Four years ago, Srikanth Nammalwar Kidambi was in the ICU of a Hyderabad hospital when he collapsed in the bathroom after a strenuous training session. At the end of that dreaded July in 2014, when he was diagnosed with meningitis, he was ranked world No. 29. Today he is the world’s No. 1 badminton player. Could anything at all have foretold this total inversion of fate? Yes, Srikanth’s incredible work ethic and willingness to push himself to the very limits. If rankings could tell tales, Srikanth’s would speak of unrelieved toil.
At the just-concluded Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Gold Coast, 25-year-old Srikanth played a key role in providing India a confident platform by helping it win the mixed team gold. Later, the top seed reached the singles final too. He lost to Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia (world No. 1 from 2008-12), but not before wresting the first game. Between the two events, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) announced their latest rankings, charting Srikanth’s climb to the summit, replacing Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen. It was three years since Saina Nehwal had reached the pinnacle in the women’s category in April 2015. Currently, P.V. Sindhu is ranked No. 3 and Saina, who was laid low by a knee injury last year, is 12th.
Thanks to the six medals, including two golds the shuttlers won, India finished a creditable third in the CWG medal standings with 66 medals—26 gold, 20 silver and 20 bronze, behind hosts Australia (80 gold) and England (45 gold). It was a shade better than the 2014 CWG in Glasgow, where it had won 64 medals, including 15 gold.
Though India has dominated some team sports like cricket and hockey, there have been only a few instances when Indians have reached the peak, with consistent world-class performances in individual competitions. The...