titles this year, including three successive events in 2019. The Uttarakhand-born shuttler has impressed in his first full calendar year on the senior circuit, learning the traits of patience and maturity as the tournaments have progressed. Allowing him to take the field, then, in place of Srikanth, to better his game even more, would not have been the worst of moves.
Srikanth, on the other hand, who recently dropped out of the top 10 in the BWF singles rankings, has pulled out of the upcoming Pro Badminton League (PBL) to focus on preparing for the Olympics next year despite the stronger level of competition on offer and the presence of higher-ranked players in the tournament. The 26-year-old had a dismal 2019 season, reaching only one final this year in the India Open.
His game has drastically slumped, and fighting it out against top badminton stars rather than playing and winning against a bunch of inexperienced athletes might have helped him prepare for Tokyo better.
Though Srikanth helped the Indian men's team clinch gold in the SAG, helping the side gain a 1-0 lead in the finals after a hard-fought win, there is no reason to believe that the result would have been any different had Sen replaced him in the squad.