Ajay Jayaram writes: 'India found the dream team to lift the Thomas Cup!'
Having found game-changers Satwik-Chirag for doubles, the Indian badminton team's balanced and passionate approach made all the difference and helped them lift the elusive Thomas Cup, former badminton star Ajay Jayaram feels.
As Kidambi Srikanth leapt into the air, preparing to unleash his trademark jump smash, an entire nation held its breath, praying and hoping for the shuttle to be buried deep in the opponent's court. Much like the Indian team's week-long magical performance, Srikanth's smash did not disappoint, and history was created.
Some 4000 km's away from the Impact Arena in Bangkok, I was barely being able to sit still and was jumping in breathless, nervous enthusiasm, wishing to either wield that racquet myself or cheer myself hoarse from the sidelines alongside the Indian badminton team - the cup that had eluded us for 73 years was finally ours!
Thomas Cup was OURS!
How I wished I could have been there, at that moment, to leap onto the court, rush in and draw each of my former badminton colleagues in a tight embrace - who made this possible.
The Thomas and Uber cup, along with the Sudirman cup, sum up the most prestigious team titles in world badminton. While individual tournaments account for most of the international circuit, the Thomas and Uber cup has had its unique place in the circuit as it truly quantifies a country's position in world badminton.
Since its inception in 1949, the Thomas cup has been largely dominated by only a handful of nations such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Denmark. Though India has had reasonable success at the Asian level team championships, a podium finish on the world stage has always eluded us.
But, how did this dramatic victory come about for a country that has never gotten past the quarterfinals since 1979?
A solution for doubles, finally
Indian players have had remarkable success in men's singles events over the last decade, and the results have only gotten bigger and more frequent.
A testament to this is last year's World Championships, where India's newest Sen-sation, Lakshya and former World No. 1, Kidambi Srikanth, both clinched medals - a neat bronze and a silver, respectively.
While most of the last decade's significant achievements have been in the singles events, it is the dynamic combination of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy that has redefined Indian doubles.
Winning Super Series events and being in the Top 10 suddenly became the norm for this duo!
In the past, Indian squads relied heavily on their singles players, which drastically reduced our chances of getting past heavyweights such as Indonesia and Denmark.
I remember sharing this concern with HS Prannoy, back in 2016, when we had won the bronze medal at the Asian team championships. Though we had gotten the better of the mighty Chinese then, we had done so by winning all 3 singles, the doubles dilemma had always been India's Achilles heel in team championships.
However, with the emergence of this talented Chirag-Satwik pair, coached by an extremely able, Mathias Boe, India could finally boast of a more well-rounded and balanced team - it was safe to dream big now.
The secret behind India's Thomas Cup success
While much was expected from this year's Thomas Cup squad, it would have been hard to predict an outcome as monumental and historic as this one. The transition between playing an individual tournament and coming together to play as a team is always tricky.
However, if there was an example of how it could be done perfectly, this was it.
From colour-coordinated travel attires and pre-match "How's the josh" chants to digging deep and making incredible comebacks on the court, this 'dream team' displayed what team spirit and playing for the country truly entails.
Everyone, be it Lakshya, Srikanth, Prannoy, Chirag or Satwik, punched above their weights to achieve this stellar feat. Even a youngster and debutant like Priyanshu Rajawat, was also swept by the winning momentum and delivered as did MR Arjun-Dhruv Kapila, Vishnuvardhan Goud-Krishna Prasad rise to the fight.
As someone who has been an integral part of the Indian badminton circuit for over 15 years, I believe that this is India's biggest achievement in badminton and one of the biggest in Indian sporting history. Cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar rightly said, "This could be the 1983 moment for Indian badminton."
And I cannot agree more, the Cup indeed has come home.
This victory will inspire generations of players and further contribute to an influx of youngsters wanting to pursue the sport.
While the ecosystem in place seems to be working for India, the administration must revise the existing systems and add more structure to ensure that support trickles down to the lower rung players as well.
This can truly sustain growth and transform and fully cement India's position into a powerhouse of badminton - it's all about the hustle now, we have the ingredients, we have the spark, and the fire longs to be lit.
For now, however, we can safely say, "India has arrived and is here to stay."