Kidambi Srikanth, Sai Praneeth Look To Lead India To Victory At Asia Team Championship

NEW DELHI: Unfazed by fears of coronavirus, a full-strength Indian men’s team has landed in Manila to compete at the Asia Team Championships from Tuesday, eyeing a medal-winning performance which will give players crucial ranking points in the Olympic year.

The Indian women’s team, which was supposed to be led by young shuttlers Ashmita Chaliha and Malvika Bansod, chose not to travel for the competition in Philippines, fearing the spread of coronavirus, which has claimed over 900 lives in China so far.

A 44-year-old Chinese tourist from Wuhan had died on February 1 in Philippines, which has reported three virus cases so far. The two others were discharged from hospital after their tests were reported to be negative.

Former world number one Kidambi Srikanth and 2019 world championship bronze medallist B Sai Praneeth will lead the Indian team which also has HS Prannoy, Subhankar Dey and young Lakshya Sen.

The Indian men’s team, which won the bronze medal in the 2016 Championship, was initially clubbed with two-time defending champions Indonesia and hosts Philippines in Group A but with China and Hong Kong not playing due to a travel ban on them by the Philippines, the draw was re-worked at the team managers’ meeting on Monday.

India are now placed in Group B alongside Malaysia and Kazakhstan. The top two teams from each of the four groups will make it to the quarterfinals.

India, who had lost to China 1-3 in the last edition in 2018, will begin their campaign against Kazakhstan on Tuesday before taking on Malaysia on Thursday.

This is only the third edition of the Asia Team championship, which serves as Asia qualifiers for the Thomas and Uber Cups. Praneeth and Co. are expected to have an easy outing against Kazakhstan, who are not a prominent badminton nation, but the clash against Malaysia will be an interesting one.

Malaysia boast of a young team, comprising world no. 14 Lee Zii Jia, 2014 Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Cheam June Wei and Leong Jun Hao, a former three-time silver medallist at World Junior Championships.

In doubles, Malaysia have world no. 17 pair of Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi, who claimed the Thailand Masters title last month, and the pair of Goh Sze Fei and Nur Izzuddin Mohd Rumsani, who were part of 2018 Asian team Championship bronze medal winning team, in their team.