Mumbai: Terming last month`s Indian Badminton League as a game-changer, former doubles specialist Sanjay Sharma said it would benefit the young generation of Indian shuttlers a lot.
"IBL is the real, big game-changer that has happened in the badminton history of India. It happened at the right time and badminton is the only sport that could have done this, apart from cricket," said Sharma.
"The next generation players like Sai Praneeth, Prannoy Kumar, K Srikanth, Sourabh Varma etc travelled with the likes of Lee Chong Wei, Julaine Schenk, and also practised and trained with them. So the knowledge that these players got would benefit Indian badminton and they too would benefit from this," said the former national captain.
The inaugural edition of the IBL was held from August 14 to 31, with the Saina Nehwal led-Hyderabad Hotshots clinching the trophy.
Sharma said that reigning national under-19 singles champion Harsheel Dani got the golden opportunity to rub shoulders with world no.1 Lee Chong Wei, which would be very beneficial for the young Indian shuttler.
"Harsheel Dani got the opportunity to spar with Lee Chong Wei in Bangalore, the help that he got from talking to Lee Chong Wei and learning something from what he saw while Wei was practising is invaluable," said Sharma, a former men`s double national champion.
He also said it was good to have two Indian women players in the top 10 of the world rankings.
"It is fantastic. You have got two women in the top ten. They should have a healthy rivalry. After all, sports is about healthy rivalry. You have one 23-year old (Nehwal) who has been in the top rankings since the age of 19, and one 18-year old (P V Sindhu) who has found her feet in the top ten rankings. She still has to mature a bit," Sharma said.
Sharma also felt that national coach Pullela Gopichand would have taken significant positives from the tournament as most of his students performed exceptionally well.
"It is a huge boost to somebody like Gopichand, whose academy has been producing these world class youngsters. He will go with renewed energy, because he has seen people like Srikanth and Sai Praneeth. Gopi will also be taking a lot of positives. Overall if you see, it is a win-win situation for all," he said.
Sharma was of the view that badminton infrastructure in the country would also improve in the next five years, though exercised caution that India had a lot of catching up to do.
"The infrastructure is improving. In our times, we never had multi-court halls. The infrastructure is increasing, the best equipment is available. As the game gets popular, you will see a lot of these stadiums and courts coming up.
"We are not China yet. We are not even Malaysia or Indonesia yet when it comes to badminton infrastructure. They have had a headstart.
"But in spite of that, Indian badminton is second only to China in terms of sheer strength. It is a question of five years and we will be rubbing shoulders with China and (South) Korea," he added.
Former ace Nandu Natekar also gave the tournament a thumbs-up but added that its impact would depend on the confidence it gives to the players.
"The IBL is something we are very proud of. We were lucky to see this happen in our own life. It was a resounding success. I am sure the IBL is going to stay here. As far as I am concerned, every evening it was a pleasure to sit in front of the TV and watch these matches. When the IBL got over, you wondered what to do the next evening," Natekar said.
"It is the players who need to benefit from this. We can give them time for a couple of years to hone their skills. This kind of exposure, Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu apart, that players are getting is a lot.
"If this has given them any confidence to play better, then only I will say the IBL has played its part. Only time will tell, but we have to wait for a little while," he added.