IBL hailed as game changer

Mumbai: India`s million-dollar foray into franchised team badminton was hailed as a "game changer" on Sunday even though the event was shunned by the sport`s powerhouse China.

The Indian Badminton League (IBL) drew an enthusiastic response from fans as six city teams battled for 18 days under innovative rules before Saturday night`s final in Mumbai.

The league, trumpeted as badminton`s richest event, ensured a big pay-packet for players, besides raising the sport`s profile in an otherwise cricket-mad country.

"It is great that the IBL became a big hit in its first year itself," said India`s national coach Pullela Gopichand. "The players loved it, so did the crowds in all the six cities it was played in."

The teams, owned by business houses and individuals, were represented by players from around the globe, including world number one Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, who were bought at an auction in July.

Lee was, unsurprisingly, the top pick as he was sold to the Mumbai franchise, co-owned by former Indian cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar, for $135,000.

But fans zeroed in on India`s two top women players, world number four Saina Nehwal and number 10 P.V. Sindhu, who was a semi-finalist at the world championships in China in August.

Nehwal, picked up by her home city of Hyderabad for $120,000, justified the hefty price tag by leading her team to a 3-1 win over Sindhu`s Lucknow in Saturday`s final.

The Hyderabad team earned about $500,000 for the victory, while Lucknow received around $200,000.

"The IBL is a game-changer as far as Indian badminton is concerned," said former India international and commentator Sanjay Sharma. "It gave a platform for our juniors to rub shoulders and learn from world stars.

"Players earned serious money for a little over a fortnight`s work. Usually they get get around $20,000 to $25,000 for winning a tournament. But in the IBL most players got more for just playing in it."

An official of the Badminton Association of India said two or three more teams could be added next year, while efforts will be made to get the powerful Chinese on board.

"The Chinese backed out this year because of prior commitments, but I am sure they will reconsider when they hear good things about the inaugural edition," the official said.

Each team, comprising four foreign players, six Indians and one upcoming Indian junior, played in a double-leg preliminary round, with the top four qualifying for the semi-finals.

All ties consisted of five matches -- two men`s singles, and one match each in women`s singles, men`s doubles and mixed doubles.

To quicken the pace, the standard two-point gap to win a game was abandoned in favour of a race to 21 points for the first two games and 11 points for the decider, if needed.