There is no time to waste in sport. Even as the rest of the country parties away to sign off from 2016, Indian badminton players and their foreign teammates will have worked their limbs off preparing for season two of the Premier Badminton League.
The competition is set to garner a new level of attention in the wake of that much-celebrated Olympic medal for PV Sindhu in August.
The tournament is the richest badminton event on the calendar, offering $1 million in prize money to the six teams. With marquee names such as Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth and Ajay Jayaram from India, fans will have plenty to cheer.
The second season has also acquired greater international appeal with the presence of world No. 1 Carolina Marin, world No. 3 Jan O Jorgensen, world No. 5 Sung Ji Hyun and Dubai Super Series winner Viktor Axelsen in the fray.
The teams and venues
There are six teams in the competition sporting 10 players each, with a maximum of six overseas stars and a minimum of three women players. Hyderabad Hunters, winners in 2013, Delhi Acers, winners of PBL season one, Awadhe Warriors, Mumbai Rockets, Bengaluru Blasters and Chennai Smashers.
The competition will be held over 15 action-packed days in five stadia in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Lucknow, Bengaluru and Delhi. The opening ceremony will be hosted at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad on January 1, with the grand finale slated for New Delhi on January 14.
“Thanks to the spectacular performance of Indian players at the Olympics, the game has added a large number of new viewers, so our effort will be to make the league as exciting and interesting as possible,” said Pullela Gopichand, during the launch event. “We are bringing in certain innovations in the format of the league to make it even more spectator-friendly.”
Change in format
One of those innovations is the race to 11 points, with a decisive play at 14-14 should the game get that far. Badminton underwent a major upheaval when the sport moved from 15- to the 21-point format. It will be interesting to see if the fans on television bite the 11-point format and nudge the sport in a new direction. That might still be long in the making but the rule does plenty to level things in the PBL over the next two weeks.
A short run of points could prove fatal, producing several upset results or, at least, matches going the distance more often than not. It will certainly make for interesting viewing. Another major benefit from the rule will be that it shall help keep the players fresher as the tournament progresses.
The four teams with the highest points at the end of the league phase shall proceed to the semi-finals. Trump cards could play a decisive role in determining the pecking order after all the teams have played each other. The trump can lead to the team placing it taking two points or losing one based on the result.
Interestingly, a player can play a trump only twice in the league phase and once in the knockout stages. That leaves the teams needing to strategise carefully as they pick and choose their men and women for battle.
It is also a democratic choice that no player is allowed to play more than two matches in a tie. A tie consists of five matches – men’s singles (2), women’s singles, mixed doubles and men’s doubles. The sequence of matches shall be determined prior to each tie by the technical team of the PBL and a representative of Star India, the broadcasters.
Pack some popcorn and tune in every evening at 1830 hours for an exciting feast of badminton. The tournament does feature a healthy dose of internationals and the best India can offer.
With the iconic stars spread evenly across teams, the doubles format is set to play a vital role in the end-result. That should offer the young and unheralded an opportunity to swim under the lights to begin their season on a high note.
Irrespective of which team comes up on top on January 14, badminton in India will receive another leg up in the hot race for eyeballs and television ratings.