TRIBUTE TO INDIA’S THOMAS CUP WIN-GEN NITIN GADKARI
Sunday, 15 May 2022
INDIAN HISTORIC WIN IN BADMINTON IS A WORLD CUP WIN
It was a historic win. In case you didn’t erupt into a war cry after Srikanth Kadambi’s forehand smash in the left side court of Jonathan Christie. In that case, you are not a true sports lover of Indian sports. My wife thought I had gone mad, watching the match on my iPad with earphones; she had no clue what I was watching and probably had settled that I must be watching another Netflix movie. My shouts of joy after India’s victory surprised her out of her stupor. She thought I had lost my mind. Luckily for her, I controlled my euphoria, and things were back to normal. I am sure this would have been the case with many households in India today. This piece is a tribute to the sport and India’s rising stature in Badminton. India’s maiden victory against Indonesia came with an astonishing margin of 3-0. Indonesia, for the record, has won the title 14 times since its inception in 1948. India won it for the first time.
I can safely say that with the IPL fever at its peak, a minuscule sporting community knew that there was a Thomas cup tournament on. Ask anyone about the venue, and even today, you will draw a blank from most people. We have grown to know badminton players’ names. Lately, the Indian girls have hogged most of the limelight with victories and biopics. Men have had it tough. Lakshya Sen, a bronze medallist at the recently held in Spain World Championship, is a delight to watch but would dwarf in front of the IPL popularity of, say, Yazuvender Singh Chahal or Umar Malik: a new entrant in cricket. These individuals do not make it to the Indian side in most formats, but in a cricket crazy country, which is to question who are your heroes. That is why this victory is so much sweeter and deserving. I don’t remember reading in any paper the news about the Indian badminton squads leaving for Thomas and Uber Cup. The news filtered only after India qualified for the semi-finals by beating Malaysia in the Thomas Cup quarter-finals.
Why was the Indian Victory so Difficult?
Thomas Cup is the Davis cup for Badminton, otherwise an individual sport. China, Malaysia, Denmark and Indonesia have dominated the game for decades. India’s forays into sports glory have been individual sparks of brilliance like Prakash Padukone and Pulela Gopichand’s Victories in All England Open: The Wimbledon of Badminton 1980 and 2001, respectively. PV Sindhus/ silver and bronze medals in successive Olympics and Sania Nehwal’s All England Open Finals. India’s attempts at winning the Thomas cup have ended three times at the semi-final level. They never entered the finals ever before this year. The win this time was scripted much in advance. A concerted effort started at least six years back when the BAI began working on the selection process and players. India was good at having singles players, with Srikanth Kadambi, Himanshu Prannoy and Lakshya Sen doing well on the singles circuit. It was the doubles pairing which always troubled the Indian team. The pair of Satwiksairaj and Chirag Shetty was matched way back in 2015. Since then, the doubles pair have learnt, practised, played, and won under various coaches. Two coaches deserve mention: Malaysian Tan Kim and Danish Legend Mathias Boe. Boe was with the team in Bangkok. The foresight, planning and hard work have borne fruits. The doubles pair has made the difference between winning the cup and just playing the cup. Today this pair is most feared by all opponents.
The journey to the Thomas cup final was tough and hard-fought. The team camaraderie and the desire to win excelled in the squad, and all of them worked in tandem. There was a noticeable bonhomie, and even the commentators on the final day, especially Aparna Popat, a well-known women’s Badminton player, commented more than once that the team bonding in this squad was the strongest she had ever seen. It was also evident in the body language and the collective response to a player’s victory. Not many, including myself, believed that this was possible. In crucial moments in the Quarter and Semi-finals, when the spectators lost their belief in the team, the players did not. Himanshu Roy’s singles victory in the deciding rubber against Denmark in the semi-final was down a game and hurt his heel; he then went on to win the next two games is legendary stuff which years later badminton fans will recollect.
A lot has now been written, and many will write in the next few days. But success has many fathers, and defeat is a poor orphan. Not many Indians would know that the ladies' version of the Thomas cup: The Uber Cup, was also going on simultaneously in Bangkok. PV Sindhu led the Indian team. It made an ignominious exit in the quarter-finals after losing to Thailand 0-3. While all the attention is on men, the ladies seem to have been blanked out. Such are the inglorious ways of modern sport. But for the Indian male shuttlers, this is the 1983 moment. We hope that the sport gets the same fillip after this victory as cricket got after 1983. Today it’s time to toast and celebrate the men’s success: ‘Sweet Dreams are made of these ’.