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Warriors - The champions of 1st SBL

Wednesday 16 October, 2013

The 1st SBL (SAS Badminton League) is done and dusted. The Warriors won, and the Heroes, runner up.


The final act is being played out by Eldho/Suresh and Anoop/Saneesh..Dear readers. Were you a bit surprised to see the finalists? SAS have been organizing badminton tournaments every year for the past 6 years and Eldho and Suresh have participated in many of them. And never in their wildest dreams, would Eldho and especially Suresh, have thought they will be playing a Final!! Over the years, we have seen the top players, the Abhilashs, the Gijos, the Regins, Sunil VPs etc.. They were all champions. We have talked about their dazzling strokes, deceptions, mental toughness and their magic. And now, we were watching these 4 players never expected to be in a final dealing with the pressure that comes with it. And how brilliant it was, to watch

Suresh, getting ready to receive the serve at the top of his court, leading 19-16 in the final set, tentative, struggling for his breath, puts his hand up, turns back, walks a couple of steps, wipes beads of sweat from his forehead and then again back to position. Still his feet are wobbly. Pressure! Tension! 

Eldho, who had been brilliant with his power hitting the whole day, jumps high to smash a weak return which hardly reached the center of his court. But alas! Smashes it to the net!! Pressure! Tension!


Anoop and Saneesh, who had beaten Eldho/Suresh in a previous round robin match, struggling hard to find their strokes..


To feel those excruciating little moments, would have been an unforgettable experience for each one of them! And precisely that is what we had envisioned while designing this format. Giving these unheralded players a chance to compete in a final of a competition, providing a meaning and context for their matches. Not just these 4, there were so many others who did unbelievably well throughout the day. Every match was fought hard, cheered and supported by their fellow team members and sometimes even other teams. The whole day, the sports center was filled with loud cheers and claps. As one of the player Nigi said, it was thrilling.


The final had started with the women's match between the charming Laurel and Hardy, Banita and Gina of Warriors, facing off the much improved Nigi and the animated Seeja of Heroes, who at times seemed so intense even arguing for close line calls. But Banita and Gina hardly put a foot wrong just like the whole day rolling over their opponents, like a hot knife through butter. It was hilarious to watch, when an unsuspecting Banita poised to hit the high ball, was gently but firmly pushed aside by the imposing Gina, who then produced her trademark smashing winners..


The top seeded men's match was between Raghu/Venkat of Warriors and Gijo/Regin of Heroes. Gijo/Regin pair was the strongest doubles team in the whole tournament and justified their seeding by making mincemeat of Raghu/Venkat team. But both Raghu and Venkat had another important role in providing fantastic support to their fellow team members. And after both Warriors and Heroes being locked 1-1, came the all-important 3rd match between Eldho/Suresh of Warriors and Anoop/Saneesh of Heroes. The Warriors beat Heroes to win the first SBL Championship 2013. 



As usual, when we announced the tournament, we got 25 doubles team registrations, 16 men's team and 8 women's team. And then we had a surprise entry too. 2 kids yet to reach their teens, were desperate to participate and were allowed to compete with the women's teams. That is a total 50 players, the highest no. of players competing in SAS tournament history. Over the years, the competition used to be conducted by grouping the teams into 4 groups and play a round robin and top 2 teams from each group will progress to Quarter Final and so on. This year we thought of changing the format, similar to the Indian Badminton League (IBL) which was held recently.


These players were then formed into 8 teams and then were divided into 2 groups as given below.


Group 1              
Kings Jude Jayaraj   Sujitha Divya Cesil Ajay. P      
Knights Abhi Koodali   Reena Deepa Santhosh Babu      
Warriors Raghu Venkat   Gina Abraham Banita Binu Eldho Suresh      
Heroes Gijo Regin   Nigi Seeja Anoop AR Saneesh Kumar      
Group 2                    
Lions Saji Sreekumar   Merlyn Aswathy Venu Jishad Gubash      
Cheetahs Tiby Uday   Rohit Dhruv Jitin Prashob   Anjali Athira
Tigers Sreejith Sanjay   Vineetha Priya Pauly Krishna Prasad      
Panthers Rajeev Ragesh   Aswathy G Nair Priyanka Joemon Anoj Prasad    

The groupings and the allocation of the teams were carefully thought off to provide every team equal chances to go all the way and we almost got it right except may be for one team. Previous years, only few ( 4 or 5) strong teams used to always qualify for the Quarter/Semi etc. Weak teams know at the beginning itself, they do not have any chance to get qualified for the next round. But in this format, even a weak team will have great chance to go all the way, because of a level playing field.

The tournament was kicked off on Sunday evening with few round robin matches, but the main day of the event was at Matsue Plaza, which started at 9:00 AM. The interesting thing was, almost the entire day at one court or the other a very crucial match would be going on.


Group 1

Heroes, Warriors, Kings and Knights fought it out for the top 2 slots in Group 1


There were plenty of nerve wracking matches in this group. Who would have thought, the match between Eldho/Suresh and Anoop/Saneesh would be a precursor to the final drama. Though Anoop/Saneesh team held their nerve to win this round robin, when it mattered the most, Eldho and Suresh triumphed to give their team the crown.


Cesil/Ajay team's performance was very important in deciding their team’s chances and it was unfortunate that, they lost the most crucial match against Eldho/Suresh.


Santhosh/Babu team played out of their skin and in one set at least, against the eventual finalists Anoop/Saneesh, they produced pure magic, matching stroke for stroke and would have felt proud of themselves. But their fitness proved to be their undoing.  


Sujitha/Divya team showed glimpses of potential, but clearly lacked practice. Even Raghu/Venkat team tried their best, but they also need to improve. They are one team who have passion and will be a team to watch out for next year.


Reena/Deepa and Banita/Gina match was another crucial encounter. After starting well by winning their first set, the defending champions Reena and Deepa's challenge fizzled out against the determined duo of Banita and Gina. It didn't help their cause that Reena was just recovering from a leg injury.


Among the other teams in this group, Gijo/Regin team was the favorite to win all their matches. But Abhi/Sunil and Jude/Jay teams were equally matched and were expected to produce a surprise or two.


Heroes with 21 points and Warriors with 16 points qualified for the Semifinals.



Group 2

Lions, Cheetahs, Tigers and Panthers fought it out for the top 2 slots in Group 2.


Rohit and Dhruv, two very young children with a twinkle and glint in their eyes, brimming with excitement were the story of this group, in fact the whole tournament.  They were restless, were nervous and tensed but they were also fearless, bubbling with passion and boundless energy and then, they also wanted a fight!! And boy! Did they fight? 

In their first match pitted against two fine players Aswathy and Priyanka, they easily lost the first set 8-21, and that got me worried for my worst fears becoming true, of how these kids will fare in a real match situation in front of so many people watching them. But these two little Cheetahs proved everyone wrong!! With the whole crowd egging them on, they produced some stunning strokes and drops and won the second game easily at 21-14. The ladies were a bit taken aback with the onslaught from both the kids and the supporters but they regrouped very well for the deciding set. It was a see-saw battle and the kids having tasted success were never going to give up and the whole sports center was filled with tension and excitement. And with the scores level at 10 all, the ladies dropped their serve to give a fantastic win to the young turks. Unbelievable scenes followed, the kids were mobbed, pinched, hugged, carried on shoulders and they were the toast of the moment. 

The second match for both Rohit and Dhruv was also a tough one against Merlyn and Aswathy. This contest had another drama too. May be a cruel one!! A son playing against his mom. Dhruv against Aswathy. But once the match started both were trying hard to win and this was indeed one of the matches of the tournament. Both teams fighting tooth and nail, produced a nail biting 3 sets. I could see some people unable to watch the final moments turning back, because of tension. 

The ladies won the first set by a proverbial whisker 21-20, the kids hit back with a fitting reply by winning the second set 21-19 and then raised their game to another level to win the decider at 11-8. To involve in such a tense match, such a close match, even for grown up adults it is difficult and one will understand, if they succumb to the pressure. But these lovely kids, under immense pressure, just refusing to give up, and finally tasting success, gave goose bumps to everyone. Personally my best moments of the day.

Among the women's teams, Vinitha and Priya were a class apart and proved their reputation by winning easily all their round robin matches until they hit the roadblock in their semifinals against the eventual champions.

Merlyn/Aswathy and Aswathy/Priyanka teams, again similar to most of the other women's teams, have a lot of ability but need to practice regularly to pose any challenge to the top 2 or 3 women's teams.

Anjali and Athira were beginners and both of them promised to come back stronger next year with regular practice.

Among the men's teams, the top seeded men's matches were all closely fought affairs with some of the results upsetting the calculations of everyone.  This provided interesting scenarios and at one point of time there was a possibility of three teams being tied up on 18 points. This ensured the otherwise inconsequential match between Merlyn/Aswathy and Aswathy/Priyanka becoming a very crucial one. A win for Merlyn/Aswathy would have earned their team Lions an entry into the semifinals, but in the end they lost, which enabled the Cheetahs to scrape through.

The second seeded men's team had some interesting combinations. Jitin/Prashob team looked a very good team with the left handed Jitin producing some powerful shots. Jishad/Gubash showed great skill and lot of improvement from previous years and played well in all their matches. Pauly and Krishnaprasad was all power with the all-round athlete Pauly leading the charge. But they were not consistent enough at crucial moments. Anoj, who came from Ibaraki is a beginner and it was great of him to come all the way to participate in this competition. The surprise package was Prasad who partnered Anoj and single handedly responsible for whatever they could achieve in their games. It is a request to all these players to be a regular in practice sessions so that all of them could improve which will further raise the quality of the whole competition.

As said at the outset, unfortunately, the pairing of one team we got it slightly wrong and that might have affected the chances of Panthers. But they were gracious enough to accept that and gamely carried on. This format being a first time experiment, we understand that it needs further tuning to provide equal chances to all teams and we would definitely look to improve it next time.

Tigers and Cheetahs with 18 points qualified for Semifinals, and Tigers with a sets win-loss difference of 8 were placed 1st from this group.

Semi Finals

Heros vs Cheetahs

The first match between Rohith/Dhruv and Nigi/Seeja had everyone's attention. This time the kids were facing a much tougher challenge and though they valiantly tried, the cool and composed Nigi standing at the back court controlled the game superbly with Seeja providing admirable support.

After losing the first match, the Cheetah's needed to win their second game to stay alive in the tournament. But Gijo/Regin had other ideas and they comfortably won against Tiby/Uday to become to first team to reach the Final.

Tigers vs Warriors

The first match between Vinitha/Priya and Banita/Gina was a humdinger. Both equally matched teams fought a bitter battle and in the end, the superior skill of Gina proved the difference.

After Sreejith/Sanjay defeated Raghu/Venkat comfortably and with both teams tied at 1-1, the match between Pauly/Krishnaprasad and Eldho/Suresh proved decisive. Eldho who was in impressive form the whole day ensured that he will take his team on his shoulders all the way.

This competition also provided some other agonizing dilemmas!! As mentioned earlier, the groupings and pairings of the teams were carefully thought out and needed a lot of time to be done. There are many families where both husband and wife and in some cases their kids also play badminton these days. And these players had formed teams and registered for the competition. Care was taken to split these loved ones into opposite teams and groups. So we had very difficult scenarios.

A father (Venu Nair) torn between his wife (Aswathy) and his son (Dhruv) playing against each other proved to be the most poignant one!! Whom to support? Both wife and son are playing for a place in the semifinals!! And finally he had to take a wise decision!! :)

Another father(Sreekumar) in utter dilemma whether to support his ladies team or to see his son (Rohit) playing so beautifully which even he could not believe..The poor father with his support for the ladies but heart for his son was touching to see.

Then there was Rajeev who just because of sheer love for the kids, cheering wholeheartedly for them, had to desert support for his ladies team(Aswathy and Priyanka).. Who knows what the ladies were thinking :)

Then there were husbands against wives in opposite teams..all in all, it was a fantastic day with so much fun and excitement capped by the wonderful victory of Warriors.

Thank you each and every one who had worked hard for the success of this competition and for all the teams for their tremendous support. We are very humbled!

See you all next year!! 

Personal picks
The Champions of SBL - Warriors
The Runner Up of SBL - Heroes
The team of the tournament - Rohith/Dhruv
The player of the tournament - Gina Abraham
The most improved player - Nigi 
The surprise package - Prasad 
The unsung hero - Suresh Kumar
The Hero - Eldho
The Villains - SAS :)

Thank you
T.J Udayaraj