For years India would turn up at the Thomas Cup, make up the numbers and watch from afar powerhouses like China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Denmark walk away with all the glory.
This time too, nobody gave them a chance but self-belief of the players translated into unprecedented success, putting Indian badminton alongside the sport's elites. The country's badminton has been synonymous with Prakash Padukone, Pullela Gopichand, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, but this Thomas Cup triumph could redefine the sport from the Indian perspective.
Collective show made up of individual brilliance
Being a team event, it's a collective show but it is also a result of individual brilliance of the singles players and the transformation of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty into one of the fiercest doubles teams. Whether it is Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy or Lakshya Sen, they have all proved their mettle on the world badminton circuit. Their rise has been noticed. The Indian players have showed their preparedness in taking on the best and found the biggest stage to fire in unison. What has worked for India is the fact that all three singles players have been in sensational form in the last six months.
While the singles players have been making waves for some time what has made a huge difference this time is the phenomenal rise of Satwiksairaj and Chirag. Doubles has been the weakest link for Indian badminton in team events for years. In Davis Cup, the presence of the legendary Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi as a team meant that India always fancied winning the doubles rubber. In badminton, the assuring presence of Satwiksairaj and Chirag means that the rivals won't get a free point.
They were paired together by a certain Malaysian Tan Kim, who was hired by Badminton Association of India in 2015. In the next few years, the duo picked up the ropes from various coaches such as Indonesia's Flandy Limpele and then Danish legend Mathias Boe, who did amazing work with the pair ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, and was rehired just two weeks before the Thomas Cup. Boe was, in fact, one of the reasons behind Satwik and Chirag's stellar performance this week at Bangkok, as he has been a part of the 2016 Thomas Cup winning Denmark team and has been a world number one himself.
Indians now dreaming big, chasing bigger prize
The team has conjured up a show that will go down in sporting folklore as a watershed moment for Indian badminton, which can be compared only to the country's 1983 World Cup victory in cricket. Former national coach Pullela Gopichand, who has played a key role in the rise of Indian badminton, says the team is now dreaming big and the performance "showed the character of the team." "While we were growing up, winning individual medals was a dream but it is beyond that. It brings back memories when reaching the top group was a big achievement. Being in top 16 we were happy but this team has shown a lot of strength," he said.
"The biggest thing is belief, people will now look up to Indian team differently, to win Thomas cup is huge and people will talk about this victory for ages. It will give a lot of pride to Indian badminton. it will give confidence to Indian badminton fraternity," he added. If Sen has emerged as the new superstar with his sizzling performance at the World Championships in December and All England Champion in March, Srikanth and Prannoy, after years of struggle with injuries, got into the groove in the last part of 2021. To put it more succinctly, it was at the World Championships in Huelva, Spain when the trio had shown signs of returning to form.
While Srikanth and Sen went on to grab a maiden silver and bronze, Prannoy signed off at the quarterfinal, something which he had termed a big achievement considering his struggles with COVID-19 and a gastroesophagal reflux disease. Since Spain, Prannoy went on to weave some good performances in the first half of the year which culminated with a final finish at the Swiss Open, instilling confidence in the selectors to put him directly in the Thomas Cup squad. And he did live up to the expectations by winning the deciding fifth singles in the quarterfinals and semifinals. They say "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it". Well, the 10 players in Bangkok and their coaches surely believed in it and wanted it with all their heart.