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W2W4: Sindhu seeks All England redemption, I-League race heats up

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While PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal headline India's challenge at the All-England Open, the three-way battle for the I-League crown is likely to become tighter over the coming week. Meanwhile, Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia will look to maintain the country's healthy record at the Indian Open, and the women's hockey team will eye a clean sweep in the ongoing test series against Belarus. Here's a look at the notable action involving Indians over the next seven days.

BADMINTON

All England Open (BWF Superseries)

Starts Tuesday, March 7, Birmingham

Notable storylines: The All England Open occupies a place of pride in the history of Indian badminton, and few can argue that Prakash Padukone's win in 1980 and Pullela Gopichand's success 21 years later are seminal moments in Indian sport at large. The stakes might have been raised further with the Olympic successes of Saina and Sindhu across the last two editions. Against that backdrop, India will be sending a strong contingent, with participants across singles and doubles in both men's and women's sections, as well as the team of Pranav Chopra and Sikki Reddy in mixed doubles.

Of note: Saina will be hoping to recreate some of the magic of 2015, when she finished runner-up behind reigning Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain, but all eyes will be on Sindhu, who exited in the first round last year but has since picked up an Olympic silver, her first Superseries title, as well broken into the top five rankings for the first time.


FOOTBALL

I-League (Matches through midweek till the weekend)

Starts Tuesday, March 7

Notable storylines: Mohun Bagan lost their first match of the current I-League season, falling six points behind East Bengal at the end of the 12th round. The 2015 champions have two matches in hand though, and that combined with the fact that all teams will be playing two matches this week make for a fascinating three-way battle among the two Kolkata giants and Aizawl FC, who have been the flavour of the season with their pluck.

Of note: Aizawl play two key games away from home this week, to DSK Shivajians in Pune and Minerva Punjab in Ludhiana. East Bengal are at home to Churchill Brothers, before going to Chennai over the weekend. Mohun Bagan's matches could determine the fate of the title this season, especially once they have played Mumbai FC in Kolkata. Over the weekend, they travel to Bengaluru to face the reigning champions, and will then face them again in three days' time for the AFC Cup opening group fixture for both the Indian clubs.


GOLF

Indian Open (co-sanctioned by European Tour and Asian Tour)

Starts Thursday, March 9, Gurugram

Notable storylines: India's premier golf event returns, this time to the DLF Golf and Country Club on the outskirts of New Delhi. It will feature the best of Indian talent including top-ranked Indian Anirban Lahiri, besides former champions SSP Chawrasia, Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal. Spaniard Rafael Cabrera Bello, Scott Hend of Australia and European Tour regular Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts will lead a strong foreign contingent, who will be hoping to become the first non-Indian champions since Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh picked up the title in 2013.

Of note: Rahman will return to the Indian Open hoping to pick up his second crown -- and also break the duopoly established by Lahiri and Chawrasia with 1-2 finishes in the last two editions of the Open. While Lahiri pipped Chawrasia in a playoff in 2015, Chawrasia won by two strokes over Lahiri last year. Those editions have been the only ones played since the Indian Open became part of the European Tour as well.


HOCKEY

India vs Belarus Test series (women)

Starts Monday, March 6, Bhopal

Notable storylines: The Indian women's hockey team, who had one of their best calendar years in 2016, are facing Belarus in a five-match Test series in Bhopal, where they have taken an unassailable 3-0 lead. They would look to continue with the momentum in the last two matches, to be played on Monday and Wednesday.

Of note: This is new coach Marijne Sjeord's first assignment as coach of the Indian women's team, and the expectation is to take India towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with some good form behind the team. The Indian women's hockey team might be young in age, but there's some good international experience behind all the players, which will make their performance in the coming months in all conditions crucial to gauging the progress made in the last 12 months.