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Can India defend their Thomas Cup crown jewel?

India have in-form Lakshya and Satwik-Chirag at their disposal, but going into the Thomas Cup, the inconsistency of singles players remains their biggest worry.

Can India defend their Thomas Cup crown jewel?

India won their maiden Thomas Cup title in May 2022 in Thailand. 


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 24 April 2024 11:40 AM GMT

Thomas Cup - the badminton world's most prestigious team championship for men - is back. There is so much at stake; India head to the biennial championship as the defending champions.

Expectations are high this time around. India have a team with the experience of soaking in the pressure of playing the high-octane tournament.

Badminton Association of India (BAI) retained the core team - HS Prannoy, Lakshya Sen, and Kidambi Srikanth in men's singles and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty and Dhruv Kapila-MR Arjun MR in men's doubles - that created history in Thailand in May 2022.

The world's number one pair Satwik-Chirag will spearhead the team given their blazing form.

Since playing an instrumental role in India's maiden Thomas Cup win two years back, Satwik and Chirag added more firepower and maturity to their game. They achieved uncanny consistency to stake a claim on the Asian circuit and the World Tour.

With gold medals in the Asian Championships and Asian Games and five World Tour titles, they remained the best-performing Indians.

In October last year, they became the world no. 1 for the first time. In January, they reclaimed the spot. In the Olympic year, they reached four straight finals on the BWF World Tour and won the French Open Super 750 for the second time in their career.

World no. 1 Satwik-Chirag will spearhead the Indian team at the Thomas Cup in China.

Barring the doubles pair, however, India have an untidy team that would make many worry about the team's fate at this Thomas Cup. India's problem in the team event is quite evident now and unaddressed thus far - the poor form and inconsistency of the majority of the last edition's heroes.

India's problem area is singles. In October last year, India conceded a chance to win maiden gold in badminton in the Asian Games history from a strong position of 2-0 lead.

With Lakshya and Satwik-Chirag winning their singles and doubles matches in the tie against China, India were well poised to take down the hosts in front of a hostile crowd at Hangzhou's Binjiang Gymnasium.

Lakshya won the opening men's singles match against Shi Yu Qi 22-20, 14-21, 21-18. Satwik-Chirag doubled the lead with a straight-game (21-15, 21-18) win over Liang Wei Keng and Chang Wang.

But when it looked like India were set to savour the historic moment, Srikanth, playing the second singles in the absence of in-form yet injured Prannoy, suffered a heartbreaking loss that not only helped China stage a comeback but also shifted the momentum in their favour. After a fighting loss in the first game (22-24), Srikanth was made to look so ordinary by Li Shi Feng as the world no. 6 pierced through the Indian's defence in a 21-9 win.

China would win the next two matches easily to snatch the gold medal away from India.

Biggest worry: Inconsistency and poor form

As India go back to China in less than a year, they will have their task cut out from the group stage itself.

Prannoy, India's highest-ranked men's singles player, has been struggling to regain his fiery form following a stellar 2023 when he ended his World Tour title drought at Malaysia Masters and won World Championships and Asian Games bronze.

Since he sustained a back injury at the Asian Games, Prannoy has been unable to get past the early hurdles this year. Barring a semifinal finish at the India Open, he made five early exits on the World Tour.

Srikanth, meanwhile, has been a shadow of himself as his losses have become more predictable than anything else. His heartbreaking defeat from a winning position makes the case delicate for India. To watch Srikanth play - rollercoaster matches where his form swings in almost every thwack of the shuttle - nowadays one needs a strong heart.

At the Swiss Open semifinal this year, his only last-four appearance since the Hylo Open in 2022, Srikanth lost to Lin Chun-Yi after raising hope for a win. He won the opening game comfortably, but then, out of the blue, he looked out of steam in the second and third games.

This has become the typical feature of Srikanth's game, making the former world no. 1 an unreliable cog in the team event. For someone, who led the team and remained unbeaten in the last edition, it is too much of a downfall.

Former world no. 1 Kidambi Srikanth's form is a cause of concern for India.

As his game has become more predictable and lacked innovation in shot-making, the hero of India's Thomas Cup victory now looks nowhere close to delivering the results India desire. Ironically, Srikanth's form went downhill since his heroic shows in Nonthaburi.

On his day, Srikanth is still a tough opponent to overcome, but his fluctuating form is a major concern for India. At the French Open this year, he outwitted Chou Tien Chen giving the Chinese Taipei player little scope for scoring in the third game in a 66-minute battle.

But Srikanth's inability to maintain the tempo became evident in the next round itself against Lu Guang Zu. After leading most of the third game - 17-13 and then 18-15, he would lose 20-22. Such a type of defeat tends to hit one's morale, and Srikanth wore his frustration on his face after the defeat.

Lakshya is back in form after a confidence-eroding campaign in 2023 following nose surgery, with him reaching the semifinals of the French Open and All-England Open.

The three in-form players Lakshya, Satwik, and Chirag will be expected to lead the team from the front. India will also hope for Prannoy to get his form back at the right time.

Singles conundrum

But India's main worry is going to be the third singles. Priyanshu Rajawat, the baby of the team in 2022, has shown signs of improvement in the last two years, winning his maiden World Tour title in the Orleans Open. Earlier this year, he even beat Lakshya in a sapping 75-minute battle. But the question remains, does he have the capacity to deliver wins consistently?

Inconsistency is a problem for this Indian team.

Though India won the Thomas Cup two years back out of nowhere with experts giving little chance to the team before the tournament, this time the spotlight is on the Indian shuttlers. The atmosphere is different. Back then, Indian shuttlers did not have to battle with expectations.

Priyanshu Rajawat was the baby of the Thomas Cup winning Indian team in 2022.

With 14-time champions Indonesia, boasted with All England Open champion Jonatan Christie and runner-up Anthony Ginting in singles, and Thailand placed in Group C, India will need sheer audacity, form, and favour of luck to get past the group stage hurdles.

It is not that India do not have the bandwidth to overcome the hurdles. In the last edition, India blanked mighty Indonesia, the title favourite, in the final 3-0 to lift the title, with Lakshya, Satwik-Chirag, and Srikanth winning their matches.

If Prannoy, Srikanth, who beat Christie back then, and Priyanshu manage to address India's singles conundrum just as they did in 2022 pulling their socks up at the time they needed the most, India will grow in confidence and team bonding will become stronger and that will keep them in contention to defend their Thomas Cup crown jewel.

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