So near yet so far Indian shuttlers- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

HANGZHOU: “Jiayou,” chants incessantly rained in from the stands (the Chinese equivalent of vamos). In response, members of the Indian team, in one tiny corner of the badminton courts at the Binjiang Gymnasium, belted out “jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega.”  While not as intimidating as the Istora in Jakarta — generally referred to as the mecca for the sport — the crowd was making its presence felt. Not a surprise because the country is in the middle of a week-long holiday (September 29 to October 6) as part of the Mid Autumn Festival and National Day.

The giant clappers were out and the fans were expecting a Chinese victory. To be fair, those expectations weren’t out of place. China have owned the men’s team discipline at the Asian Games in recent years, winning it thrice since 2006 alone. India? Well, they were still searching for their first gold at this level — individual, doubles or team — on Sunday morning.

After the first two matches in the final of the team’s event, Indians were within touching distance of creating history. After Lakshya Sen had prevailed over Shi Yu Qi, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty took down the World No.2 pairing of Wang Chang/Liang Weikeng. At this point, the crowd was silent and their silence was loud and clear. In the Indian bench, there were about 20 people, including some of the members of the Indian men’s cricket team (Washington Sundar, Sai Kishore and VVS Laxman among others).

This is when the trouble began. When the team sheets landed, HS Prannoy was conspicuous by his absence (the word is he is having an injury and with the singles event coming up, they didn’t want to take a chance). So, with China clearly holding superiority over the second doubles and the third singles match-ups, it all came down to that second singles tie between K Srikanth and Li Shi Feng. One thought that if India had any chance of winning, it was going to be by a 3-0 scoreline. For a brief period, Srikanth threatened to do that. After his heroics against South Korea’s Cho Geonyeop on Saturday to take India into the final, did he have another magic act within him inside 24 hours? Alas, no. The magic had run out.
He was in a fight in the first game but once Shi Feng won a very close and gripping first game — Srikanth squandered a game point — the momentum rapidly swung towards the Chinese. You could sense this even in the body language of Shi Feng. He dropped his racquet and yelled to his team, celebrating like he had won the match. The second game — 21-9 — was a sign of things to come. The Indian bench had slightly thinned by this stage as the cricketers decided to head back. Their enthusiastic chanting had stopped while the Chinese smelled blood. It was all over less than an hour later.

Before the start of the match, India’s players got together for final words of encouragement before breaking it with a ‘bharat mata ki jai’. As the lights of the Gymnasium were being shuttered for the day, “Jiayou” was still doing the rounds. 

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