Ashwini cynosure as KBL kicks off today

Aratt Fighters will take on K2 Smashers and White Peacock face Li Ning Lions in opening double-header

raring to go: Ashwini Ponnappa

The 15-day league, which has a prize money of Rs 10 lakh, will see a clutch of seasoned shuttlers along with some promising youngsters turning out for the seven franchises.

Without doubt, Commonwealth Games women’s doubles gold medallist Ashwini Ponnappa, roped in by Aratt Fighters, will draw most attention among the 70 shuttlers expected to take court. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for shuttlers in the State. I am happy to be part of it,” said Ashwini on the eve of the meet.

Ashwini will be available only in the first week of KBL (until November 12) before flying to Hong Kong to compete in the Super Series tournament to be held from Nov 15-20. While her presence adds to the glamour quotient in the KBL, whether she will be successful depends on an entirely different factor — how the World championship bronze medallist copes with the role of a mixed doubles player which the 22-year-old has rarely donned during her career. Ashwini’s main event, the women’s doubles, has no place in the league.
“I have played mixed doubles in competitions before so there won’t be any problem for me to adjust to it,” pointed out Ashwini.

Aratt Fighters has spend more money than any team in the league, spending 2.5 lakh for Ashwini. They also bought Jacqueline Rose Kunnath for Rs 1,06,000 in the the women’s singles category. But will the big spending help the franchise to go all the way will be evident only in two-weeks time. The fact that teams will have to play two men’s singles and a men’s doubles in the best-of-five format (women’s singles and mixed doubles being the other two contests) would give an edge to the team with good male shuttlers.   

Going by that factor, K2 Smashers, who have men’s singles players Prakash Jolly and Abhishek Yeligar in their ranks, and HB Challengers, who have signed up Rishiket Yeligar and Phalgun B S, will have a great chance of progressing to the knockout stage. However, the category-based auction has thrown the league wide open with none of the seven teams having a clear edge with all the franchisees buying strong players in at least two categories from the auction. “None of the teams start as a favourite,” said U Vimal Kumar, former international and brand ambassador of KBL. After a round robin league featuring 21 matches, the top four teams qualify for the semifinals. Two matches are scheduled every day and the final is on November 19.

Meanwhile, KBL chairman Thomas Kunnath said teams would complete all the five matches in their head-to-head-battle even if the tie has been decided earlier.

On the opening day, Aratt Fighters will take on K2 Smashers and White Peacock play Li Ning Lions. Meanwhile, KB Chargers have changed their name to Team Cane Boutique.

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