KUALA LUMPUR: No more backdoor entry. Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria wants five-time champions Malaysia to qualify for the Thomas Cup on merit by securing one of the four spots on offer at the Asia Team Championships in Alor Setar from Feb 16-21.
The tournament serves as the qualifiers for both the Thomas and Uber Cup Finals in Bangkok from May 20-27.
Unlike two years ago, BAM are not in the mood to experiment as they named a strong 10-man team led by world No. 2 singles shuttler Lee Chong Wei and the recently reunited doubles ace Tan Wee Kiong-Goh V Shem yesterday.
Completing the singles line-up are Lee Zii Jia, Soong Joo Ven and Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin while the doubles department is also made up of Teo Ee Yi-Ong Yew Sin and Goh Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin Rumsani. Only Zii Jia and Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin are first-timers.
There was no place for two youngsters – Asian Junior winner Leong Jun Hao and two-time national champion Lim Chi Wing – as well as former international Tan Boon Heong, who had earlier voiced his readiness to play.
Malaysia went to the previous qualifiers in Hyderabad, India, in February 2016 without Chong Wei and V Shem-Wee Kiong and the inexperienced side failed to earn one of the automatic top-four berths as they could only reach the quarter-finals.
It did not matter, however, as Malaysia still qualified for the 16-team Finals by virtue of their team world ranking a month later.
But Norza has made it clear that this shall not be the case this time although Malaysia are still likely to make it through the ranking system in the event they fail to reach the semis.
Ranked seventh in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) team ranking, Malaysia are a shoo-in for one of the three remaining slots.
“Forget about the backdoor entry, I want the team to qualify in style and show that we deserve to be in the Finals,” stressed Norza, after chairing the coaching and training committee meeting (CNT) at the Academy Badminton Malaysia.
“I have faith in this team, it’s a strong side. As long as we prepare well, enter the tournament with a positive mindset and get our strategy right, we should be there.”
On Joo Ven and Iskandar’s inclusion, Norza said the two were picked based on recent form and the temperament to deal with the big occasion.
“We have an internal competition weekly where Joo Ven is among the top-ranked players alongside Zii Jia, while Datuk Misbun Sidek (singles head coach) has given us the assurance that Iskandar is ready to step up after overcoming his confidence and injury issues,” Norza explained.
“He won the Malaysia International Challenge last November and impressed in the Purple League by beating some of the top players. With his experience, he gives us a good option in third singles.”
Iskandar did well as the second singles two years ago, contributing seven points in eight matches in the qualifiers and Finals.
OTHER CNT DECISIONS
• Women’s doubles player Lim Yin Loo, a former world No. 20 and Scottish Open champion, has tendered her resignation and will leave the national set-up in February. She made her national debut in 2006.
• Five junior shuttlers have been promoted to the senior team – Jun Hao and Sim Fong Hau (men’s singles), Shia Chun Kang (men’s doubles), Tan Sueh Jeou (women’s doubles) and Chen Tang Jie (mixed doubles).
• A national selection to be held at the Academy Badminton Malaysia from Feb 10-12. A total of 38 players – 25 from state BAs and 13 ex-Bukit Jalil Sports School graduates — will be taking part.