World No 8 HS Prannoy and world No 10 Saina Nehwal are the only star attractions in a depleted and young Indian squad that will head for the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals in Bangkok, from May 20-27.
PV Sindhu and K Srikanth, both ranked third in the world, will not be making the trip as they have been given rest following the Commonwealth Games and the Badminton Asia Championships.
Commonwealth Games silver medallists Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are also not in the squad, as aren’t bronze medallists Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy. Neither of the doubles pairs have played since the Commonwealth Games.
Satwik has spent the last month since the Gold Coast Games preparing for and taking his Class 12 examinations, and only returned to training last week. Chirag has also not got sufficient practice because of all the felicitation ceremonies in India following the CWG. The two have been asked to return to full fitness before participating in any tournaments. Satwik and Chirag will next be seen in action at the Malaysia Open in June.
Sikki Reddy, meanwhile, is suffering from typhoid and won’t be fit enough for the Uber Cup. She has been resting for the last week and it could be a week more before she recovers.
The absence of the star names is an opportunity for young guns such as Lakshya Sen and Vaishnavi Reddy to make a mark in the prestigious biennial team championships. Sen and Reddy, both 16, are among the young faces that have been added to the Indian squad. Both teenagers participated in the New Zealand Open last week and are currently in Sydney for the Australian Open, so they will have sufficient match practice before the Thomas and Uber Cup.
“We have decided to give opportunity to young and aspiring talents along with our experienced players so that they not only gain valuable exposure, [but] they will also be have the experience to play alongside the top players,” said Badminton Association of India President Dr Himantanta Biswa Sarma.
“While selecting the squad, we have considered the performance of the players at the domestic level, and those who have excelled in the national circuit have been given the opportunity to show their talent at the highest level,” he added.
BAI Secretary General Ajay Singhania said, “This is the first time Badminton Association of India has chosen to go into the tournament with mix of experienced players and upcoming talents, and this has been done keeping in mind the need to promote the next generation of players and ensure due opportunities come their way.”
India were drawn with Japan in Group A of the 2018 Uber Cup. Canada and Australia are the two other teams in the group. The Uber Cup is held every two years and is contested by the 16 best women’s national teams in the world.
In the Thomas Cup, which is the men’s equivalent of the Uber Cup, India have been drawn with top seeds China in Group A. France and Australia are the other two teams in the group.
With the absence of star players, India’s progress from the group stages of both team championships looks a lot more difficult now. Even if the Indian team(s) manages to progress to the knockouts, getting past the quarter-finals will be a miracle.
Here are the Indian teams for the two championships:
Thomas Cup: HS Prannoy, B Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma, Lakshya Sen (all singles); Manu Attri/Sumeeth Reddy, Shlok Ramchandran/MR Arjun, Sanyam Shukla/Arun George (doubles).
Uber Cup: Saina Nehwal, Vaishnavi Reddy, Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli, Anura Prabhudesai, Vaishnavi Bhale (all singles); Prajakta Sawant/Sanyogita Ghorpade, Poorvisha S Ram/Meghana J (doubles).