HS Prannoy: The Extraordinary Bounty Hunter sparkles in Malaysian Super 1000

Properly pickled in badminton, aged in its ceramic jars and uniquely bringing a zing to any platter served up, is how you could describe HS Prannoy’s experienced game. His consistency in performances has been unwavering these last two seasons, though there is always that one indescribable, implacable stroke he summons at the right moment in the course of the match, that marks him out as an entertainer on court, not just a high achiever.

2021 rolled into 2022 and 2022 sidled into 2023, and the HS Prannoy train just chugs along. He paces himself well enough to not be mistaken for a threatening juggernaut who’ll eventually get a target marked on his back, but fetches up at the business ends with quiet confidence, that thwarts form-players in silence.

On Thursday, Prannoy made yet another quarterfinal at the Malaysian Super 1000, with a 21-9, 15-21, 21-16 win over Indonesian new hope Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo. It was the consecutive day that he took out yet another of those young, talented and in this case madly elastic upstarts, who bring a mix of athleticism and irretrievable power to the court. He’s had Lakshya Sen’s number for a while now (3-3 now in the last year), and stands 3-1 in head to head against Singapore’s young former World champion and speed-skidder, Loh Kean Yew.

So what makes Prannoy, a human-sized slayer of both the reputed Goliath giants and the restless-to-make-a-mark-soon young Davids? For the 30 year old seems uniquely equipped to take on any sort of game on the Tour. He can, and has taken out Viktor Axelsen in the recent past. And he isn’t rumbled out of draws by the upcoming names and their speedy, scything games as was seen against Wardoyo.

The Indonesian was left splayed on the floor multiple times by Prannoy’s canny attack. But it was the Indian’s ability to absorb the gunnery thrown at him, in his defense, that helped him slam the lid down on the springy shuttler in the box. The Indian might’ve made his name as a bounty-hunter, claiming prized scalps and then disappearing into the wings.

But in this latter stage of his career, while visibly calm, Prannoy is schooling the wide ranging new generation in constructing victories block by neatly thought out block. Each rally ends up in becoming education in exploring the different strokes of badminton. The titles haven’t exactly occured – and that will be held against him forever or till he traps one down. But there isn’t a player on the circuit who can say with confidence that he fancies a stroll in the park against the tall Indian.

So is it his ‘Backhand beast’ reputation? Maybe not, for those days when he relied on that monster backhand to smash and roar are in the past. Sure, Prannoy goes across the body for a wicked down-the-line backhand placement still, but it’s a decidedly nuanced stroke in deception now, not the kill-winner with a whiplash forearm.

Throughout his win against Wardoyo, it was the gamut of variations that shone through, and it was his expansive repertoire from the high turrets, rather than one trademark tornado stroke, that shot down the Indonesian’s challenge.

The 14-minute first set was a typical scorcher-before-you-settle-in-your-seats business. Prannoy didn’t permit Wardoyo time to think at all. The second was treated like a breather, and though the gap always remained four points or above, Wardoyo was made to work for his points. Prannoy has turned into some sort of a third-set specialist with MS Dhoni-esque temperament and confidence in being able to pull off those crucial big points. Though a 10-4 lead at the start helped much.

Using the cushioning of that early advantage, Prannoy would patiently work Wardoyo around, even as his defense stayed steady. The Indonesian clicked a double gear step up in the pace of his strokes and court movement. It’s here that the composed Prannoy defense and all that pickled experience of how to play the key moments played out.

Next up, Prannoy will take on either Malaysia’s next genner NG Tze Yong. Or Japanese new star Kodai Naraoka, who packed off home favourite Lee Zii Jia at the Axiata. Expect the age-agnostic solution-finder Prannoy to have answers for all manners of questions – the polite tosses, the impatient net dribbles, impertinent slice drops or the imperious mega smashes. And then ask some of his own counters.

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