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What on earth just happened? This was the question on everyone’s mind as they witnessed the crumbling of the Indian squad against France in the first tie of the Thomas and Uber Cup. Major names disappointed, leads were given away and a shaky quarterfinal dream, which had seemed a little far-fetched to begin with, peeled away steadily much like half of creation did at the famous ending of Avengers: Infinity War. If one talks about takeaways, there were none. Except perhaps for the fact that sending in a depleted squad for a tournament as major as the Thomas & Uber Cup says a lot about the selection strategies of the people in authority back home. Post the Commonwealth Games, people were in a tizzy pointing at the wonderful progress the sport had made over the past few years. Much ado was made about the fact that India no longer needed to depend on just one person to win medals in the sport, that the coaching philosophy had done remarkably well to raise up the sport as a whole instead of concentrating on one single player. After all, winning the Team Event Gold would have been impossible if the entire team had not stepped up. But is that even the case? Singles medals were, in fact, won by the most well-known names. The only positive takeaways included two Doubles medals in a relatively tougher fray. And was that enough? The competition that the Singles players had to face in an event like the Commonwealth Games; was it even worth it? Or was it just an instance of flexing muscles where it was easy to do so. Cut back to the dismal run that we were forced to sit through today. A million questions seemed to be just, to use Bob Dylan’s terminology, Blowing in the Wind. There was no one to answer them, no one who seemed even remotely interested in treating this tournament seriously. And that attitude seemed to be even more blatant especially when you take into consideration the fact that India have never managed a respectable finish in the tournament.
Question 1: Where was HS Prannoy?In the time leading up to the tournament, HS Prannoy had been extremely lax about India’s chances in general with his Twitter antics completely hinting at the fact that he did not take the tournament seriously at all. In fact, in a joke that can only be described as being in extremely poor taste, the Indian Number 2 compared India’s forthcoming run in the Thomas and Uber Cup as crashing down for the eighth floor of a building. Seriously, wow. https://twitter.com/Armenon83/status/997808041453121536 The Commonwealth Games may have been a disappointment for Prannoy but he was much praised for staging a wonderfully fought comeback at the Asia Championships becoming one out of the two players to win a medal in the tournament for the country. He defeated some amazingly big names in the road to his Bronze medal ultimately losing out to Olympic champion Chen Long for a Bronze. Undoubtedly, given the right circumstances, Prannoy can be quite the giant killer as he has sufficiently proved in the past. So, why the complacency now? When he is the highest ranked player in the fray currently, essentially leading India’s challenge at the tournament, why not live up to that responsibility?
Question 2: What is wrong with the Singles players?From leading 19-10 in the first game, Lakshya Sen ended it at 22-20. The 16-year old (or is he?), suffered what can only be categorised as a shambolic disappointment after he lost out to the World No. 177- shameful for Sen who is perched quite a few spots up at 88. And then there was Sameer Verma. Such an absolute disaster right from the very beginning as he had been trailing. Furthermore, this again came in the face of a stark difference in ranks as the 21st ranked Indian lost out to Lucas Corvee who stands at 43 in the world. There was perhaps a moment when Sameer gave some hope to the people watching back home as he saved Match points in Game 2 and forced the match to a decider but that was a momentum he failed to keep up; or maybe, it was a momentum he did not want to keep up. All in all, Sai Praneeth stood as the only bright spot in a day that most of us would rather forget. This story continued in the Uber Cup clashes against Canada too as everyone, including the great Saina Nehwal, lost out to a lower ranked Canadian player. The other two Singles players in the Uber Cup ties, Sri Krishna Priya Kudaravalli and Vaishnavi Reddy, at least went down fighting albeit to slightly higher ranked players but, really, is that even an excuse? The Canadian team, as a nation, are ranked 18th; 10 spots behind India. Additionally, France is ranked even lower at 20th. With the good run that India seemed to having, the hopes of a high finish in the tournament had been teeming. Now, these losses have jeopardised that and one wonders whether we will make the knockout stages at all.
Question 3: Did over-dependency on Singles kill our chances?Duos of Arjun MR and Shlok Ramachandran, Arun George and Sanyam Shukla, and Prajakta Sawant/Sanyogita Ghorpade all lost out to lower ranked duos. Why exactly? Are they not equipped enough to play at the level that this tournament demands? Or was it taken for granted that whatever the Doubles would lack, our Singles players would be strong enough to make up for it. If that latter was indeed the case, the end results show a gross oversight of strategic planning. Was the Thomas and Uber Cup just a platform to test out second string players, then? The premier global event that this is, does it deserve to be treated in such slight fashion? Otherwise, why would a depleted squad be sent in the first place? Bigger tournaments apparently await out premier shuttlers which is why they decided to give the Thomas and Uber Cup a miss. National glory takes a backseat even as the cream shuttlers of the rest of the world find enough time and energy to compete in these tournaments. Well done, Team India. Hopefully, the campaign here will serve as a learning lesson for the selectors and strategists for the rest of the year.