The Premier Badminton League match between Chennai Smashers and Ahmedabad Smash Masters had ended by 10.45 pm on Saturday. But a sizeable crowd continued to linger around the Nehru Indoor Stadium until midnight. There was a buzz in the air as everyone waited with excitement. The collective mission of the crowd was meeting P.V. Sindhu, the darling of India after her silver medal at the 2016 Olympics.
The determination of the fans was so resolute that Sindhu’s management team appeared worried. But all was well when the badminton ace came out to the cacophony of cheers from her admirers. The good sport that she is, Sindhu posed for countless selfies in addition to back-slapping with her delirious fans.
The midnight show and the thrilling matches earlier in the day represented an Eureka moment for badminton in the city.
Sindhu, who won both her matches for the Smashers, said the vociferous support of the fans was a pleasant surprise. “The crowd certainly played its part in my performance today. It was way beyond my expectations. I’m delighted that badminton has so much support in Chennai”, she added.
The Nehru Stadium was packed to the rafters on Saturday as the Smashers made their much-awaited home debut after two seasons. And, the fans enjoyed every minute of the thrilling action dished out by Sindhu and co. It was not only about Sindhu, as the two men’s singles matches were engrossing as well to the last point. Overall, the tie was a great advertisement for badminton.
Some critics say the PBL is an unnecessary addition to the packed badminton calendar. But Prasad Mangipudi, whose company is conducting the PBL, said the tournament is a “boon” to take the game to the masses. “The PBL is a great opportunity for Indian fans to watch their badminton heroes. The stadium experience can be exhilarating for fans. If not for the PBL, where can Chennai fans watch Sindhu, Saina and Srikanth? Chennai’s support for the PBL has been phenomenal,” he added. Prasad is, however, aware that badminton has a long way to go to shed its ‘elitist’ tag.
“I agree that we have plenty of work to do to make the game attractive to all sections of the society. Even in Chennai, the crowd is predominantly affluent. But I’m sure badminton has all the ingredients to attract everyone,” he said.
Vijaya Prabhakaran, son of DMDK president Vijayakanth and owner of the Smashers, couldn’t have asked for a more gripping home debut for his team. Kalai, CEO of the Smashers, said ticket sales for the Chennai-Ahmedabad match was a “record” in PBL this season. “Chennai has demonstrated its love for badminton. It is up to us to take it forward,” he added.