Monday, Aug 15, 2022

Historic Thomas Cup Victory Should Help Indian Badminton Repose Faith In Team Culture - 'United We Stand'

The Thomas Cup win will help India's new stars like Lakshya Sen, Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy bond better as players.

Unlike China or Japan, badminton in India is all about 'individualism.' That should change now at least among men.
Unlike China or Japan, badminton in India is all about 'individualism.' That should change now at least among men. AP Photo

An incredible week culminated in a fitting manner as the Indian men’s badminton team stunned defending champions Indonesia in the Thomas Cup 2022 final at the Impact Arena in Bangkok on Sunday. (More Badminton News)

Not just winning a historic title after more than seven decades, the Thomas Cup triumph sent out a bigger message for India's top players and administrators - a team first mindset.

Every player and coach who spoke after Sunday's massive win emphasised the fact how the men came together as a team.

"The belief and motivation only grew stronger after India's quarterfinal win against former champions Malaysia," veteran player Kidambi Srikanth told Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an interaction.

HS Prannoy was a classic case of what team-first feelings can do. Egged on my ecstatic teammates from the sidelines who celebrated every point he scored, Prannoy rose above pain to win a crucial match against Denmark in the semifinal on Friday.

The emotions of playing as a team cannot be described easily. On Sunday, the men, most of whom crisscross the world playing individual tournaments, felt it from their heart.

Speaking to BWF after the win, Srikanth said the team environment was very good and everyone was really supportive of each other. On a personal level, Srikanth said he is very happy with the win as India had never won the Thomas Cup before.

“This might sound a little dramatic. But you know, when I was in Korea for the Korea Masters, and the following week we had selection trials… immediately after those trials, when the team got announced, we created a (Whatsapp) group titled ‘We’ll Bring It Home’, or something like that.

“This happened a week before the tournament started. So yeah… we always thought we are capable, but we only had to be consistent. Coming here, it was a fantastic team and we had great atmosphere.

“We were a happy team, and we were really supporting each other and backing each other,” Srikanth said.

Players from China, Japan and Korea train in a team set-up. In international tournaments, they look like a force. Indians don't because each one them have personal agendas and targets to meet.

In Thomas Cup this time, the men's team decided to prove a point. They wanted to win as a team.

After finishing runners-up in Group C, the young Indian team dished a spectacular show to douse off mighty Malaysia in the quarterfinals.

Appearing for the semifinals for the first time since 1979, Kidambi Srikanth and Co. avenged their 43-year-old defeat against Denmark 3-2 in a thrilling encounter to enter their maiden final.

Badminton's Thomas Cup is like a world cup in other team sports. Indians hunted in packs in Bangkok.
Badminton's Thomas Cup is like a World Cup in any other team sport. Indians hunted in packs in Bangkok. AP Photo

On Sunday, the Indians, not only scripted history but also showed they are here to rule the next few years with an eye on the podium at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and 2024 Paris Olympics.

If Lakshya Sen’s steely nerves and skills were on display during his come-from-behind win against Anthony Ginting, the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty similar mental courage when they saved four match points in the second game to outwit fancied Mohammad Ahsan and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo.

Kidambi Srikanth was at his absolute best in outclassing Asian Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie to seal the historic victory. It is easy to win individual tournaments, but this win as a complete team showed the depth India have in the sport.

Why India’s win over Indonesia is a massive achievement?

The Indonesians came into the final with an all-win record and consisted of some of the top-ranked players in the world on their side.

From fourth-ranked Anthony Sinisuka Ginting to world No.8 Jonatan Christie to three players of the world's top two pairs – Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, Indonesia were loaded with match-winners.

On the contrary, India only had Lakshya Sen (9th) in the top 10 of men’s singles world rankings. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are ranked eighth in the world.

A clinical Kidambi Srikanth sealed India's 3-0 sweep of Indonesia.
A clinical Kidambi Srikanth sealed India's 3-0 sweep of Indonesia. AP Photo

The likes of Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, doubles pairs of MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila, Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala don’t even feature in the top 20 in the world.

Indian coach Vimal Kumar doesn’t want to dwell much into the future now but said they can only take positives from here on.

“We can only take positives from this victory. This is a young bunch and I am hopeful they can do a lot better in the upcoming future tournaments,” Vimal Kumar said.

Looking Back

Prakash Padukone (1980) and Pullela Gopichand (2001) took Indian badminton to great heights by winning the All England Open Badminton championships. Success were few and far between.

Saina Nehwal's 2012 London Olympics bronze, PV Sindhu’s Olympics medals (Rio 2016 silver and Tokyo 2020 bronze) and her World Championship medals in 2013, 2014 (bronze), 2017, 2018 (silver) and 2019 (gold) took badminton’s popularity to its peak.

But these were largely individual efforts and with different support staff. The women have never played successfully as a team.

All that can change now.

Kidambi Srikanth has led India from the front and Prannoy proved that he was still a force to be reckoned with. But both will agree that more than half their mental and physical strength came from their teammates on the sidelines.

That's what team feeling can do - move the mountains and doing incredible things like winning the Thomas Cup against a far superior opponent.


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