Indian Men’s Singles badminton is apparently at a healthier place than the Women’s discipline. India won the Thomas Cup this year and Lakshya Sen is the brightest young talent to emerge from the country after PV Sindhu.
Yet a glance at the BWF rankings shows a dearth of young Indian MS players besides Lakshya in the Top 50. Lakshya will likely be the backbone of the Indian team this decade but so far there are no noteworthy supporting acts.
There is no one like a Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo, Ng Tze Yong or Kodai Naraoka who can reliably compete and win at the Super 300+ level if the bigger names from their countries miss out.
The generation of Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy and B Sai Praneeth will soon be entering their 30s and if India is to remain competitive in Team events then the youngsters will have to make their presence felt.
Much of the newer crop are regulars at International Challenge and Series competitions but no one has broken through at the Super level yet. They have also missed out on crucial development time due to the pandemic.
Nevertheless there have been some promising signs this year and it is hoped that most of these shuttlers will make the big leap in a season or two.
World No.61 Kiran George is the highest ranking Indian MS after Lakshya and the veterans. A predominantly attacking player, the 22-year old won the Odisha Open Super 100 and Polish Open IC this year and finished runner-up in the Denmark Masters IC.
Last year he won the Polish International and reached the semis of the Welsh International though arguably his best performance was a semifinal appearance at the Saarlorlux Open Super 100 in 2019.
He has posted wins against the likes of Mark Caljouw and HS Prannoy after the pandemic and won the domestic trials ahead of Prannoy and Sameer Verma for a place in the 2021 Thomas Cup squad.
Like with many Indian shuttlers, Kiran’s problem has been consistency but his most recent result, a three-game defeat to World No.4 Chou Tien Chen in the Taipei Open, should give him confidence.
Priyanshu Rajawat was the youngest member of India’s gold-winning Thomas Cup squad. He played one match in the Thomas Cup, registering a three-game win against Canada’s Victor Lai.
He has made steady progress in the domestic circuit after winning the Ukraine International Series last year, a follow-up from the Bahrain International he won as a 17-year old in 2019.
This year the World No.71 finished second to Kiran George in the Odisha Open, defeated Christo Popov and took HS Prannoy and Li Shifeng to three games in other tournaments.
There are high hopes from 20-year old Priyanshu whose attacking game has more similarities with Kidambi Srikanth’s than with fellow Madhya Pradesh shuttlers Sourabh and Sameer Verma’s more patient playing styles.
Meiraba Luwang Maisnam
Former Junior World No.2 Meiraba Luwang Maisnam is at present the youngest Indian in the BWF Top 100 and is one of the first successful badminton players from the sporting-hub state of Manipur in recent times.
Meiraba won four Junior tournaments in 2019-20 and went on to win the Latvia and Bulgarian Future Series in 2021.
This year he won the Iran Fajr International Challenge and reached the semifinals of the Nantes IC. In the Orleans Masters Super 100 he beat Toby Penty and Mads Christophersen on the way to a R16 finish and at Nantes he defeated Misha Zilberman.
The 19-year old, whose defence and retrieval skills are somewhat reminiscent of Bengaluru academy-mate Lakshya Sen, has made steady progress despite missing out on his top Junior years during the pandemic and should make it to the Super 100+ level next season.
The oldest player on this list, 24-year old Mithun Manjunath has only started to reach his strides in 2022. The biggest result of his career was the upset win against Kidambi Srikanth in first round of the Singapore Open Super 500.
He also made it to the finals of the Orleans Masters Super 100 and the semis of the Syed Modi Super 300. He reached a career-high ranking of 61 this year and is at present World No.64.
A skillful player lacking in fitness, a renewed focus on physical conditioning during the pandemic might be the factor behind Mithun’s gain in form.
These are still early days for Mithun and he will have to improve a lot more to make it to the next level though his rise does serve as a good example for junior Indian shuttlers.
The younger generation
The World Junior Championships will be held this year for the first time after 2019. Bharat Raghav, Sankar Muthusamy Subramanian and Ayush Shetty were the Top 3 in the BAI Junior Selection trials and will be likely chosen for the World Juniors.
Others such as 2015 World Junior silver medalist Siril Verma, Varun Kapur and Sathish Kumar Karunakaran and are also in the mix at the Senior level.
Just like with Sindhu in Women’s Singles there is no obvious alternative to Lakshya Sen in MS yet though one or more of these players can potentially go on to bigger things.