After a two-year hiatus, Indian Badminton League came back in its rechristened form this year and several ties of the 2016 Premier Badminton League have already been played. After two days on January 2 & 3 at Mumbai, the teams played at Lucknow over the next 4 days and moved to Delhi for the third-leg matches on January 7 & 8. After 9 ties until Thursday, Delhi Acres top the championship leaderboard with 15 points in 20 matches with each tie having 5 matches each. Awadhe Warriors and Mumbai Rockets are tied at the second spot with 9 points each in 15 matches. Chennai Smashers are fourth with 8 points but they have played only 10 matches. With 8 & 4 points respectively, Bengaluru Top-Guns and Hyderabad Hunters occupy 5th and 6th spots. Plenty of matches are still left in the league phase and anything can happen before the best four teams enter the knockout rounds.
The 2016 Premier Badminton League got off to a ceremonial start at Mumbai’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Indoor stadium on January 2, 2016 with all teams parading with their flags. To a huge disappointment of the viewers, Awadhe Warriors’ Saina Nehwal announced that due to a leg injury, she would not be playing in her team’s opening tie against Mumbai Rockets. Saina’s absence was felt as Mumbai beat Awadhe 3-2 in a close finish. The first match of the PBL was men’s singles between Mumbai Rockets’ RMV Gurusaidutt and Awadhe’s Sai Praneeth. The Lucknow man looked a better player in the first game but Guru caught up with him towards the end only to lose 14-15 in sudden death. In the second game, it was Guru, who dictated terms and forced the decider after taking the second game at 15-10. The Mumbai player never looked back after that and finished the winner at 14-15, 15-10, 15-8. The next match was men’s doubles, called the Trump match by Awadhe Warriors, represented by Hendra Gunawan and Cai Yun. They played against Mumbai’s Vladimir Ivanov and Mathias Boe. The Mumbai Rockets pair took two points from the match while Awadhe collected a negative point. The third women’s singles match was another Trump match but called by Mumbai this time. Mumbai’s Ruthvika Gadde took on Awadhe’s Vrushali Gummadi in the absence of Saina Nehwal. The Mumbai woman scored an easy victory but lost the next two men’s singles and mixed doubles matches. However Mumbai collected 2 points to Awadhe’s 1. Next day, Hyderabad Hunters beat the Bengaluru Top Guns 3-2 but the tie was highlighted by the last men’s singles match between Malaysia and Hyderabad’s Lee Chong Wei and Bengaluru’s Kidambi Srikanth. For the first time in his career Srikanth inflicted a defeat on Lee though Bengaluru lost the tie 2-3. On the same day in another match, led by PV Sindhu, Chennai Smashers defeated Mumbai Rockets 3-2.
Over the next four days until January 6, Lucknow was the venue, where Awadhe Warriors had Saina playing for them. The Lucknow outfit won both its ties against Delhi Acres and Bengaluru Top-Guns. On January 4, Saina beat PC Thulasi of Delhi in the trump match and followed that with victory over Thai woman Suo Di of Bengaluru in another trump match. With two back-to-back 4-3 and 4-1 victories Awadhe jumped to the second spot behind Delhi Acres, who have scored emphatic and identical 4-1 victories over Hyderabad and Bengaluru on January 7 & 8. Delhi, however, had lost both its ties at Lucknow. Apart from losing to Awadhe, Delhi also lost to PV Sindhu’s Chennai Smashers.
Like Saina, Sindhu has also won all her matches and she is spearheading Chennai Smashers to a position of strength. Chennai have 8 points so far but they have played only two ties and won both of them. From January 9, the teams go to Hyderabad, where the home team will play three ties on January 9, 10 & 11. The Hunters are lying on the bottom of the points’ table but they have a man, who is capable of making a decisive difference. Lee Chong Wei may have lost to Srikanth but you don’t expect the player of his class to lose another match now. Judicial use of the Trump match can catapult Hyderabad Hunters back in the reckoning as they take on Awadhe Warriors, Mumbai Rockets and Chennai Smashers one by one. The league is still wide open and all teams have the capability of reaching the knock-out stage.