India have never won either the Thomas Cup or the Uber Cup, the two major badminton events branded as the world’s Premier Team Championships for men and women. In world badminton too, India’s exploits have come only in the men and women singles. After Prakash Padukone, Syed Modi and P Gopichand in the earlier decades, Saina Nehwal has carried the Indian tricolor to new heights. But Saina has recently been plagued with a foot injury and she has failed to win a major tournament in the recent past. Among men, Kidambi Srikanth reached the no.3 in BWF ranking last year but since then, his stars are on the decline. A few days ago, Srikanth announced that he would not be participating in Thomas Cup. Under such circumstances, India’s chances in Thomas and Uber Cup tournaments don’t look very bright. The 2016 edition of the prestigious biennial tournament will be played during May 15-22, 2016 at Kunshan, China. It will also be the 29th Thomas Cup and 26th Uber Cup.
Withdrawal of Kidambi Srikanth from Thomas Cup will be a major jolt for Indian team. With Parupalli Kashyap still nursing a knee injury, India’s challenge will depend on Ajay Jayaram, HS Prannoy, B. Sai Praneeth and Sameer Verma in the singles. In doubles, India will be represented by Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy, who became the first Indian men’s doubles pair to qualify for the Olympic Games. The other doubles team could be constituted from among Akshay Dewalkar, R Satwik Sai Raj and Chirag Shetty. Every Thomas Cup tie will consist of three singles and two doubles matches. India have been drawn in Group B, where they will play three ties against Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong. But these countries have established doubles combinations and despite the seemingly easy draw, the Indian team may have to work hard to find the place in the knock-out stage. As per the tournament rules, only the two top teams from each group can enter the playoff stage.
Among women, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu Jwala Gutta/Ashwini Ponnappa are certain to constitute two singles and one doubles teams for the concurrent Uber Cup. For the other singles and doubles matches, team management may have to choose from amongst Aparna Balan, PC Thulasi and N Sikki Reddy. In Uber Cup, India have been drawn with Japan Australia and Germany and while the Japanese are too strong, India may perhaps edge out Australia and Germany for the playoff stage.
Badminton powerhouse China find themselves in Group A, which also has defending champions Japan, France and Mexico. This almost ensures playoff berths for both China and Japan. Group C has Korea, Malaysia, England and Germany and Korea and Malaysia are the most probable nations to enter the knock-out stage. Denmark are in Group D with Taiwan New Zealand and South Africa and the likely playoff entrants could be Denmark and Taiwan.
Besides India’s Group D in Uber Cup, the Group A has defending champions China, Denmark, Spain and Malaysia. This is the toughest group and though China are expected to reach the knock-out phase, the second place could go to any of the remaining three nations. Group B consists of Korea, Taiwan Mauritius and USA and of these nations, Korea and Taiwan are expected to progress to the playoff stage. Finally, Group C has Thailand, Indonesia, Bulgaria and Hong Kong and Thailand and Indonesia should make the knock-out grade.
In Thomas Cup, Indonesia have been the most successful nation with 13 titles, followed by China’s 9 and Malaysia’s 5. Japan joined them by winning the only title in 2014. As for Uber Cup, China have won 13 times, Japan 5 times, Indonesia and USA 3 times each and Korea once. India’s best performance came in the 2014 Uber Cup at New Delhi in 2014 but other than that, India had been a laggard in the team championship events.