In the aftermath of the shock defeats against France and Canada on the opening day of the Thomas and Uber Cup badminton finals, India's men's and women's teams settled well into the competition with commanding victories over the Australian squads. The women, led by Saina Nehwal, produced a winning 4-1 result, while the HS Prannoy-led men whitewashed the Kangaroos 5-0 at the Impact Arena in Bangkok on Monday.
There were no alarms whatsoever for the Indian sides against the Aussie teams, made up mostly of second-generation expatriates or settlers from China, Sri Lanka and South East Asian countries like Indonesia. Ranked 15th out of the 16 teams in the fray in this edition of the Thomas Cup, the Australians were no match for the seventh-ranked Indians.
Skipper Prannoy, ranked ninth in the world, returned to the side to spearhead its challenge, and was well in control of his clash against Anthony Joe, placed at the " hold your breath "213th spot in the World Badminton Federation (BWF) rankings. A few errors from Prannoy in the closing stages of the opening game caused the scores to look closer than they really were, and the Indian cantered home at 21-19, 21-13.
The doubles duo of Shlok Ramchandran and MR Arjun left behind them the horror show of the opening day and played much more to their potential while taming Matthew Chau and Sawan Serasinghe at 21-11, 21-15. Sai Praneeth did not have to hit top gear at any stage of his second singles against Jacob Scheuler and occupied the court for barely 20 minutes while notching a 21-9, 21-6 triumph.
With the tie already safe at 3-0, Arun George and Sanyam Shukla put in a patchy performance while easing past Simon Wing Hang Leung and Raymond Tam by a 21-16, 20-22, 21-8 scoreline. The Indians really had no business letting the match stretch to a decider, for they held a 19-14 lead in the second game, before dissolving into a spate of errors and letting the Aussies salvage one game from the ruins of their campaign in this Thomas Cup.
Young Lakshya Sen, who was preferred to Sameer Verma on the day, simply ran away with the first game against Kai Chen Teoh, but faced some resistance in the second, before he could seal India's 5-0 victory margin with a 21-5, 21-14 scoreline. On his return to India, Sen will face a potentially tough enquiry over an age-fudging issue, with the Badminton Association of India (BAI) ready to produce evidence that he is much older than the 16 years (born 16 August 2001) that he claims on his birth certificate.
The women's team, led by Saina stumbled just once in their victory charge in the second match of the day, the first of the two women's doubles.
The opener saw Saina, putting out of her mind the narrow defeat on Sunday against Michelle Li of Canada, knocking out Wendy Hsuan-yu Chen at 21-14, 21-19.
The Indian captain made up a 17-18 deficit in the second stanza with typically gritty play and averted a decider. The 25-year-old Chen, ranked 80th in the world, had sorely troubled Japanese spearhead and World No 2 Akane Yamaguchi in the Japan-Australia tie on the opening day, only surrendering at 22-24, 19-21.
Then it was time for Australia's brief moment in the sun as Gronya Sommerville, playing with Renuga Veeran, rather than with her regular partner of Indonesian origin, Setyana Mapasa, proved far too good for the high-flying Meghana Jakkampudi and Poorvisha S Ram. The Australians brought the Indian pair to earth with a 21-13, 21-16 verdict. The Indian duo had scored their country's only victory in the course of the 1-4 loss to Canada on Sunday, but were found wanting against the Aussies.
Vaishnavi Reddy Jakka appeared to be in control of her singles against Jennifer Tam, and won at 21-17, 21-13, growing increasingly confident as the duel progressed. Sanyogita Ghorpade and Prajakta Sawant were troubled in the opening game by Louisa Ma and Anne-Louise Slee, but then drew away to win at 21-19, 21-11.
The final clash of the tie was something of a joke, with debutant Anura Prabhudesai brushing aside a nervous and erratic 16-year-old Zecily Fung by a 21-6, 21-7 scoreline in just 18 minutes, the shortest singles match of the tournament so far.
Both Indian squads have now been left with a mountain to climb in their final Group A matches on Tuesday.
The Indian men had severely dented their chances of advancing beyond the group stage into the quarter-finals, due to the 1-4 reverse they had suffered on Sunday at the hands of the French. On Tuesday, they will have to knock out top-seeded China, who have not even dropped a game while scoring comprehensive 5-0 wins in both their group ties against Australia and France.
In fact, the way the Chinese, led by Chen Long, with Shi Yuqi, the peerless Lin Dan and two crack doubles combinations in tow, dealt with the French in Monday's action showed that India will have to produce a superhuman performance on Tuesday. They will also need the Aussies to slip it across the French to even have a chance of thinking about the quarter-finals.
Similarly, Saina and Co will have their task cut out on Tuesday against the No 1 seeds, Japan. The Indian women had been left licking their wounds on Sunday after ending on the wrong end of a 1-4 scoreline in their opening Group A tie against Canada, a result that has made their qualification chances recede into the gloaming.
Japan have nonchalantly strolled through their group matches against Australia and Canada by thumping 5-0 margins. In fact, against Canada on Monday, the Japanese opted to rest their top singles player, Yamaguchi, and let ninth-ranked Nozomi Okuhara, the reigning World Champion, take care of Michelle Li, who had lowered Saina's colours on the opening day.
Even presuming the Indian skipper produces an outstanding performance on Tuesday against either Yamaguchi or Okuhara, the rest of the Indian players would be totally out of their depth against the powerful all-round Japanese squad, trained for the past seven years by South Korean legend Park Joo Bong.
Apart from having two players in the top ten in the singles, every one of the three doubles combinations in their team list is ranked among the top ten in the world, and far above those the Indians have fielded in this event. The must-win tie for India promises to be as big a mismatch as the Prabhudesai-Fung clash was on Monday.