‘After the Loss to Chinese Taipei, We Decided That it was Now or Never for Us’

With the majority of the Thomas Cup 2022 winning contingent returning to India, HS Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth have stayed behind in Thailand to compete in the Thailand Open starting Wednesday. One of the main architects of India’s greatest sporting victory – similar to the 1983 Cricket World Cup triumph and perhaps also the 1975 Hockey World Cup – a tired but very happy Prannoy talks about the very important factor team spirit and team bonding helped the team achieve the impossible. He also highlighted the current state of Indian badminton and what still needs to be done to ensure that this victory does not remain a flash in the pan and that India has now arrived to remain among the top teams in the world. We Indians have to thank the selection committee for picking Prannoy for the team. He passed as world number 23. not in the scheme, because BAI (Badminton Association of India) had announced that only players in the top 15 in the world rankings would be selected automatically. It meant this great artist had to go through the lengthy and tedious selection process to claim a spot on the team, but the committee insisted he’s had a fantastic run on the international circuit over the past eight months and he just had to be invited to join the team.

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In an open conversation, Prannoy explained why there was a special bond in how the players helped each other. He went on to reveal why it was good that the team lost to Chinese Taipei in their last league game and how that pushed the team to move forward and actually lift the trophy.

Excerpts:

They all seemed to have a good team spirit in Bangkok. How did it come about and how did it help?

Yes sir, we had an exceptional bond at the Thomas Cup. The main factor was that of all players except Lakshya (Sen) where Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad came from. We’ve been there together for almost ten years now; train together, travel together, play most tournaments together, and occasionally share rooms. We knew each other inside out and had respect for one another. So it was easy to get together as a team. We also know Lakshya very well for about three years since he plays the same events.

Then we said our opinion at every team meeting. These sessions were held before the tie and after the tie. Before the draw, we knew we did our best. We talked about what needs to be done by each player and that we are playing for our team, for India. After the games we met again to discuss individual performances. How we could do better in the next game. Every decision has been made to keep us informed.

Gopi Sir also messaged us after the game, cheered us up and told us how we could play better.

It was wonderful. When Chirag and Satwik lost their game against Chinese Taipei and they were upset, the other members comforted them and got them in the mood for our quarterfinal match against Malaysia. We knew we had a chance to win, but everyone had to take responsibility and play for the team. The fact that we had a great solo lineup also helped. Luckily we didn’t have any major injuries.

However, Lakshya was unable to prevail against Taipei, Malaysia and Denmark. That must have caused some concern in the scheme of things. And the team’s loss to Taipei must have sparked negative thoughts?

Lakshya suffered from food poisoning. He caught the bug at Bangalore Airport when he came here. We were really worried as he is a very important part of our plans. But throughout this campaign, we’ve tried to stay positive throughout. We helped Lakshya by being with him all the way.

And he played such a remarkable match against Anthony Ginting in the final after losing the first game. Hats off to him. He delivered when it mattered most.

When we lost our group match against Chinese Taipei, the whole team was depressed for a while. We thought that being number two in the group in the quarterfinals wouldn’t give us a weaker option.

But in hindsight. I think it’s good that we lost. Because it made us think. We decided in the team meeting that it’s now or never for us. We have to be careful, but we have to win against Malaysia. So our body language changed. We switched from slouched shoulders to chest front. We won and showed the same attitude in the semi-final against Denmark. Srikanth played a brilliant game to get us past (Anders) Antonsen. The double duo did their best and so did I. Despite spraining my ankle slightly while lifting a backhand shuttlecock because I knew I was playing for my country and for my teammates, I decided to keep going.

What do you think is the status of Indian badminton today after this win. How will this big win help us become a real superpower in sport?

I think we’re in a good range. Badminton has brought great titles to our fans. Check out our records for the last 10-12 years. First was Saina (Nehwal) who has won many top titles and was an All England runner-up. She also won the Olympic bronze, was world No. 1. Then along came Sindhu, and she’s a two-time Olympic medalist, world champion, and has won dozens of titles as well. Srikanth has been world No. 1 and has won many open titles including the China Open. Sai Praneeth has bronze from the 2018 World Cup. Now Lakshya was an All England finalist and has a World Cup bronze and now we all have the Thomas Cup. I think these are great achievements. What other sport has been so successful in the country? I think winning the Thomas Cup will get a lot of young players interested in badminton. This brings in young talent that can be nurtured.

But yes, we need to make sure our next generation is fully prepared to take on the best. We have to make sure that our 17-18 year olds have everything they need.

But aren’t there enough sponsors to help the next generation?

These next-gen shuttles need to make a constant appearance, about 14 to 15 tournaments a year. It takes time to reach the level of, say, Lakshya Sen; it takes years of practice. The BAI needs to give serious consideration to these matters. Otherwise, BAI has been very good to the players, very helpful and willing to help us in anything. President Himanta Biswa Sarma was great. Today we lack nothing. Sponsors like Go Sports, OGQ, SAI (Sports Authority of India) TOPS program and so many others have opened their wallets. The future of badminton in India is really bright. I thank the sponsors. I would also like to thank our Physio Kiran and trainer Siyadath Ullah. The two have been part of the academy for years and really know each other inside and out. The Thomas Cup was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.

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