Asian Games: China winners again as India’s historic badminton silver a story of what ifs

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If HS Prannoy would be fit for the game?

What if Kidambi Srikanth won a game point in his first game?

So was Dhruv Kapila playing with his regular partner Arjun MR, who was injured?

What a futile pursuit then, but the Indian men’s badminton team will surely regret it tonight. Because beyond all that, within touching distance was the historic gold medal. Beating China in Badminton. China is beating China.

The defending champions have 43 badminton gold medals – the most in Asian Games history. And India were one match away from winning their first badminton gold.

But it was not to be as the hosts came from 0-2 down to win the men’s best-of-five final 3-2.

A stunning win by Lakshya Sen and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty was not enough as Srikanth went down in the third rubber.

How China wrested victory from the jaws of defeat

Playing a full-strength China at home in badminton is always going to be a big challenge. But this was one India was prepared for — they are the reigning men’s world champions after all.

India’s No. 1 Prannoy was sidelined with a back injury, but despite not being the world No. 7, India had enough quality to win. Against Lakshya Sen, who was ranked first, was Shi Yuki – world No. 6, former All England champion, who was seen as the next Lin Dan.

The world No. 14 has never played alongside him before, but as he has often shown, fame matters little to the 22-year-old. He played a breathtaking match, coming back from 9-14 down to win 22-20, 14-21, 21-19.

The first shock was the reigning Asian champions of Satvik and Chirag. Indian World No. 3 vs. Chinese World No. 2, Liang Wei Keng and Wang Chang. Head to Head – 1-2 behind.

But sat-chi sat-chi did things – the first win saw them almost dominate the match 21-15, 21-18. It wasn’t a hard-fought victory, but Chirag was celebrating by taking off his T-shirt and doing their trademark dance – a message considering the venue.

Then came Kidambi Srikanth – former World No. 1, 2021 World Championship finalist, 2022 Thomas Cup champion, the most experienced Indian in men’s singles. Opposite him was world number 8 Li Shi Feng, the 23-year-old All England champion.

This was the match. India had to go 3-0 to win the gold medal. The next two matches will feature inexperienced, second-string Indian players.

Srikanth knew his job and started it well. But it was a nervous match, much more limited that the first two: 8-8, 9-9, 10-10. But gradually Srikanth came into his own; 11-10 lead at the interval, little fist pump, aggressive play, positive body language. He took an 18-14 lead. Lee trailed at 19-19 but the Indians won two game points with great points – momentum changes, digging in, smart play.

And then nerves struck, he wasted two game points and converted his first in overtime.

It was that cog that derailed the entire car. In the next game, he started well but fell from 7-11 to 7-17 and soon gave up 12 match points. It was an old Srikanth pattern and it reared its head at the worst possible time.

Next up was the scratch doubles pair of Dhruv Kapila and Sai Authnik (in place of Dhruv’s regular partner Arjun) as the world number 8 doubles pair of Liu Yu Chen and Ou Xuan Ye beat them 21-6, 21-15.

The decision was against national champion Mithun Manjunath, up against world number 20 Wang Hongyang – ranked 33 up. It was a baptism of fire as he lost 21-12, 21-4… The final game was the most one-sided of the entire tournament.

China saved their gold and India was left to regret what ifs… but they don’t have much time to do so: separate events begin tomorrow. There is still a chance to end India’s gold medal drought at the Asian Games.

Incidentally, Srikanth will play in the individual event after defeating the highly ranked Laksha in the trials. If he and the rest can use this defeat as their fuel, badminton events can be very interesting.

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