Once again the onus of winning medals will fall upon the young shoulders of Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu, who are India's best bets in the badminton competition that gets underway at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon on Saturday at the Gyeyang Gymnasium.
India have sent a 13-member contingent - eight men and five women - to vie for medals in seven categories after top doubles player Jwala Gutta pulled out due to a sprain. Apart from the five regular categories - men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles, and mixed doubles, men's and women's team events will also feature at the quadrennial event. The two team events will be based on the Thomas and Uber Cup formats which comprise three singles and two doubles competitions.
Saina and Sindhu will lead Indian women - P.C. Thulasi, Tanvi Lad and Ashwini Ponnappa - while recently crowned Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap will take charge of the men's squad which includes Akshay Dewalkar, K. Srikanth, Pranaav Chopra, R.M.V. Gurusaidutt, Sourabh Verma, Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy.
Competition will be tough for Saina and Sindhu as, unlike in the Olympics, there will not be any limitation of the number of Chinese participants. World No.1 and Olympic champion Li Xuerui, defending Asian Games champion Shixian Wang and former World Champion Yihan Wang will be top contenders for the medals.
To upset any of them and bring back a medal for India will a big achievement, especially for a country which has not seen a medal from the discipline since 1986 when the men's team clinched bronze in Seoul.
Other than that, Indian shuttlers have managed to win only six other Asiad medals, all bronzes with the first coming at the 1974 Tehran Games and the other five coming at home in 1982 New Delhi. This is possibly India's best chance to break the jinx with two strong women's singles participants.
However, with the pullout of Jwala, the doubles team has been weakened and Ashwini will have to fall upon scratch combinations to form teams in both women's and mixed doubles as Tarun Kona's name was not cleared by the sports ministry.
But India has an outside chance of winning a women's team medal if the shuttlers play to their potential and a team competition is all about momentum. Though the men's team is larger than the women's, their chances of winning medals are lesser. Kashyap will have to ride on his Commonwealth Games form and play out of his skin to have any chance of winning a medal. Rising star Srikanth certainly poses threats to oust top-10 players but consistency is his Achilles' heel.
Verma and Gurusaidutt are talented prospects but to expect medals from them will be a bit too much to ask. However, Gurusaidutt surprised one and all to clinch the bronze at Glasgow, so it is a 'never say never' situation. Nevertheless, the men's team combined, like the women's squad, has a chance of winning a metal but the talented youngsters's morale has to be boosted constantly by chief national coach Pullela Gopichand.