Gopichand: “This is a real world cup – proud of it”

The most encouraging aspect of the Indian Thomas Cup team today was watching Chirag Shetty-Satwiksairaj Rankireddy defeat Mohammad Ahsan-Kevin Sanjaya Sukamulja. All previous times, when our boys met Kevin Sanjaya, they lost 11: 0. It was like individuals. Today, their efforts were supported by the India team, which planned and supported them. It’s a difference and this was the first time India played as a unit. Before, if Saina played, Sindhu would not be there. And if Sindhu played, Saina was not here. If the team played in doubles, the singlists didn’t really invest. This was a real victory for Team India and I was so happy that Satwik-Chirag returned it to the Indonesians.

In my mind, I knew it was possible when you did the calculations. However, whether it really works depends on the individual players, and today they did perfectly, what could be seen. When we talk about India’s collective sport at the highest level, this is a real world cup that India has won in a game spread all over the world and with fictional powers. I’m proud to be a badminton player today. It had been years, but things were falling into place now. I would even believe in the magic of our players.

Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Denmark will be shocked tonight and will be curious about how India won. This will be reported for years. In Malaysia, they still remember stories of gaining a title with the Sidek brothers in 1991 and gaining Datukhoods (similar to knightly titles) and acres of land. Legends were born. Be aware that the Indonesian and Malaysian teams will ask, “Can I go home?” When they lose. You will then hear the calls “change coach, change association”. That’s what the Thomas Cup means to crazy peoples. The coaches are afraid for their job and the players are shredded. If you had told half of the guys in my association the day before that India wins the Thomas Cup, they wouldn’t believe it either. But players do.

In my time, we lost 1: 5 to Sri Lanka and 2: 5 to Pakistan. It was amazing for us to qualify for the elite 16-team event, and when we beat Korea and Japan in Delhi in 1999 to qualify for the Thomas Cup and Uber Cup (for women), we thought it was great. Both Mr. Prakash (Padukone), we played singles and doubles, we didn’t even have doubles specialists at the time. We would get two Yonex T-shirts and we would be on our way to these events. To understand where we started and how huge it is.

The depth of India was excellent. And if there were five more singles, India would still win. You shouldn’t have to worry about the big gold medal not coming to the Olympics, instead continue the team events. The Badminton Association of India, the Sports Authority of India and the government have helped us plan to push 10 players into the Top 25 to build more depth. We did not build this depth in the women’s team. The players would play their own matches and not care about the rest of the team. Saina and Sindhu did not take the team with them, we were to build this culture in the Uber Cup. This is the difference between bronze and gold.

This victory comes from HS Prannoya and Kidambi Srikantha, who do not take their places for granted, and also Srikantha and Lakshya Sena, who are fighting for this place. But honor the boys, they competed and helped each other. That is a huge, generous quality. Each of them had a debacle – he lost at the Olympics, he did not qualify for the Olympics, he was not in the spotlight, he lost big matches. The fire that was supposed to prove the point baked them a little more, which affected their audacity.

Opponents began to read Lakshya and made his life difficult. He struggled in the corners, but stood there, fighting like a gladiator. That’s the character. Srikanth put incredible pressure on Jonathan Christie. It was the same in doubles. Our boys fought for the heroes; they avoided being labeled “villains” in their countries.

It was difficult for men in India to make an unfair comparison with Sain and Sindha. Indian women have raised the bar so much that winning the Super 500 for men is now barely registered – reaching the Top 10, semifinals, quarterfinals will never be big headlines. If they lost the finals today, all the excitement would subside. Lakshya reached the all-English final, but only a victory puts him on the same pedestal as Sindhu or Saina. So it was hard.

There are players who get a chance and throw themselves at it, like Saina, Sindhu, Jwala (Gutta), and there are those who do not have the courage to make the most of the opportunity. Prannoy, Satwik Chirag, Srikanth, Lajshya proved that they are brave enough to take this opportunity. Winning the finals is courage.

I will celebrate this victory with my family tonight, but the real party will be at the academy tomorrow. But I wake up and ask, ‘What’s next?’ These guys, who have shown that they can win the biggest title, mean I have to start thinking about another difficult goal.

I remember Satwig’s mother coming to me when he was little, talking about how she always dreamed of playing singles. It took a lot of effort to convince people like Satwik, Dhruv, Krishna or even Gayatri that you can be a decent singles player but a great doubles player. This title confirms that big things can happen in doubles. If these men don’t overwhelm their minds with thoughts of money or counting medals or becoming celebrities on social media, staying in the moment, playing intelligently and aggressively, then big things will happen. It is not a dream that India has actively dreamed of, but now the country will live the dream with these amazing players.

(The writer is an Olympian at the Sydney Games, a champion throughout England and head coach of national badminton. He spoke to Shivani Naik)

Ferdinand Medina

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