As the majority of the Thomas Cup 2022 winning contingent returned to India, HS Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth have stayed back in Thailand to play the Thailand Open, starting from Wednesday. One of the main architects of India’s greatest victory in sports – akin to the Cricket World Cup triumph in 1983 and maybe also the Hockey World Cup of 1975 – a tired but very happy Prannoy talks about the very important factor of team spirit and team bonding which helped the team achieve the impossible. He also threw light on the current status of Indian Badminton and what more has to be done to ensure that this victory does not remain a flash in the pan and that India has now arrived, to stay among the top teams in the world. We Indians must thank the selection committee to pick Prannoy for the team. He, ranked 23 in the world, did not fit in the scheme of things as BAI (Badminton Association of India) had announced that only players in the top 15 world rankings will be selected automatically. That meant this great artiste had to come through the tedious and tiring selection process to claim a place in the team, but the committee insisted that he has had a fantastic run in last eight months or so in the international circuit and he simply had to be invited to join the team.
Prannoy in a candid chat explained why there was a special bonding, how the players helped each other. He also went on to reveal why it was a good thing that the team lost to Chinese Taipei in their last league game and how the propelled the team to move forward and actually lift the trophy.
You all seemed to have good team spirit out in Bangkok. How did that happen and how it helped?
Yes sir, we had exceptional bonding at the Thomas Cup. The main factor was that of all the players, barring Lakshya (Sen), wherefrom the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad. We have been there together for nearly ten years now; training together, travelling together, playing most tournaments together and sharing rooms now and then. We knew each other inside out and had respect for each other. So it was easy to bond as a team. We know Lakshya also very well for since last three years or so as he has been playing the same events.
Then at each team meeting, we spoke our minds. These meetings were held before the tie and after the tie. Before the tie was to ingrain in us that we have played our best. We discussed what had to be done by each player and that we were playing for our team, for India. After the matches got over we met again to discuss individual performances. How we could better it in the next match. Every decision was taken keeping us in the loop.
Gopi Sir also messaged us after the match, bucking us up and telling us how we could play better.
It was amazing. To the extent that when Chirag and Satwik lost their match against Chinese Taipei and they were upset, the other members consoled them and got them in a positive frame of mind for our quarter-final match against Malaysia. We knew we had a chance to win, but each member had to shoulder the responsibility and play for the team. The fact that we had a great singles lineup also helped. Luckily we had no major injuries.
But Lakshya was not able to win against Taipei, Malaysia and Denmark. That must have caused some concerns in the scheme of things. And the team’s loss against Taipei must have brought negative thoughts?
Lakshya suffered from a bout of food poisoning. He picked up the bug at Bangalore airport while coming here. We were really concerned as he is a very important part of our plans. But in this entire campaign, we did try to stay positive throughout. We helped Lakshya by being with him all the way through.
And he played such a remarkable match against Anthony Ginting in the final after losing the first game. Hats off to him. He delivered when it mattered most.
When we lost to Chinese Taipei in our group match the whole team was depressed for some time. We thought that being No.2 in the group would not get us a weaker option in the quarter-final.
But in hindsight. I think it was good we lost. Because it made us think. We decided in the team meeting that it was now or never for us. We have to be careful but we have to win against Malaysia. So our body language changed. From drooping shoulders, we changed into chest front. We won and we carried the same attitude in the semi-final against Denmark. Srikanth played a brilliant game to get us past (Anders) Antonsen. The doubles duo played their best and so did I. Even though I suffered a slight sprain in my ankle while lifting a shuttle on my backhand, knowing I am playing for my country and for my teammates, I decided to go on.
What do you think is the status of Indian Badminton today after this win. How this huge victory is going to help us become a real superpower in the sport?
I think we are in a good space. Badminton has given big titles to our fans. Look at our records in last 10-12 years. First was Saina (Nehwal) who has won many top titles and has been an All-England runner-up. She also won the Olympic bronze, has been world No.1. Then came Sindhu and she is a two-time medal winner at the Olympics, a World champion, besides winning umpteen titles. Srikanth has been world No.1, has won many open titles including China Open. Sai Praneeth has a bronze from the 2018 World Championship. Now Lakshya has been an All-England finalist and has got a world championship bronze and now we all have the Thomas Cup. I think these are great achievements. Which other sporting discipline had been as successful in the country? I think, the Thomas cup win will attract a lots of youngsters to badminton. This will bring young talent which can be groomed.
But yes, we have to ensure that our next generation is fully prepared to take on the best. We have to ensure that our 17-18 year-olds do not lack anything.
But are there not enough sponsors to help the next generation?
These next-generation shuttlers must be given constant exposure, some 14-15 tournaments every year. It takes time to reach the level of, say a Lakshya Sen; it requires years and years of practice. The BAI must look into these matters seriously. Otherwise, BAI has been very good for the players, very helpful and willing to help us in everything. President Himanta Biswa Sarma has been great. Today we are not lacking in anything. Sponsors like Go Sports, OGQ, SAI’s (Sports Authority of India) TOPS Scheme and so many others have opened their purses. The future of badminton in India is really bright. I thank the sponsors. I also want to thank our physio Kiran and coach Siyadath Ullah. These two have been part of the academy for years and really know us inside out. The Thomas Cup was an experience I am going to cherish all my life.