Straight Out Of Pages
75 Years of Indian Sports: How Padukone 'hypnotised' his opponent to change the course of Indian badminton
With cricket, hockey already the buzzword in India post-Independence, Prakash Padukone led badminton to bloom in India. In Chandresh Narayan's latest book Journey of a Nation: 75 Years of Indian Sports - Games, Gut, Glory, we get an up-close look.
If there is anything in India that can manage to unite and excite everyone, it is sports - as nothing really compares to the amalgamation that a great sporting spectacle can induce. In the after-years of India's independence, through the toil and turmoil of Partition years and the many political upheavals that the country has and continues to experience, the sentiment towards sports and India's love for it has only grown deeper with time and undergone a dramatic change too - with Indian athletes no longer going out there to take part but also to win.
In Chandresh Narayanan's latest book Journey of a Nation: 75 Years of Indian Sports - Games, Gut, Glory published by Rupa Publications, the author presents us with a montage of the last 75 years and how India has fared in sports across the fields - and despite being a cricket writer himself, Narayanan shows his prowess and his knowledge of sports by stepping outside of the eleven yards and delving into other areas as well.
Badminton's coming of age
While cricket continues to enjoy a special status in the country as the Numero Uno sport that is followed by the mass in India and hockey remains the trustworthy sport for Indians to medal in on and off (especially nowadays), it has been badminton that has sprung out of nowhere to become one of the most played sports in the country and garnered a rich following as well - thanks to one Prakash Padukone who laid the first foundation for what is now, a major cult breeding talented shuttlers like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and now, Lakshya Sen.
So even if India's great sporting success stories may have started with hockey and later, cricket and then dashed across an athletics field with Milkha Singh and PT Usha, it is in badminton that India has really evolved - starting with Padukone's 1980 win of the All England win, tasting Olympic success in between to coming full circle, in a way, to the Indian men's team winning the Thomas Cup in May 2022 - a feat deemed as worthy as Kapil Dev & Co. lifting the 1983 Cricket World Cup - badminton has come of age in India, and how!
Chandresh's book not only takes you back to the 1980 ceremonious win by Padukone but also describes the effect the legendary shuttler left on his opponent, Indonesian great Liem Swie King on that final day when Padukone, had taken the London tube to reach the venue, in the hunt for history. Coming into the All England Open - the Wimbledon equivalent of badminton, on the back of title wins at the Danish and Swedish Open, Padukone was touted for victory but was the underdog entering the final as well - but as soon as the match started, legend has it that he left Liem Swie King, feeling 'hypnotised' with his shotmaking.
Padukone took the underground tube train from the YMCA in Central London to Wembley. This is a 25-minute journey that Padukone remembers till this day.
'Even on the day of the final, I had taken the train, carried my kit, and walked to the court,' recalled Padukone about the All England final. He was just too good for (Liem Swie) King on the day, who was known for being swift and for his powerful smash, but Padukone kept the champion at bay smartly.
'I was keeping the shuttle more on the baseline. I was slowing down the pace of the game and making him play to my game. I was in control of rallies,' Padukone recalled the final.
Former badminton player Shirish Nadkarni, then on duty at the event as a journalist for the erstwhile sports magazine from India, Sportsweek, has vivid recollections of the encounter. He wrote about how a fan had described the contest: 'King whacks the shuttle; Prakash seems to caress it.'
His rival, King was in a state of daze! Indonesia's leading newspaper Kompas quoted King as saying that he felt like the champion had been under a spell throughout the final.
'I felt I was being hypnotised. I had taken good care of myself, and was confident of victory when I entered the court. But as soon as the game started, I felt I was being hypnotised, and I lost my concentration completely,' King reportedly told his friend, according to Kompas.
Hypnotise or not, Prakash Padukone's historic All England achievement, followed by his pupil Pullela Gopichand going on to win the same title in 2001 - a feat still unmatched by any other Indian shuttler after that, changed the course of Indian badminton permanently. With Gopichand foraying into coaching and producing the likes of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu - who would go on to bring 3 Olympic medals between them, it has indeed been quite the leap Indian badminton has seen since the day Prakash Padukone took an unsuspecting London tube to the All England finals and was rewarded with a medal and ₤1000 for his win.
With the final chapter of the book 'No More Doubting Thomas' also essaying this ascent of India in badminton by discussing the Thomas Cup triumph by the men's team, it is indeed a fitting end to conclude how India has grown itself in the field of sports since Independence. Although the author believes, that India is still far from being a sporting nation as the fever of sports is still limited to certain pockets of the country and time is required before sports can become a way of life here - the journey so far has been impressive nonetheless.
India now has new stars to look up to, new sporting heroes to idolize and fresh landmarks to celebrate - and the fact that this is an ever-refreshing list is evidence enough of India's great and eventual transition towards becoming a true sporting powerhouse.
This article contains excerpts from Chandresh Narayanan's Journey of a Nation: 75 Years of Indian Sports - Games, Gut, Glory published by Rupa Publications. The book contains all the notable moments from India's rich sporting past and anticipates a blooming future - as the cricket writer and author, Chandresh Narayanan essays India's moves across sports - from hockey, and cricket, to badminton and capturing Olympic glory.