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Asian Games badminton: India go down to China, clinch historic silver

India were 2-0 up, Kidambi Srikanth was leading 18-14 in the first game against Li Shifeng and the men’s team looked all set to win a first-ever gold medal in badminton at the Asian Games.

India were already on the backfoot even before the tie began with both HS Prannoy and MR Arjun pulling out with back injuries.(PTI)
India were already on the backfoot even before the tie began with both HS Prannoy and MR Arjun pulling out with back injuries.(PTI)

China, on the other hand, had worried faces in their corner. Having already lost the women’s team final 0-3 to South Korea a short while earlier, the hosts were on the verge of losing a successive summit clash in front of a vociferous home crowd.

But an encore of the 2022 Thomas Cup did not take place at Hangzhou’s Binjiang Gymnasium as China rallied to stage a come-from-behind 3-2 victory to defend their title on Sunday.

India signed off with a silver, their first in the men’s team event and second overall after PV Sindhu claimed the first in women’s singles five years ago at Jakarta. This is also the fourth medal for India in men’s team category, having claimed a bronze each in Tehran 1974, New Delhi 1982 and Seoul 1986.

India were already on the backfoot even before the tie began with both HS Prannoy and MR Arjun pulling out with back injuries. A lot depended on the first three matches if India wanted to pull it off.

Reigning Commonwealth Games champion Lakshya Sen gave India the perfect start, winning the opening singles contest 22-20, 14-21, 21-18 in a marathon contest that lasted an hour and 24 minutes against Shi Yuqi.

Sen was superb at the net and adapted really well to the drift inside the arena. The 22-year-old anticipated really well at the front and mid court, winning most of the flat exchanges.

The young Indian turned defense into offense regularly to counter the world No.6 and former All England champion especially in the third game and finally closed the contest with a body smash to hand India the opening tie and silence the partisan crowd.

“It was a close (match). I was happy with the start but fell back in the second. I came back in the third after the coach made tactical changes to my game. He also asked me to be patient and control (the shuttle) at the net. We’re playing against the home crowd so sometimes you’ve just got to stuff your ears with cotton and carry on,” said Sen.

Next up, it was world No.3 Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty taking on world No.2 Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang in the first doubles rubber. But the Indians were clearly the better pair on the day, earning a 21-15, 21-18 win to make it 2-0 for India.

Reigning All England champion Shifeng was under pressure early in the third match with Srikanth easily maintaining a healthy lead throughout the opening game. But as the game neared the end, avoidable mistakes started creeping into Srikanth’s game.

Suddenly from 18-14, it was 18-all with the local player fighting back. The Indian even had two game points but the world No.8 had enough shots in his bag to not just save them but also clinch the game. The momentum had shifted in the second game as a demoralised Srikanth lost the 22-24, 9-21 in 63 minutes.

It was always going to be difficult for the scratch pair of Dhruv Kapila and K Sai Pratheek, who was replacing Arjun, to beat Liu Yu Chen and Ou Xuan Yi as the world No.8 pairing won 21-6, 21-15 in 44 minutes to level the tie at 2-2.

Former cricketers VVS Laxman and Sairaj Bahutule and tennis star Bopanna Bopanna cheered on Mithun Manjunath, who replaced the injured Prannoy in the team for the final, in the fifth and final rubber, but world No.20 Weng Hong Yang proved to be too good, winning 21-12, 21-4 in exactly an hour.

“It’s not a great feeling, the way this went. Today I didn’t play well. I really wanted to win this for us. Maybe when I was leading in the first game, I should have just finished it, but I conceded two or three points and then he just took over,” said Srikanth.

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