In recent years, Olympic medalists Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have written the narration for Indian Badminton. But the men’s team added to the laurels earlier this month when they won the Thomas Cup, known as the World Cup of Badminton.
On May 15, the Indian team defeated Denmark in the semifinals and overwhelmed 14-time champions Indonesia 3-0 in the final to lift the cup for the first time. While Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy went unbeaten throughout the tournament, doubles pairing Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy gave India the edge. salon caught up with Prannoy, 29, to discuss the Thomas Cup journey. Edited excerpts.
Also Read: How India Made History by Winning the Thomas Cup
It’s been a few days since India won the Thomas Cup. How do you look back on this win?
It’s a win we never expected, but we always believed that this team could get on the podium. Of course we never thought it would be a gold. The only big learning was when you come to a team event, how you play or behave to set that atmosphere going and eventually get that result.? Every year we would come to the Thomas Cup or other team events and say, “Let’s try it”. But this time we have the right attitude and now we know what it takes to win a team event. Everyone could sense that something was different within the team. We all wanted this medal at home.
Also read: How Nikhat Zareen made it to champion
Indian players travel to tournaments together most of the time. Why was it so difficult to get the team spirit before?
We play 95% of the tournaments individually. We rarely get to play a team event. Changing is always difficult. At individual events you only care about yourself, your game, your preparation. But a team event is about everything, including bedtime, because you do everything for the team. There are some things you must sacrifice. Say something like (make time for) a team dinner. It may seem like a very small thing. But we took these things seriously from day one. By day three, it was clear to everyone that this team of 10 is here to win. No one shied away from making their contribution.
As one of the older players, did you have to lead by example alongside Srikanth and keep the team together?
Someone had to step up. We knew that this (team spirit) is not something we have naturally. We had to create that kind of atmosphere where the juniors felt like this is the team I want to be a part of. Nine of us train in Hyderabad, so we knew each other very well. The only guy who wasn’t from Hyderabad was Lakshya (Sen) but he was very easy to get along with. We traveled together for tournaments. I even shared a room with him in the last few tournaments.
When we got to the team briefings, Srikanth and I made sure each player had their turn to speak their mind. Everyone has different opinions, different problems they face. For the first few days only a few of us talked in the team meeting, the rest were shy. Eventually it got better. Just before the final, before we got on the pitch, Satwik spoke for a good five minutes. So those kinds of emotions started to run.
Also Read: For Padma Shri Vandana Katariya, the best is yet to come
Beating teams like Denmark and Indonesia must have made your victory a lot sweeter?
At an event like the Thomas Cup, every team is strong from the quarter-finals onwards. It definitely gives us a huge boost to beat Indonesia 3-0 because nobody expected it. It gives a different kind of energy to the players who made these games.
Lakshya how he fought, he didn’t give up until the last point. He was also very keen to go out and get that win for the country. Despite losing a few games, the conversation at camp was very positive. We weren’t worried about his performance because we knew he would give us the win when it mattered.
Also Read: A New Generation of Indian Ice Hockey Players Come of Age
They have played two decisive playoffs, against Malaysia and Denmark. How did you deal with the pressure?
When it came to my match, it was a do-or-die situation. But every game was a pressure game. The pressure under which Chirag and Satwik played was immense. We knew that the first double win was very important for us because Lakshya didn’t shoot initially. It was important to have that draw instead of being 2-0 down. Chirag-Satwik has developed very well.
Srikanth also went there and delivered every day. He didn’t have easy trips. He had to play against (Denmark) Anders Antonsen and (Jonatan) Christie (from Indonesia). Beating these players back to back was a commendable achievement.
For me it was an opportunity to prove I’m still good and can take the pressure when it counts. Two matches were tough, mentally more than physically. You just have to be very strong to stay calm but at the same time be aggressive and end things. I think I did quite decently.
Also Read: Gymnast Protistha Samanta Jumps into the Big League
Does this win mean much more for Indian men’s badminton after a disappointing 2021 when you struggled with injuries and Srikanth failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics?
Indian badminton needed such a win. The last three years have been very tough. Covid has also drained a lot of energy from all athletes. We knew we were training, but we didn’t know what for. I was in that zone. Getting out of that and winning the Thomas Cup was important. Victories like this strengthen the entire ecosystem.
Neeraj Chopra gave us big gold at the Olympics. That gave a huge boost. It’s the same with the Thomas Cup victory. Gopi Sir (Badminton Coach Pullela Gopichand) has been working hard over the last ten years to produce these many players in a row. Finally we had a team that could win the Thomas Cup. This victory is a sign that what we have been doing for the past 10 years is working not only in badminton but in Indian sport in general.
Deepti Patwardhan is a freelance sportswriter based in Mumbai.
Also Read: Amlan Borgohain’s Journey from Soccer to Track and Field Star