In the run-up to the showpiece, nobody except the men who mattered gave them a chance. However, much to everyone’s amazement, the badminton team left a lasting ‘impact’ in Bangkok and etched its name in Indian sporting folklore by clinching its maiden Thomas Cup.
The remarkable victory was enormous to the extent that badminton guru Pullela Gopichand – one of the forces behind India’s rise – said the Thomas Cup triumph was bigger than the 1983 Cricket World Cup success as far as the racquet sport is concerned.
It is not for nothing the one-for-the-ages achievement of the ‘Class of 2022’ is being talked about as a milestone moment in Indian sport. The India team was struck with adversity even before it boarded the plane to the Thai capital as Lakshya Sen – the highest-ranked men’s player from the country at No.9 in the world – suffered a bout of food poisoning. Besides Lakshya, India possessed two players – Kidambi Srikanth (No.11) and HS Prannoy (No.23) – ranked among the top-25 in the world. Add the World No.8 doubles combination of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty to the mix, India had a good enough squad to get into the knockouts. But, going all the way was considered a tall order since the so-called favourites were studded with superstars.
However, India, labelled the underdog by many, punched above its weight time and again en route to glory. India’s clean sweep of the mighty Indonesia – the most decorated nation in Thomas Cup history with as many as 14 titles – in the summit clash was a testament to the team’s utter dominance throughout the event. The fact that India went the distance without boasting a single Olympic medal winner made the victory even sweeter. The inspirational triumph would not have been possible without the never-say-die attitude of the players. Be it the Satwiksairaj-Chirag duo saving four match points in the final’s first doubles contest or Prannoy battling pain to clinch the deciding match in the last-four phase, the Indian heroes gave it all on court.
While there are shades of 1983 in 2022, one would hope that the Thomas Cup success does to badminton what the World Cup triumph did to cricket in the country. Having well and truly put India on the badminton map with regards to the men’s game, the India players must look at this period as the start of a golden age. The government and the national federation – the Badminton Association of India – too should do their bit if India is to become an even bigger force in the sport.