Birmingham: Malaysia has been one of the strongest badminton teams in Asia. Even more so in the Commonwealth Games. India did win the Mixed Team gold in 2018 and more recently the Thomas Cup (for men), but Malaysia is not a team that can ever be taken lightly. It was champion in 2006, 2010, and 2014, but the same team surprisingly lost in the final in 2018. It has now regained the title.
Back in 2018 one of the crucial points came from Kidambi Srikanth, who beat the then legend Lee Chong Wei in the final and put India on road to victory. Saina Nehwal had won her singles.
In addition, the mixed doubles Satwik Sairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini Ponnappa pulled in a point from the mixed doubles. This time Satwik and Ashwini could not even take to the court as the match was over by then.
This time in 2022, Srikanth (World No. 13) was preferred over a slightly higher ranked Lakshya Sen (World No. 9), but Srikanth has the experience of big games. Add to that, the young Malaysian Ng Tze Yong is a tenacious fighter.
Srikanth was heartbroken by the loss of his singles, as one of the teammates said. Srikanth did not meet the media and even cried as he blamed himself.
However, after Satwik Sairaj and Chirag Shetty lost a close men’s doubles match, which was the opener for the tie, PV Sindhu (World No. 7) won her singles, once again after a tough fight against much lower ranked Jin Wei Goh (60th). Sindhu won 22-20, 21-17. It was India’s sole point.
Then came the men’s singles, where Srikanth played below his own lofty standards and Tze Yong was charged up. Srikanth lost the first game closely 19-21 but outplayed the Malaysian in the second at 21-6. Yet the 22-year-old Tze did not give up and fought all the way to take the decider 21-16 and with it, India’s fate was sealed.
Former World No. 1 Srikanth was never in control even though he won the second game as World No. 42 Ng Tze Yong notched up one of the best wins of his career.
The Malaysian was himself stunned at what was one of the best wins of his career. “I did not expect to win, but the crowd pulled me on. I am happy to get that point for Malaysia,” said Tze Yong.
The women’s doubles debutant pair Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand is a very promising one, but for the future. On this day, they were beaten comprehensively 18-21, 17-21 by new pairing Tinnah Muralitharan/Koong Le Pearly Tan 18-21, 21-17. This despite Pearly Tan seeming to have hurt herself badly in the second game when they led 18-17. She needed courtside medical attention after which she moved a little gingerly but did well enough to finish the match and secure the gold.
India’s golden hopes depended on winning both the singles and then snatching away one of the three doubles, as they did in 2018.
Srikanth’s loss meant India needed to win both the remaining doubles (women and mixed) and that was highly unlikely.
Interestingly, Malaysia did not bring its No. 1 player, the World No. 5 Lee Zii Jia, the 2021 All England winner. Lee was said to be preparing for the World Championships later this month in Japan.
So, Malaysia fielded a younger Tze Yong, who showed a big heart and delivered perfectly.
Earlier, Malaysia got off to a superb start, as its World No. 6 men’s doubles pair and bronze medallists from the Tokyo Olympics, Aaron Chia and Soh Woo Yik, beat Satwik Sairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty in straight games 21-18, 21-15. The Indians are one spot lower in world rankings than the Malaysian pair.
Malaysia beat India 3-1
- Aaron Chia and Soh Woo Yik beat Satwik Sairaj and Chirag Shetty 21-18, 21-15
- Jin Wei Goh lost to PV Sindhu 20-22, 17-21
- Ng Tze Yong beat Kidambi Srikanth 21-19, 6-21, 21-16
- Thinnah Muralitharan / Koong Le Pearly Tan beat Treesa Jolly / Gayatri Gopichand 21-18, 21-17
- Satwik Sairaj / Ashwini Ponnappa v Kian Meng Tan / Pei Jing – not played.