How the Indian shuttlers made football's "It's Coming Home" chant their own at Thomas Cup
From intense Whatsapp group chats to dancing post-win and roaring like lions to cheer on their teammates, the Indian badminton team united to quell every doubting Thomas and lift the Cup
For the past 22 years, the loyal supporters of England football team have been crooning to "It's Coming Home', a song first penned to celebrate hosting of Euro'96 and then it became a song of eternal hope. Hope that a Gary Linekar would one day win it. It never happened. Then they thought if not a Paul Gascoigne, a David Beckham or a Michael Owen or a Harry Kane would do it. Alas, it remained a song and never became an anthem.
But who would have known that a bunch of Indian upstarts, daring to dream big would make that song their own. And thus a whatapp group of 10 Indian badminton players was formed and the group admin named it 'It's Coming Home'. And the force behind it was Indian badminton's eternal comeback man HS Prannoy, whose acts of 'Escape to Victory' against Malaysia and Denmark would now be a part of Indian sporting folklore. The seeds of success were sown for years and even before they boarded the flight to Bangkok, they had that immense self belief that something big is just waiting to happen.
And at Bangkok's Impact Arena on Sunday, Team India did show its impact and the beautiful team culture certainly played its part. After all the team that stays together does play together. "The way every one bonded this week ... we made a conscious effort to do this because we knew this is not something which is common because we play individual events and to come here and gel is tough but we made that conscious effort," Prannoy said. The new-age poster boys of Indian badminton's unprecedented run at the world's most prestigious team event will be analyzed, scrutinised and perhaps a bollywood film may also be inspired from this never-before achieved accomplishment.
But behind all these glory was the self belief which grew stronger as the group of players starting hanging together and bond over the love of the game and the common dream of achieving something which has proved to a distant dream till now. "The day we left Hyderabad we had a team discussion saying that we have the team to challenge for the title and the only thing we have to do is support each other and this is what will change the results in the entire tournament and that's what happened." As part of this effort, the first thing that Prannoy, the most senior member of the team, did was to create a whatsapp group with that iconic English soccer fan song 'It's coming home', an outlet to strategise, freely exchange views and share their feedback and thoughts.
"The players really tried to bond and support each other which meant doing things together, like wearing the same dress at airport while departing Hyderabad, to practising as a group, having breakfast, lunch and diner together, having fun sessions together, it all helped," India coach Siyadutallah told PTI from Bangkok. "A whatsapp group was also created to communicate among themselves, where they can share anything and everything. They danced after each match, enjoyed each other's success with a common goal nd all these helped to create that belief."
The camaraderie was visible on court with Srikanth and Prannoy putting their hands up after the country's top ranked singes player Lakshya Sen was laid low by a bout of food poisoning at the Hyderabad airport and didn't look the part during the initial matches. Sen was well below his best in first few matches as he couldn't give the starts expected against Malaysia and Denmark but Srikanth and Prannoy always had his back as they ensured India's campaign doesn't get derail. Each member was pumped up and it showed in their on-court demeanour. So when Srikanth pumped his fists after each win, Chirag let out a Lion's roar. A fiery Satwik would signal to the crowd that he would rather let his racquet do the talking after bringing India back in the contest after reversals in the quarters and semis -- it was a statement.
Then there was Prannoy, who was in a different zone, crushing the pain barrier, pushing the envelope with a twisted ankle to get better of Rasmus Gemke in the semifinals. All for the flag. "Srikanth has always been quiet, not showing much emotions but he was very pumped up this week. The way he was pumping his fist showed what the wins meant for him," Siyadutullah said. On Sunday when Srikanth sealed the final point against Jonatan Christie, he did a mic-drop, let out a war-cry as a group of men in absolute state of delirium engulfed him. "It was an exceptionally emotional moment and each of the members, the players amd coaches, everyone had moistened eyes when they all stood on the dias with the gold medals around their necks," said Indian physio Sumansh Sivalanka before taking the flight back home from Bangkok.
Once the medal ceremony was done and the capturing the moment with selfies and photographs were done, it was time for celebrations. "We all went for a dinner and returned late at night and crashed. But all throughout, someone or the other were reminding us that we were actually the champions," Sivalanka said. "The players didnt take the gold medal off for a moment, all through the night they kept it with them and slept it with them as well." And that video where Chirag led the Spanish victory chorus 'Championes, Championes, Ole Ole Ole," gave you that football fan flavour. Not the English ones though. And Srikant's nodding of head was cuteness overloaded. There was a team in town. They had played hard and now would party hard. They deserve every bit of it.