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Jayaraj guides Lions to the SBL 2014 crown

Tuesday 2 December, 2014

Having the last laugh!!

By T.J Udayaraj

The final of SBL 2014 was going on. Lions vs Warriors. After both teams winning a match each, the all important mixed doubles match is about to begin. Being the main umpire, I had the best view of these players, their emotions, struggle and resentment. Shailesh is all smiles at the toss..trying his best to be as humble as possible..Also he seems to be in slight pain and gently massaging his right shoulder and biceps, which started acting up because of the sudden load of work. He gingerly says, he doesn't remember when he played Badminton last time!

Checkout more photos at http://sas.nihonkairali.com/gallery.aspx#SASBadmintonLeague2014/1

Vinitha had Shailesh standing far at the back court. He neither has the timing to hit long shots nor the foot work to reach the corners so that he can hit the bird in time..to make matters worse, the unforgiving opponents is relentless in targeting him.

Also, he is getting an earful every few seconds from his partner, the top seeded female player! When their opponent's return is going harmlessly far wide, Shailesh somehow reaches it and makes a mess of it. "That was out!!" screams Vinitha. When she is all set for a thundering smash, Shailesh intervenes and both misses it..Vinitha growls!!

But Shailesh, he is just not giving up! He is taking everything on the chin and goes about doing his job. With a contrived action, he is hitting the bird as far as he can..sometimes he succeeds, sometimes it falls right in front of him..Somehow, he stumbles and trips across to reach the corners..It seems as if he will fall down any minute and injure himself. But he is just not giving up!!

At most times, Shailesh invites mockery. Many might see him as an eccentric, may be too quirky to be honest. And when the teams were announced and everyone came to know that the top seeded female player got the lowest seeded Shailesh as her partner, all could see the funny side of it. Some were literally ROFL..

While playing, in those few moments when he is able to catch some breath or when he could hit a winner, he smiles! He seemed to be in a phantasmagorical world, unsure of what is happening, why and how it is happening. Slowly his team is gaining ascendancy, his opponents are wilting. And then finally, he is there! on the pedestal!! His chest is up and broad, he is standing tall, his arms are high..And..he is laughing at everyone. Shailesh is the Champion!! The lowest seeded, much taunted Shailesh is having the last laugh!!

Vinitha started this final match as if it was an ordeal she has to go through somehow. With everyone watching and a strong opponent team(Saneesh and Banita), she was just not interested at the start and was simply going through the motions. She was resigned to the fate, of standing as the runner up. The first few points confirmed her thoughts. But did she ever know, Banita and Saneesh were as tensed and nervous because of her. Finals are not decided just on skill.

As told above, when Vinitha understood Shailesh was giving 100% and started producing some stunning winners, all of a sudden, she could sense an opportunity. She could see the tension and fear in her opponents which she didn't seek out for in the beginning. The champion in her woke up. She just teased and tormented her opponents with her experience and craft. And in straight sets Vinita and Shailesh upset the strong favorites Banita and Saneesh (21-19, 21-12). The Lions won the SBL 2014.

Lions' captain Jayaraj and the brilliant Prasanth combined well to beat all their opponents easily, justifying their seeding. The final was a one-sided affair with Jay/Prasanth beating Tiby/Ragesh in two easy sets(21-13, 21-16). When in form, Jayaraj is unbeatable with superb court coverage and breathtaking drops. Jay over the years has been threatening to go the distance and this year with the maverick Prasanth in company, it was mission accomplished in style. He also led his team well with crucial advice and planning to clear each hurdles one by one. This could be his first winner's trophy, a very well deserved one.

The beaten finalists, on paper, were not expected to reach where they did. But all their players played very well, especially Prasad and Venkat to guide them through important and tough matches. In the final, the match between Prasad/Venkat vs Ajay/Prashob was nail-biting stuff. Prasad and Venkat won in 3 sets(21-14, 18-21, 21-18)

This year, for the tournament, only 42 players registered 8 less than previous year. So we had only 7 teams grouped as below

Group 1

Men's - Level 1

Men's - Level 2

Mixed Doubles

Cheetahs

T.J Udayaraj

Jude Joseph

Jishad Abubacker

Prasanth Pooyath

Rohit Niranjan

Nigi Tiby

Kings

Regin Jose

Jitin C

Anoop A.R

D. Sakthikumar

Manoj Rajan

Anjali Ajay

Knights

Abhilash R

Yunus P.

Eldho Rajan

Joemon Paul

Baiju G. Nair

Lekshmi Shailesh

Warriors

Tiby Kuruvila

Ragesh Nair

G.V Venkat

Prasad M.A

Saneeshkumar

Banita Binu

Group 2

Men's - Level 1

Men's - Level 2

Mixed Doubles

Lions

Jayaraj T.G

Prasanth G V

Prashob Nair

Ajay P

Shailesh Nair

Vinitha Rajeev

Panthers

Rajeev Nair

Sreekumar

Arun Arora

Cesil Berchmans

Sreelal M.M

Priya Gijo

Heroes

Gijo M.S

Sunil Koodali

Raghupathy 

Viju Vincent

Thomas Mathew

Devi Jayaraj

From Group 1, Warriors and Knights qualified for Semifinals and from Group 2, Lions and Panthers.

Semifinals

  • Warriors vs Panthers (2-0)
  • In the first match, Warriors' Tiby and Ragesh strolled past Rajeev and Sreekumar in 2 sets (21-14 , 21-16).
  • The second match, Warriors' Venkat/Prasad team beat Arun/Cesil in straight sets(21-16, 21-16) to make it 2-0 and guide their team to Final

Lions vs Knights

  • Lions vs Knights (2-0)
  • In the first match, Lions' Jayaraj/Prasanth beat Abhilash/Yunus in 2 straight sets(21-15, 22-20).
  • The second match, Lions' Vinitha/Shailesh beat Lekshmi/Baiju in a thrilling match of 3 sets(21-19, 11-21, 22-20) to make it 2-0 and guide their team to Final

Almost all the matches were exciting and most of them were decided in 3 sets. There were some new players like Prasad, Baiju, Manoj and Yunus who caught the eye and were excellent. Some were not so brilliant with no practice in recent times. There were one or two surprises also. Lekshmi improved match by match and played a fine supporting role in enabling her team(Knights) to reach the semifinals.

This year's tournament lost some of its sheen with the absence of many of the leading women players. The mixed doubles format also did not appeal much to everyone. SAS team will review the format again for the next year and will try to come up with a better plan.

I would like to thank everyone for their great support and help in running this tournament well. Hope to see you all next year as well.

Finally, it was a great lesson to everyone, that never ever underestimate anyone.

Personal picks

  • The Champions of SBL 2014 - Lions
  • The Runner Up of SBL - Warriors
  • The team of the tournament - Jayaraj/Prasanth
  • The player of the tournament - Vinitha Rajeev
  • The unsung hero - Prasanth G.V
  • The most improved player - Ragesh Nair
  • The surprise package - Prasad M.A
  • The star of SBL 2014 - Shailesh Nair