Indian shuttlers dished out another splendid show to outclass Sri Lanka 5-0 in their second group A match of the mixed team competition at the 22nd Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Saturday. India were by far the better team on display as they completely dominated the proceedings at the Arena Birmingham. A day after blanking Pakistan 5-0, India notched up another convincing win to go top of group A and qualify for the quarterfinals with one tie still remaining in the league stage of the competition.
India made a strategic decision to split the mixed and men’s doubles pairing as Ashwini Ponnappa and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy were back together for the opening match.
The former world number 19 pair looked rusty initially before getting past Sachin Dias and Thilini Hendahewa 21-14 21-9 to put India 1-0 ahead.
World Championships bronze medallist Lakshya Sen, who was playing his first match after recovering from a shoulder injury, prevailed 21-18 21-5 over veteran Niluka Karunatne, who has competed at the Olympics in 2012, 2016 and 2020.
Akarshi Kashyap, who had made it to the team after topping the selection trials in April, went past Vidara Suhasni Vidanage 21-3 21-9 in the women’s singles to hand India an unassailable 3-0 lead.
While the opening game was a walk in the park, Kashyap was briefly troubled by the Sri Lankan in the second game before she found her bearing to zoom ahead.
One half of the mixed doubles pair, B Sumeeth Reddy then combined with Chirag Shetty to beat Dumindu Abeywickrama and Sachin Dias 21-10 21-13 to make it 4-0.
In the final match, Gayatri Gopichand and Tressa Jolly overcame stiff resistance from Thilini Hendahewa and Vidara Suhasni Vidanage in the opening game to come up trumps 21-18 21-6 and compete the formalities.
Sen found the going tough in the opening game as Niluka brought all his experience into play and tried to engage his opponent in rallies.
The Indian, however, used his crisp half smashes, placement, precision of shots and better on-court movement to emerge victorious.
“I was expecting that. I’ve trained with him before, and played him in tournaments, so I know how he plays,” the 20-year-old from Almora said after the match.
“I was rusty in the first game – it was my first match in the hall and I was still getting used to the conditions but I got better in the second game. There is a slight drift which was not there in the practice sessions.
“He’s played for a long time so you should always expect a tough match when you’re playing against that experience.” The men’s singles competition is a competitive field comprising three world championships medallist.
While Sen and compatriot Kidamdi Srikanth are the bronze and silver winners, Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew, who had emerged as the champion, is also in the field.
“That gives you a lot of confidence to come to this tournament but the environment here, the atmosphere in the hall, the fans, this is a totally different experience and I will learn from this event,” he said.
“This is a great tournament to play before the world championships (in August 2022).” The Indian team will face Australia in its final league group match later in the day.
“The team is looking really strong. We have really good players at the top and to back up that we have a really good bench as well. In the men’s, winning the Thomas Cup (in May) shows how deep the bench is.”
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