Facing an exit, the Indian badminton team hit back and progressed to the semi-finals of the Badminton Asia Team Championship with an incredible 3-2 victory over Thailand on Friday.
However, the pair of MR Arjun-Dhruv Kapila won their doubles fixture and Lakshya Sen won his singles match to take the tie to the decider where Kidambi Srikanth and Chirag Shetty won in three games to complete a thrilling comeback.
B Sai Praneeth goes down fighting
The first tie of the day was also the most anticipated as it pitted B Sai Praneeth and Kantaphon Wangcharoen, India and Thailand’s highest-ranked singles badminton players, against each other and it lived up to its billing.
The world no. 12 Thai was on top in the first game, winning the first three points and went into the break with a comfortable 11-4 lead. He never allowed B Sai Praneeth to get into his groove, extending his lead to 10 points at one juncture. The Indian badminton player won four game points at 10-20 but eventually lost 14-21.
The tide turned in the second game as B Sai Praneeth showcased his skills to always stay in the lead. He was ahead 11-8 at the break and allowed his opponent to come close at 15-13 before running away with the game and win it 21-14.
The duo was neck-and-neck for much of the deciding game with the score tied at 8-8 at one point. B Sai Praneeth was trailing 10-12 after the break but ran out of steam thereafter, losing the marathon tie, that ran for an hour and three minutes, 14-21, 21-14, 12-21 and leave India trailing by a point.
Kidambi Srikanth stunned
Former world no. 1 Kidambi Srikanth, who was the only Indian to win his match in the loss to Malaysia in the group stage, was handed a shock 20-22, 14-21 defeat by Kunlavut Vitidsarn.
The Thai, ranked 35th in the world, 20 places below Kidambi Srikanth, seemed at home in the initial stages as he schooled the latter to win four consecutive points and go into the break 11-7.
Kidambi Srikanth brought all his experience into play to fight back and level the game at 18-18 and then 20-20. However, he was not composed enough when needed and lost the final two points to lose the first game.
The second game started from where the first was left off as Kidambi Srikanth found the going tough and found himself trailing for much of it. It all unravelled for the Indian post the break as he failed to test Kunlavut Vitidsarn, with the Thai wrapping up the tie in 38 minutes.
Youngsters bring India level
The pair of MR Arjun-Dhruv Kapila won India’s first match of the day as they worked hard to beat Kittinupong Kedren and Tanupat Viriyangruka 21-18, 22-20 in the doubles fixture.
The Indian badminton duo dominated large parts of the first game before their opponents rallied and made it competitive. However, MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila held their nerves when it mattered to win 21-18.
The second game saw Kittinupong Kedren and Tanupat Viriyangruka turn the tables till the break but the Indian badminton pair held on admirably to constantly exchange points before stringing together two in a row at 20-20 to bring India back in the tie.
Teenager Lakshya Sen then played out a thrilling singles match against Suppanyu Avihingsanon and emerged a 21-19, 21-18 victor. The 18-year-old displayed resilience that belied his age, winning points whenever the score was tied in the first game.
The 30-year-old Thai was slightly ahead in the second game but Lakshya Sen ensured that he kept up with him and with the game tied at 12-12, the Indian badminton ace started chalking up regular points to win the match in straight games and get India level at 2-2.
The deciding match was every bit thrilling as it was expected to be as Kidambi Srikanth, deputising for the injured Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, teamed up with Chirag Shetty to win 21-15, 16-21, 21-15 against Maneepong Jongjit and Nipitphon Phuangphuapet.
The Indian badminton pair’s points graph always sailed above their opponents in the first game before they lost that momentum in the second one. The deciding game was a close affair for most parts but at 15-13, Kidambi Srikanth and Chirag Shetty surged ahead to win the match in 53 minutes.
With this victory, the Indian badminton team has also qualified for the Thomas Cup, set to be held in May. Semi-finalists at the tournament were handed a direct spot at the BWF event and so, India will be joined by Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan.
What next for India at the Badminton Asia Team Championship
The Indian badminton contingent will have no time to reflect on a draining win as they will face the formidable Indonesia in the semi-finals on Saturday.