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In a country as diverse like India, if you consider a second sport capable of being a strong threat in toppling over cricket as the key-attracting game, it must be badminton. It was with the rise of the Saina Nehwal's and the PV Sindhu's that badminton became a sport that flickered to life on television screens across the nation and heated evening sessions were held at the local clubs with nail-biting points being played out against local rivals. Come every winter, every shop selling odd items at the end of your street, will hang out badminton rackets and a beeline of customers would inevitably flock to buy them. The popularity and easy rules of badminton has always made this a sport much loved by all. In an era of intense competition where the young players dominate and the older ones are always cast into the shadows and their obituaries keep getting written with every loss they face, it was about time the tables turned. The Hyderabad Masters Badminton League (HMBL) has been designed quite inventively keeping the experienced and well seasoned players in mind and in a way to cater to their needs. The Bridge had the opportunity to speak to Manoj Ramchandran, who is the Media Head and co-founder of NIRMAN SMC which is playing a pivotal role for the event. He is also integral part of the HMBL Organizing Committee. It all began with Hyderabad-based entrepreneur TVN Rajesh's dream of seeing a badminton league for people above 35 taking shape. "He is an avid badminton player and it was his dream to make this happen in Hyderabad. It was his brainchild," says Ramachandran of TVN Rajesh, who is also the owner of the Hyderabad Nawabs franchise. Also Read: Hyderabad Masters League kicks off with player auction The Hyderabad Masters Badminton League will function through eight teams of minimum 18 players each (including coach/manager), owned by corporates or eminent badminton lovers in a franchise model. These teams will participate and battle it out in a three-day league-cum-knockout doubles tournament. "Once they approached me and Nirmala (Kotnis) and our sports management company, NIRMAN, we came on board. I helped them frame the rules, the logo," adds the father of budding badminton player Shlok Ramchandran. At a time when leagues are getting churned out by the minute ever since the Indian Premiere League (IPL) came into being, this kind of innovative league hasn't been seen before to do the rounds. The league system has helped on so many levels and Ramchandran elucidates on that, "It helps a lot. When you play as a team, there is the team spirit. Even the players come out with their best performances. Whether you are playing for the country or in any event as a team, it brings a lot of unity among the players." There are 8 teams competing in this event and the player selection has been very wise and hence the teams built are very balanced. "It is a multi-state team. There aren't only players from Telengana or Hyderabad. There are players from Mumbai and even as far as Guwahati. It is a multi-lingual and multi-cultural team," further adds Ramchandran. The importance in playing as a team and getting to intermix with talent across the nation, especially for players beyond 35 is indeed a fun experience. "In nationals, the players represent a state individually and there isn't much camaraderie among the players from different States which are rivals. In this case, the players come together, they play together, party together, it's a different atmosphere," says Ramchandran. The organizers of the event have gone a step further in visioning the 3 days from the 21st September to the 23rd of the month to go beyond the restrictions of being just another competition. "We want it to feel like a festival here in Hyderabad. We are thinking of putting up stalls selling various souvenirs of the city. We want people to have an experience. The various specialties of Hyderabad will be available here. People participating in the tournament won't get time to explore the city and so we'll bring the city to them here. They can take away things for their loved ones," explains Ramchandran who is spearheading a bulk of the event. With 80 women and 275 men signing up for the recently held auctions, the reception to HMBL is already a roaring success. "All the top players are playing. The teams are very balanced. We cannot predict who will win...Maybe a team will look stronger on paper but it all comes down to the strategy. There are 7 categories. And you have to know which players to keep in what category. Apart from knowing your own strength, you have to know your opponent's strength," says Ramchandran who has had enough exposure to the badminton world to form an expert opinion. The three-day event in September will be jam-packed with exciting badminton action, as national and international players from India as well club-level talents battle it out at the Kotla Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy Indoor Stadium. After a round-robin league, the top two teams from each group will play in semifinals and final. The tournament will have a prize money of Rs 6 lakh while the runners-up team will be handed Rs 3 lakh. The losing semifinalists will be rewarded with Rs 1 lakh each. The first round games will have 15 point matches whilst the semi-finals and finals will have the normal 21 point clashes in Best of 3 matches. The tournament will be played only in men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles categories. "We'll have two sessions everyday. Morning and afternoon. It won't be hectic because one player can only play once," reminds Ramchandran when asked about the tight scheduling of the League. Ramchandran, who has been personally involved in the training of his son Shlok and his niece Simran Singhi, knows the inside out of present day badminton scene. There have been marked improvements of late and Ramchandran traces it back to the reason of having the right kind of training for a change. "We are having international coaches and the entire training has become more scientific. It used to be hard and haphazard previously. We have learnt the scientific techniques from China, Malaysia and even the European countries. That makes a lot of difference. This is the recent change in Indian badminton," enlightens Manoj Ramchandran. To further popularise the sport and help many players take to it, Ramchandran suggests, "In my personal opinion, we should have like four-five National Academy's in India and not just one. There is never lack of talent, there is a lack of opportunities,", he believes. At a time when parents feel indecisive about letting their child venture into a sports career, it's maybe time to have a different kind of school. "There should be certain schools where the academic curriculum meet the sports curriculum," suggests the multi-talented Ramchandran. Narrating an anecdote proving how education and sports can come together and co-exist peacefully, Ramchandran says, "My niece (Simran Singhi), when she was in the 10th standard, she had an international tournament in Germany and Holland. Her board exams were on then. We wrote to the ICSE Board about it and she and her partner wrote their first paper from the Indian Embassy in Berlin. The ICSE Council and the BAI together connected and sent the paper. This was a wonderful thing. If they hadn't taken the first paper, they would have had to lose an year." But for now, all eyes and ears are trained on the Hyderabad Masters Badminton League as this is one of a kind. India has never seen a league quite like this and given it's successful start at the auction, there are plans already being chalked for next year. "Yes, we'll make HMBL into a brand. We are actually thinking of taking Hyderabad League out of India next year. We plan to globalise it soon. We are planning on it," says an excited Ramchandran. September should light up for the right reasons as the tables are turned with the real masters of the game taking over to battle it out in a never-before seen league. https://twitter.com/HMBL_India/status/1030042867400683520