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Prakash Padukone Interview: 'Winning the Thomas Cup Means India Has Arrived at the World Stage'

By: Sanjay Sharma

Last Updated: May 17, 2022, 05:43 IST

Team India. Thomas Cup Winners (Twitter)

Team India. Thomas Cup Winners (Twitter)

Badminton stalwart Prakash Padukone, who helped fly the Indian flag during difficult times shares his joy after India lifted the Thomas Cup and how far the nation has come in the sport

Prakash Padukone is a living legend of Indian sports. At a time when the world questioned the fighting spirit of Indian sportsmen, indicating that we suffered from an inferiority complex, that we choked during matches, and that India could not produce champions as there was hardly any infrastructure in the country, this shuttling maestro proved the world wrong.

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He conquered the world in this harsh but scintillating sport and ruled for a few years like an emperor. All England champion of 1980, he won a plethora of major titled including the Common Wealth games gold medal, the World cup title, British and Indian masters and more.

Every single top player from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, and Denmark, bit the bullet at his balletic feet. He showed no mercy, going for the jugular of any opponent across the net. Inaugural World Cup finals in 1981 saw him hammering the then China number 1 Han Jian 15-0.

After retiring from competitive badminton he gave back to the game in India by starting the Prakash Padukone badminton academy. Producing such gems as Lakshay Sen.

Delighted at the Thomas cup victory he agreed to talk about it, how it will impact Indian badminton, and what more is required to make India a true badminton power.

In 1979 India reached the semis of the Thomas cup under your captainship. We took another 43 years to not only reach the finals but actually win the cup. How would you compare the two campaigns?

“These were different eras, different backgrounds. But still, let me see how I can answer this question. You know for a long time India depended on one individual to win the team games. It was Nandu Natekar, then Dinesh Khanna much before me. Then I came and the burden was on me to win every time. In team games, it is important for every player to contribute.”

In 1979 you and Pradeep Gandhe won a crucial match in doubles for India against Malaysia. That did the trick and India reached the semifinals defeating Malaysia which was the top team in the world at that time.

But today in this Thomas cup our team was balanced because we had three tested world-beaters in singles and a really strong pair in doubles. So these four people could feed off each other and still come up on top. That is the main difference between 1979 and now. You see Lakshya was not able to play as does because of the food poisoning he suffered. So Shrikant and Prannoy took on the burden and helped India on each step. The fantastic doubles win was a bonus

What is your opinion about this victory?

Well, this was a stupendous victory every which way you look at it. To defeat three teams like Malaysia, Denmark and finally Indonesia on a trot was exceptional. And that too 3-0 in finals. I was delighted and really overwhelmed at the astute and confident way India carried on

This is the most balanced Indian team ever. If we get two more double combinations we will be difficult to beat as a team. You know India now has two All England champions, a world champion in PV Sindhu, and we are also Thomas cup champions. The only thing remaining is Olympic gold. That’s a good record.
Our players are feared now when they go to play international events and that is a great feeling.

What has worked well for India, and how we can take it forward in the future?

I think so many things came together to make this happen. First and foremost is the Govt funding and private sector funding. There is so much sponsorship happening. So many schemes by the sports ministry to ensure that our players are not left without money and facilities. The badminton infrastructure in India is absolutely world-class.

Foreign coaches have made a big difference in raising our standards. Indian coaches have also started doing a good job. But we need more coaches. Then with so many academies coming up, more and more kids are taking up the game. So the talent is there, we just have to tap it.

The Badminton Association of India is also doing a good job. Things are better handled at every corner.

Coming back to the Thomas cup, how did you spot the spark in Lakshya Sen at the tender age of 9. And what is your take on his performance in Bangkok?

We had accepted his brother Chirag at the academy. Lakshya had also come along with his father and brother. He also wanted to join. Just to humour him along I told him to hit a few shuttles. I was stunned by his strength and court coverage. I don’t know how or why but my gut feeling was that this fellow is going to be a world-class shuttler one day and I was proven right.

Regarding the Thomas cup, there was a concern regarding the food poisoning issue. Still, he played as a team member and he went on playing first singles so that the top player on the opposite side was bogged down and did not play with our 2nd singles. So he took the heat of the 2 singles. That was brave of him. But you know my concern was whether he will be able to peak at the right time.

He had already peaked at German and all England open, just two months before. It is a tough schedule nowadays for these players. There is so much badminton happening.

But look at the way he played when it really mattered. It was an outstanding performance by him. He just dug in to give that crucial first point to India in the finals against Indonesia.

Thoughts about Srikanth and Prannoy?

Fantastic players both of them. It was a superb all-round performance by them. They played their hearts out. They were sensational, great team players. They went about the work of winning their singles with real efficiency.

What more can I add. I think everyone played their role to perfection. I heard that there was great team spirit in our squad. Seniors like Shrikant Kidambi and Prannoy advised the youngsters all the time. There was a lot of comradeship in the team thanks to Srikanth and Prannoy.

I think that the support staff also did a great job. All in all, everything fell in right place at the right time.

Where do we go from here?

We must keep on your working on our young players. It is true that winning the Thomas cup means India has arrived at the world stage and can really call ourselves a world power in the game.

But we need to ensure there is a good bench strength for every event. We need 6 to 7 players to take up the top position at any time. Only then we can be justified in calling ourselves a badminton superpower like China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea etc. We must make the best use of our resources.

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first published:May 16, 2022, 19:14 IST
last updated:May 17, 2022, 05:43 IST