The tie between Pune Pistons and Awadhe Warriors had plenty riding on it. The winner would progress into the last four while the loser was destined to pack its kit.
The crowd was sparse but they made up for it with their vociferous support, mainly for the Warriors. The 20-year-old Srikanth gave the Warriors the perfect start, winning a tight contest 21-18, 21-16 to put his team in front.
Srikanth sailed one too long to lose the first point and Saurabh took advantage of the local lad’s tentativeness to quickly jump to a 5-1 lead.
The 20-year-old from Guntur resorted to his trademark aggression but Saurabh responded with equal venom to take the first break at 7-2.
The Pistons star retained a four point advantage at 10-6, but Srikanth used his court craft and power to work his way back to 12-12. The veteran from Bhopal responded to take a two point advantage into the second break.
Spurred on by the partisan crowd inside the brightly lit GMC Balayogi Indoor Stadium, Srikanth came to life, using power and placement in equal measure to surge to a 19-16 lead. A powerful smash from Srikanth forced Saurabh to feather one into the net to offer game point. And Srikanth unleashed a ferocious smash from high in the air to take the first game 21-18.
Srikanth carried his resurgence into the second game troubling his opponent by moving him deftly along the court. The 31 year old added to his woes by making repeated errors and Srikanth went into the break with the match in control at 7-1.
With the Bhopali only a shadow of his eloquent best from the early stages of the match, Srikanth consolidated his advantage to head into the second break at 14-3. Verma won four points to claw back to 7-14 but the gap still seemed too big to bridge.
But the Bhopali was eager to rebound and Srikanth was giving away signs of being tired. The 31-year-old found a second breath of air on the back of some errors from Srikanth to narrow the lead to just two at 14-16.
Even as the situation was slipping out of control, Srikanth rediscovered some of his deadly aggression to inch closer to victory at 14-19. But Saurabh won a couple of points on the run to narrow the lead to three.
A tight rally at the net left Saurabh with no room to maneuver forcing him to flick the shuttle into the net. At match point, Verma struck a smash too wide to hand the match and the first point of the contest to the Warriors.