The question of variety

Badminton appears stunted after the new points system was introduced, writes DEV S SUKUMAR

ROSLIN Hashim, the cordial former world No.1, was asked his views about the contemporary game while he was in Hyderabad for the India Open. After a pause, the Malaysian replied: “Badminton used to be art. The current scoring system encourages only the attacking players; we don’t get to see other aspects of the game.”

The current world game has changed beyond recognition from the game of ten, or even five years ago. In 2006, the world federation, keen to accommodate advertisers for a television audience, announced drastic changes. Central to these was the new scoring system of 21 points, where a point would be earned whether the player was serving or receiving, unlike in the earlier game when only the server could gain points. The new system cut down the duration of each match — but more importantly, it gave little time for players to find their rhythm.

A few patterns have emerged as a result. Most of the high serves and high tosses have disappeared, except on rare occasions, as players are reluctant to give their opponents the opportunity to smash. Even the master strokeplayer Taufik Hidayat conceded that he was “scared” to serve or toss high, for fear of inviting the smash. This is rather like the dilemma of a spinner in limited-overs cricket who is reluctant to flight the ball.

With players eschewing the high tosses, we are getting to see lesser variety – both in the singles and doubles. The game has shifted to a battle of low, flat strokes, unlike earlier contests where the court was better explored. The average number of strokes per rally has reduced as players are in greater haste to gather points. Badminton now tastes like fast food.

While the concerns that drove the change are understandable, perhaps the world body should have built some flexibility into the circuit. A sport that evolved over a hundred years with a particular scoring system should not have been subjected to a fundamental change in such a short time span.

The advent of One Day Internationals and Twenty20 into cricket was not at the expense of the real thing — Test cricket. Tennis features best-of-five set matches as well as best-of-three. Badminton could likewise think of accommodating both scoring systems.

The biggest problem with the sellability of badminton is that each tournament in the circuit has five events (two singles, three doubles), and that’s why the new scoring system has become acceptable, for it helps shorten the duration of matches. The way out is to have some select tournaments featuring only one event (singles or doubles), and to play them in the 15×3 format. Doubles legend Candra Wijaya’s decision to organise an exclusive men’s doubles tournament should be hailed, because he has broken out of the standard template set by the international federation for a long time.

A healthier badminton is not necessarily a game that attracts advertisers. It needs to be a game that’s complete, that encourages all aspects of the game. We need the exuberant styles that characterised badminton in earlier years. Fast food serves a limited purpose; its taste does not linger. For that we need a more sumptuous meal.

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About badmintonmania

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the Indian in Thoreau's Walden who makes cane baskets and is surprised nobody wants them. A. was talking about discipline when she said: "But Dev, if you want to move ahead in life, you'll have to be like that," and she may as well have defined everything else for me. I've played the low percentage game for too long to believe there's anything in it but the romance; the odds keep getting jacked up higher and higher; and you may be a good Idealist but a worse Fool.
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