‘Just about anybody can win’

New Delhi: Former world No. 11 Sameer Verma may no longer be in contention for available men’s singles spots at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, but if there’s one thing the Shuttle veteran has felt it’s it’s that things aren’t that old anymore about Indian badminton – the field is changing fast.

With the ongoing BAI Selection Trials, aside from the all-important squad selection matters for the Thomas & Uber Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, player participation given the age range is a sight in itself.

A busy KD Jadhav hall in the Indira Gandhi Stadium complex in New Delhi is a colorful crowd of new and old faces in the aisles and the eight courts set up for the BAI competitive exams, including two practice courts.

From 14-year-old Super 100 winner Unnati Hooda to 29-year-old World Championship bronze medalist B. Sai Praneeth and 32-year-old Ashwini Ponnappa, the mix is ​​interesting and makes the pitch exciting to witness.

Curiously, while one might be skeptical about the quality of play of a tournament played at a national level, without any international threat whatsoever, the Trials have turned out to be an exciting revelation, pitting young and old against one another.

READ | When the Gods Forsaken Me and My Coach Became an Indian Parent | By Sameer Verma

This isn’t like the usual scene anymore and with it the expected competition has changed drastically for the better as Sameer Verma joins The Bridge on the sidelines of Trials.

“In India almost everyone is playing well at the moment, you can’t even imagine that!” Sameer mentions with a laugh.

“You can’t take things lightly at all anymore, now anyone can win. Before you could only be 70-80% good and that would be enough to win the match, but things are different now,” Sameer noted and hinted at the newfound depth of badminton in the country.

“The Trials have shown some really good games from day one, the quality is very surprising but a welcome sight,” said Sameer.

While a full NextGen takeover might still be a tall order, especially with the Vermas and Praneeths still present, they’re doing just enough to show they have what it takes to go the distance.

“Right now Kiran George, Priyanshu Rajawat and another freshman Ravi are doing very well and they will be the ones to watch out for in the near future,” Sameer said, judging by their recent performances at the exams where they prevailed for heat on the pitch.

Taking age and experience into account

Sameer Verma at the BAI Selection Trials

For the older players, battling injuries is the one that bogs them down and makes them make tough decisions at times.

When Sameer was asked why he missed in his game against Priyanshu Rajawat in a League 2 game, Sameer replied vividly: “I don’t want to make the same mistake I made playing on in Denmark last year . My body can. I can’t afford any kind of toll,” he said.

At the Denmark Open, Sameer stormed into the quarterfinals with a tricky calf injury, defeating Thai sensation Kunlavut Vitidsarn and Denmark’s world No. 3 Anders Antonsen before giving up to Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto.

With the new generation of players, the badminton scene is now on the brink of a major change and the trials are just a harbinger of the days to come.

“Yes, it can be a challenge for us, but it’s also the same for them as they are aspiring players,” Sameer notes, reflecting on the new competition from Kiran George and company.

“If they are at the same level after a while, you have to have an idea for the game, that only comes with experience. Now we’re ahead with experience and they’re faster with their movements and fitter,” Sameer reasoned.

In recent history, competition has intensified, particularly in men’s singles, with Lakshya Sen leading the way, armed with a World Championship bronze and a silver medal at the All England Championships.

The situation is such that there is only one spot up for grabs for the men in the Asiad and CWG squads, with Lakshya, Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy already chosen based on their rankings and recent performances.

Packed with an air of unpredictability, the next phase of Indian badminton is a melting pot of all things exciting, all pointing to a new dawn and eventual changing of the guard.

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