Balwinder Sandhu is still soaking in the joy of Team India’s triumph at Thomas Cup 2022, trying to explain the motivation within the squad of shuttlers in pulling off victories over nations considered beyond our reach. “Representing your country is motivation to give off your best. I call it self-motivation, these players showed it point by point, match by match. When you can do it over many points, in many games, such impossible wins happen.”
India blanked multiple Thomas Cup champion Indonesia 3-0 in the final, a feat without precedent in badminton history. Denmark’s hopes were dashed in the semi-finals, and Malaysia was mauled in the quarter-finals.
Asked whether a parallel with the 1983 World Cup squad’s feat of beating West Indies for the title could be drawn, the bowler replied: “Yes, if you look at Indonesia’s achievement in badminton, Team India did achieve something on those lines in Bangkok. Credit should go to the coaches for keeping the squad together.”
Sandhu rates badminton as the first sport before cricket happened. He played in school, college and during his cricket career to develop reflexes. “Prakash Padukone is my all-time great sporting icon. There is nobody close when it comes to showing the world how to win in the sport.” Talking about badminton as a sport, he felt individuals do their part for the team, like cricket where bowlers and batsmen are given roles to do and the results benefit the team if players can deliver at the right time.
The India swing bowler explained: “HS Prannoy’s body language in the deciding singles (against Malaysia, Denmark) showed the fighter he is.” Sandhu revealed that Sunil Gavaskar is passionate about badminton, and Sandeep Patil also. Asked about the winning feeling developed in that squad, reflected in the men’s badminton team, the India swing bowler quipped: “Winning feeling is not a magic capsule readily available to swallow. It develops due to the coaches, grows when seniors show the way to junior teammates, ready to go and fight on the court.”
Batting in the lower order, he took a blow on the helmet from fast bowler Malcolm Marshall at Lord’s. “I did not even react after the ball struck my helmet, as the thought in my mind was about doing my part. I am representing India, there is no need to look elsewhere for the fire within. When each badminton player felt the same, results happened. We saw the performances on court, the behind-the-scenes stories can reveal more about how the Thomas Cup win happened.”
Sandhu felt it was time to give credit to the coaches whose players were on duty for India. “The team coaches were appointed to take decisions on the team’s behalf. Maybe they are good at it, at the same time those coaches who worked years on each player on the Thomas Cup team from junior days to becoming a senior international, should get recognition and respect. The public may not be aware of all their names, but their effort should be rewarded.”
Prakash Padukone’s academy and Pullela Gopichand’s academy have done solid work to boost the sport in India, the Mumbai-based World Cupper noted, stating that he felt this victory on a world stage happened due to their efforts and the work put in by other coaches on these players in the grooming years. “Prakash and Gopichand as individual players took India to a different level in singles.”
He added: “Syed Modi was naturally gifted and Vimal Kumar was a known name in men’s badminton. After the first Thomas Cup title, India will be known as a badminton nation,” said Sandhu, for whom the RCF Sports Club was a base to keep playing the shuttle sport, alongside cricket.
“Pradeep Gandhe, Uday Pawar, Leroy D’sa are doubles experts I remember watching. Badminton and table tennis were familiar sports for us, we played and kept track of our heroes. Watching a close badminton tie is worth waiting for.
The World Cupper believed that the Thomas Cup 2022 victory over Indonesia in the final in Bangkok deserved more media exposure.
“Television channels have time for the smallest happenings in a corner of India. Our badminton players taking on some of the world’s best players deserved to be watched by the public and updates about matches could have been shared. It was a big opportunity missed to popularise badminton, the way they do with the IPL.”
Sandhu pointed out: “Watching live sports action has a different attraction, which was missed here. I hope future badminton tournaments get wide coverage and players get recognised,” he said, adding: “Cricketers played in the shadows of hockey and badminton stars in my playing days, the situation has changed. I am happy to notice that interest in other sports is growing and players are getting appreciation from people after the Tokyo Olympics performances.”
India returned with one gold, two silvers and four bronzes from the Games, a best-ever haul.