There comes a moment when the thrill of sports takes you to a different domain. Your hands get frizzed, legs stop shaking in crucial moments, the nervous system goes numb and it feels like Earth has stopped rotating. Lakshya Sen thrashing speed-hungry Ginting in Thomas Cup was one such moment. The after-effects of his agility made India a force to reckon with in the Badminton world.
India wins Thomas Cup
On May 15 2022, the Indian Men’s Badminton team created history by defeating Indonesia in the Thomas Cup final. The Thomas Cup is considered as World Championship of Men’s Badminton. India’s dominance can be gauged from the fact that Indonesia, the Superpower of the sport and 14 times champion of the tournament had to suffer a humiliating 3-0 loss.
The three matches in the finals consisted of two singles and one doubles match. In the first singles match, Lakshya Sen made a remarkable comeback after losing the first bout. He beat Anthony Sinisuka Ginting by 8-21 21-17 21-16. Lakshya’s ‘never say die’ spirit was manifested in doubles matches as well. The pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddyand Chirag Shetty beat Mohammad Ahsan and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo by 18-21, 23-21, 21-19. The scoreline was remarkable as the Indian pair saved numerous match points. In the third and final match, Kadambi Srikanth sealed India’s triumph by beating Jonatan Christie 21-15, 23-21.
The victory is historic for India as the country which is considered by many to have given birth to the sport has been deprived of its glories for a major part of the sport’s existence. If we go by the historical records, somewhere around 2000 years ago, a game involving shuttlecock and Racket was played in India. However, the modern form of the game took shape in the 19th century only.
Because they used to control most of the authorities of that time, Britishers are credited for formalising the sport in India. In fact, most of the rules of Badminton during the 19th century were based on the lines of rules on which the game was played in India. In 1899, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) was established. However, it took 37 more years before India was finally inducted into a formal world body of sports.
The game remained in the oblivion for a long time
Up until the foreigners left India, the game was confined to a few esteemed individual members of society. Even after India got its independence, the governing body failed to take advantage of inbuilt agility and flexibility in the Indian population. The main reason behind Indians not picking up the sport was because it was not considered a game of strength and stamina as Britishers mainly played it for recreation.
Various other factors inhibited Indians from playing Badminton. The lower consumer capacity was probably the biggest of them. For the first 33 years after freedom, Hockey remained the centre of attraction for the masses having less time and money to spend on sports. Then came the historic 1983 triumph of Indian Cricket and now Badminton was forced to reconcile with one more competitor. Even India’s success in the 1979 edition of the Thomas Cup and Prakash Padukone’s individual achievements got overshadowed.
The game was continuously on the backburner. It was next to impossible for players to get sponsors due to which they had to leave their passion and do something else. India’s first big and visible burst onto the Badminton horizon came in the form of Pullela Gopichand registering victory at the reputed All England Open Badminton Championship in 2001. Remarkably, his previous victories like silver at the commonwealth games, SAARC Gold medal and Scottish Open victory were now getting highlighted in the media.
In later years, Pullela emerged as the mainstay of Indian Badminton. He went on to coach numerous Indian players. He became a pillar on which Indian Badminton could rely. While he mainly took on the responsibility of coaching the Indian team as well as creating a sports infrastructure in the country, his valuable suggestions pushed authorities to try innovative ways to popularise the game in India.
In 2004, Indian authorities decided that no matter what, they will be organising Badminton tournaments in Hyderabad. This would not just pull up the crowd, but would also inspire kids as they would be watching their heroes perform in front of their eyes. The city went on to host a World Championship in 2009 as well. It was on the back of Saina Nehwal’s success in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Later Saina went on to win Gold at the Commonwealth games and this time it did not go unnoticed. It led to young spirit getting boosted which was manifested in rise of players like P.V. Sindhu, and Kadambi Srikanth among others. The game saw an increase in the number of sponsors which led to an increase in facilities, giving rise to the current crop of players.
1983 success getting replicated in Badminton
The Indian Badminton scenario before Thomas Cup was the same as that of the Indian Cricket team before the 1983 world cup. We had individual sparks in players like Gavaskar, Kapil Pajji, Mohinder Amarnath, and Kris Srikant among others, but as a unit, we rarely used to click. It was mainly due to a lack of a positive approach towards the game. One innings of 175 did the magic and India’s approach witnessed a radical change. Rest, as they say, is history.
Thomas Cup 2022 was almost a replica of 1983. India was considered an underdog. Though we had a strong squad, it was not considered a world-beater. In fact, every set of opponents in the final was higher ranked than their Indian counterparts. This time Lakshya Sen’s victory did what Kapil’s innings did for India in the 1983 world cup. It changed the momentum of the tournament and probably the future of the game in India.