They are calling it the 1983 moment for Indian badminton. The reference to India’s first cricket world cup win is only apt as it drove the whole nation to get obsessed about one sport to the extent now we are consistently at the top of world cricket. With last Sunday’s Thomas Cup (a world cup of sorts for badminton as a team event), could Indian badminton take off similarly from here over the coming decades? At least one man believes so and why not – Pullela Gopichand, an All England champion himself has dedicated his entire life post his playing career to bring Indian badminton to this stage. Hence, no better way to savour the victory than the legend’s own words:
“The most heartening aspect of India’s Thomas Cup team today was watching Chirag Shetty-Satwiksairaj Rankireddy beat Mohammad Ahsan-Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo. All the previous times that our boys have faced Kevin Sanjaya, they have lost 11-0. It was as individuals. Today, they had Team India backing their efforts, planning and rooting for them. It makes a difference, and this was a first where India played as a unit. Earlier, if Saina was playing, Sindhu wouldn’t be there. And if Sindhu played, Saina wasn’t around. If the doubles team played, the singles players weren’t really invested. This was truly Team India’s victory and I was so happy that Satwik-Chirag gave it back to the Indonesians.”
Apparently, whilst no one gave India any chance to win the title, the team itself had a strong belief – they had named the team’s Whatsapp group ‘It’s coming home’, a popular slogan used by English football fans.
“When we speak of Indian team sport at the highest level, this is the real World Cup that India has won in a game spread globally and with fancied powerhouses. I am proud of being a badminton player today. This was coming for years, but things fell into place now. I might even believe in the magic of our players.”
India had never made it beyond the semi-finals until this time and many a time even struggled to qualify for the main event. Gopichand puts it in context:
“In my time, we’ve lost 1-5 to Sri Lanka and 2-5 to Pakistan even. For us to qualify for the 16-team elite event used to be mighty, and when we beat Korea and Japan to qualify for that Thomas Cup and Uber Cup (for women) in 1999 Delhi, we thought that’s great. Both Prakash (Padukone) sir and I used to play both singles and doubles, we didn’t even have doubles specialists then. We would be given two Yonex T-shirts and we would be on our way to these events. So you can understand where we started and the enormity of this.” To be sure, even this time, the Indian team played with plain Yonex shirts having attracted no sponsor interest. That should hopefully change now.
There’s also another reason why this win is special. India has had individual champions in Prakash Padukone, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and the current team captain Srikanth himself who was briefly world no 1. But to be able to win an event with 5 matches, you need depth.
“India’s depth has been outstanding. And if there were five more singles, India would have still won. You shouldn’t keep fretting about the big gold medal not coming in the Olympics, instead keep pushing in team events. Badminton Association of India, Sports Authority of India and the Government helped us in plans to push 10 players in Top 25 to build more depth. We didn’t build this depth in the women’s team. The women players would play their own matches and not care for the rest of the team. Saina and Sindhu didn’t take the team along, we should have built that culture in the Uber Cup. That’s the difference between bronze and gold.
This win comes from H S Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth not taking their places for granted, also Srikanth and Lakshya Sen fighting for that one spot. But credit to the boys, they competed while helping each other. That’s a huge generous quality. They’ve each had debacles — lost at Olympics, not qualified for Olympics, not been centrestage, lost big matches. That fire to prove a point has baked them a little more, which showed in their grit.”

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