Kidambi Srikanth has his task cut out to qualify for the Tokyo Games. (File)
The scramble to qualify for the Olympics for India's men's singles shuttlers is also a brain-scrambling number-crunching exercise. It can prove a pretty mirthless exercise with several permutations and combinations for the players who will be advised to stop micro-calculating and get on with the simpler plan of playing well in whatever tournament they set off to.
The furious pursuit takes five of them – B Sai Praneeth, K Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Lakshya Sen and Subhankar Dey — to Manila's historic Rizal Memorial stadium, where the men's team is playing the Badminton Asia Team Championship. Trials were needed when the Indian men landed themselves in this knot — with about seven of them in with a chance (realistic or mathematical) as India aims to qualify two men's singles shuttlers for the first time.
Here's the boring lowdown which fans can keep chewing on, but players would best avoid chewing their own heads over:
What points are on offer?
Simply playing a match gets them 10 per cent of their best 10 results aggregate: Praneeth — 5597 points, Srikanth — 5211, Prannoy — 4114, Sen — 3742, Dey — 3118. Additionally, they can earn top-up bonus points which are one-hundredth of the total ranking points of their highest-ranked opponent snared.
Kento Momota carried a chunky bounty of 1000 points against his name, but he's recuperating from surgery. Indians would love to run into and snare the Indonesians — Anthony Ginting and Jonatan Christie, 760 points-odd apiece or Chou Tien Chen, roughly 800, or either of the Japanese Kanta Tsuneyama (570) or Kenta Nishimoto (520). The immediate one in their sights will be Malaysian 21-year-old Lee Zii Jia (520) when India play Malaysia on Thursday. The bonus points might matter only if things get close.
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What's the equation for Srikanth?
Srikanth starts in the first singles against Kazakh No. 1 Dmitriy Panarin in Group B on Tuesday to lock those 5200 points. The way these calculations go, he'll drop 2750 points as well, which is a gain of 2460 points in balance. As things stand, Srikanth is defending around 20,000 points till the end of April, and will need another 18,000 after this to get into the Top 16. A simpler equation (and infinitely tougher task) is to hoard whatever he gets in Manila, and then target the biggies — quarters at the All England Super 1000 and Malaysia Super 750 plus a final in either India/Singapore Super 500.
A semifinal at the All England takes him closer along with three quarters in India, Singapore and Malaysia. The last-gasp desperate push can come at the Asian Badminton individual Championships, though that's teetering as it's scheduled for China in late April. Srikanth could start by playing steady in Manila.
What about the rest?
Everyone's sniffing points: all five will definitely take to the court. Sen will play Artur Niyazov in the opener against Kazakhstan and Dey lines up for the third singles against Khaitmurat Kulmatov. With Satwiksairaj Rankireddy nursing a bad ankle, HS Prannoy is listed to pair up with Chirag Shetty for the first men's doubles against Panarin-Niyazov while MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila play the second doubles rubber. Praneeth should fetch up against Malaysia on Thursday, though bonus is not on top of their minds. Lee Zii Jia, by the way, is no mug at all, having beaten Viktor Axelsen in Korea and Chen Long in Indonesia last year.
Where do India stand in the tournament?
India medalled a bronze in 2016, but this edition is strictly Olympics qualification. China and Hong Kong are not travelling owing to Coronavirus fears, neither is India's women's team risking heading out. After Kazakhstan and Malaysia, India can aim to scalp the bonus names, but going deep into the title conquest isn't exactly a priority.
What's the point of this number-crunching?
Very little, to be honest. The All England is where things should heat up.