"Up to us how we groom this next batch" — Coach Vimal Kumar after Badminton selection trials revelations
Acting as an eye-opener for selectors and players alike, the Selection Trials have revealed budding talents like Priyanshu Rajawat and Unnati Hooda - who will have to be fashioned into world-beaters next.
New Delhi: With the dust nearly settling in the aftermath of the BAI Badminton Selection Trials that were held at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall inside the premises of the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex and the teams selected for the Thomas & Uber Cup, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, a lot of food for thought has been saved to chew on now.
In a six-day affair of intense, rigorous badminton and an incredibly pressing schedule with multiple matches packed in a single day for a player, two clear stars emerged as future hopes for India - one 14-year-old Haryanvi, Unnati Hooda and the other a boy from Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, a shy-smiling Priyanshu Rajawat.
If little Unnati had skipped her finals at the Badminton Junior Ranking tournament to attend the trials, Priyanshu never gave himself a chance to end up as the last man standing in the highly-competitive men's singles fray. But there they are now - with a little pinch of self-belief and playing with a no-inhibitions attitude, both Unnati and Priyanshu have made it to the squads after triumphant shows.
Just as the tapes were being peeled off the courts and the nets rolled down, Dronacharya awardee coach Vimal Kumar, looking visibly pleased, sat down with The Bridge and reflected on the concluded trials and the road ahead for the latest findings from the event.
"Our players haven't been getting enough tournaments to participate in. The trials were a good eye-opener with so many doing so well - there is a lot of depth in our sport and I am all the more hopeful now, a lot of positives to take back from here," Kumar, the co-founder of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy relayed.
With the pandemic acting villain, the NextGen of badminton players haven't had the exposure and competition duly required for them to develop and in that light, the badminton trials acted as a steady check of their progress and the miles remaining to be improved, next.
"I thought many of our youngsters would get the opportunity to play each other and test their skills. It was also an opportunity for us selectors to get to see them and their level. Overall, I am very impressed by their performances," Kumar mentioned, asserting the need and importance of the trials.
A squad with a new look
To say that Indian badminton is going through a phase of metamorphosis would be the closest verb to associate the ongoing phenomenon if we are to simply take a glad at the teams selected for the Thomas & Uber Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
The newly-comprised squads for the upcoming team events do not bear a same-old look but are rather refreshing with the veterans almost naturally, making way for the young blood to shine, albeit on their own merit. Instead of the regular faces of Saina Nehwal, Sameer Verma, and Parupalli Kashyap, the latest Indian teams are a mixed bag of players, making the field interesting and promising at the same time.
On the women's side, the range of ages in the players speaks volumes in itself. If Unnati is just 14 and the youngest on the squad, Ashwini Ponnappa at 32 is the oldest in the doubles category.
On the men's half, Priyanshu Rajawat, at 20, is the youngest and HS Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth, both at 29, are the oldest - making this range also equally enthralling.
Onus on BAI to groom talent
For Kumar, the trials have only given the BAI more direction in what needs to be done to produce fine badminton talent from the country.
"The next most important aspect is to figure out how we will groom this bunch. The onus and a lot of responsibility will be on the BAI," Kumar affirmed. "They need to provide them with support of all kinds. I'm not saying that they have to be given everything but whatever the best possible because they now need to play more challengers and tournaments and make a mark on the world stage."
"If we can do that, in the next 1-2 years we can have some good women's singles players and men's singles players and even women's doubles - I'm very impressed with two or three of our combinations here at the trials. They are showing good progress," Kumar asserted, going on to speak highly of the pair of Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand and Tanisha Crasto and Shruti Mishra.
In fact, Treesa and Gayatri were the talk of badminton town after their exploits at the All England Open where they reached the semi-finals on their debut itself, defeating World No. 2 Korean pair of Lee Sohee and Shin Seungchan en route as well. After that victory, according to Kumar, the pair have only gone on to improve.
If the trials have proved anything, it is that exciting things are on the horizon for Indian badminton and with the right amount of grooming and tempering, we will be entering a new chapter in history swiftly. It remains to be seen how much the BAI and the coaches rise up to the occasion and draw that day closer now.