Cheam June Wei (Malaysia’s only seeded player) is the only singles player who stood out at the World Junior Championships. – Chan Boon Kai / THE STAR
ALOR SETAR: Malaysia were let down at the World Junior Championships by one thing – a lack of depth.
Malaysia’s 22 junior shuttlers just have not reached the same level of strength and skill as their peers from China, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.
The only ones who looked impressive were boys’ singles player Cheam June Wei (Malaysia’s only seeded player) and mixed doubles pair Tan Jinn Hwa-Goh Yea Ching, who also went on to make the quarter-finals of the individual competition.
In addition, losing girls’ singles player S. Kisona to a suspected ligament problem during the final-16 stage of the mixed team event made matters worse for Malaysia.
In comparison, China won the mixed team event last week and made four finals in the individual competition – boys’ singles (all-China final), girls’ singles, girls’ doubles and mixed doubles.
What went wrong for Malaysia was clear from the onset.
“You can form a team with two or three players, but it won’t be very good. It won’t be a team that strike fear in other countries,” said national junior head coach Zhou Kejian.
“June Wei, (Lee) Ying Ying and Jinn Hwa and Yea Ching proved they’re fighters with comeback wins. They have the skills and that fighting spirit, which is promising.
“Also, Kisona could have been a real threat for us. After the Asian Juniors, she built up such a good momentum ... it was just so unlucky for her and us because I think she would have done quite well here.”
The only solution for Kejian is a much more aggressive approach in nurturing talents.
China has 22 provinces and if each province can produce just five badminton players a year, that’s a whopping 110 players.
And as cream does rise to the top, China’s method of mass production only means that while we sit and wait for one bright star to be discovered, they are basically guaranteed of producing at least 10 of the highest calibre.
The Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) and the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School (SSTMI) in Johor have been at the forefront of talent development.
There is also SMK Datuk Peter Mojuntin in Sabah and the Malaysia Pahang Sports School in Gambang which concentrates solely on football. Perlis is also set to join the ranks with a sports school of its own.
But it doesn’t seem to be enough, not for badminton at least.
“We don’t have a busload of talents coming from BJSS every year. At best, we have maybe 14 to 15 shuttlers in total. That’s just not enough, not when China have probably five to six times that number in a year,” stressed Kejian.
“There needs to be a big change ... an overhaul because we won’t be able to sustain much longer at this rate. But, it’s beyond my control. Even if they have success at the junior level, what happens when they move on to the back-up squad is not my call.
“The only consolation is that some of the top juniors from China are 18 now, so the younger ones like June Wei, (Goh) Jin Wei and others have to make full use of their time now and work hard for next year and take advantage of that.”
Malaysia have not made it to a World Junior final since Zulfadli Zulkiffli and Nelson Heg Wei Keat-Teo Ee Yi emerged champions in the boys’ singles and boys’ doubles respectively in 2011.