North Eastern Warriors demolished Chennai Superstarz 3-(-1) to reach the final of the Star Sports Premier Badminton League for the first time at the GMC Balayogi SATS Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad.
Lee Cheuk Yiu and the mixed doubles pair of Lee Yong Dae-Kim Ha Na contributed the wins to put the Guwahati-based franchise ahead in their first-ever semi-final in three appearances before Bodin Isara and Krishna Prasad Garaga beat the Chennai Trump of Sumeeth Reddy and Dhruv Kapila to finish it off for the Warriors.
North Eastern Warriors had the momentum coming into this match having beaten the Chennai franchise, winners of Season 2, in their last league encounter.
And they continued in the same vein even today. Lee Cheuk Yiu kept his brilliant form going to play a pivotal role for the North Eastern Warriors in their quest for their first title. The Hong Kong-based player has been a revelation this season, having reached the semi-finals of the Indonesia Masters to start the new season with. He has been one of the big reasons for the success of the Guwahati-based franchise this season. In six league appearances for the Warriors, the PBL debutant had claimed five victories. That confidence was evident when he took on the veteran Tommy Sugiarto, who himself had remained unbeaten for the Superstarz in four outings.
Lee rushed to an 11-7 lead, banking on his array of smashes while Sugiarto looked off-colour. But the Indonesian has a 1-0 record over his younger opponent on the BWF World Tour and a comeback was soon expected. Showing his trademark composure, the former World Championships bronze medallist levelled the game at 11-11 only to see Lee upping the ante to pocket the opener at 15-12.
In a highly competitive second game, Lee once more had the edge but a couple of mishits let Sugiarto back into the game at 12-12. It wasn’t enough to stall his momentum as he completed the 15-12, 15-12 win in 27 minutes.
With Satwiksairaj Rankireddy rested to heal his ankle, it was left to former national champion Sumeeth Reddy to shoulder Chennai Superstarz’s doubles responsibility. And he put in a herculean effort in both men’s and mixed doubles. Joining forces with Dhruv Kapila, he played the Chennai Trump against the Warriors’ Bodin Isara and Krishna Prasad Garaga.
Isara’s aggression and precision was the biggest highlight of the opening game. With the young Garaga complementing him well, the Warriors surged to 15-13 to take the first game. The second game turned out to be dramatic with Reddy and Kapila showing some exceptional resilience to save a match point and stretch the match to a decider.
That did not dim the spirit of the Thai who kept raining down smashes at the Chennai pair to race away to 5-2. It was a matter of minutes before Isara and Garaga beat the Chennai Trump 15-13, 14-15, 15-10 and take the North Eastern Warriors into the final for the first time.
Earlier, in the first match of the day, Reddy and Jessica Pugh put in a spectacular effort in mixed doubles only to taste defeat against the formidable combine of Lee Yong Dae and Kim Ha Na. 2008 Olympic mixed doubles champion Lee and former World No. 1 Kim Ha Na’s vast experience helped them pull through 15-12, 9-15, 15-14 in a highly entertaining contest.
After donning the Mumbai Rockets jersey for three consecutive seasons, Korea’s doubles superstar Lee Yong Dae’s grit and stamina shone through in a very tight match. With the Warriors up 14-13, the gallant Chennai pair saved a match point only to see Lee and Kim dash their hopes with some fabulous shotmaking.