Expansion of Talent Pool Secret Behind Perfect 10

Credit: Badminton Photo

HS Prannoy did nothing that underdogs do after humbling the overwhelming favourite in a big game. After Victor Axelsen’s return landed wide, Prannoy gently raised his right hand and then froze himself in a position suggesting that he was pointing a gun at his own head. In all likelihood, he was trying to say it’s all in the mind, after playing the game of his life.

That muted celebration carried a loud message. India’s strength in badminton cannot be underrated. They keep finding the player for the moment. Winning medals in the year’s top tournament — World Championships or Olympics — since 2011 is a balance sheet showing growth and consistency. This includes medals in 10 successive World Championships.

Forming a pool of players with podium potential is the highlight of this sustained success, something that other sports have not achieved. India is not dependent on one or two, like it was when this revolution started. After Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa’s doubles bronze in 2011, either Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu won nine of the 10 Olympics and World Championship medals from 2012 to 2019, with Sindhu claiming the lion’s share.

The men, who at best managed a couple of narrow quarter-final defeats when Saina and Sindhu were creating ripples, got their first medal after Prakash Padukone’s 1983 bronze in 2019, when B Sai Praneeth bagged the same colour. It was the year Sindhu won her only World Championship gold. Coincidentally, it marked a new beginning for the men’s team.

That India has won medals in three more World Championships since, despite the women collecting nothing in those editions, shows how the men have stepped up and broken into the top bracket after being in the top-20s and 30s for some time. Kidambi Srikanth started this by becoming World No. 1 in 2018, and these men have not looked back since. The progress has not been dazzling, but steady.

After drawing a blank at the rescheduled Olympics in 2021in Tokyo, where Sindhu won her second medal on that stage, the men have kept scripting success stories. Srikanth won silver and Lakshya Sen bronze at the 2021 World Championships. Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty became the first men’s doubles pair to win a medal at the event in 2022. Then came the historic Thomas Cup win last year.

This state of exaltation seemed to have ended after the World No. 2 pair of Satwik and Chirag lost in the quarter-finals to a Danish duo ranked 11th. Prannoy versus Axelsen was a foregone conclusion, which appeared to be headed in the direction expected. That was when the World No. 9 produced a seminal and landmark performance against mounting odds.

He is the fifth men’s player in singles or doubles to finish on the podium since 2019. From zero to five medallists in four years is some progress in terms of expanding the pool, and explains why more or the less the same set of players won the Thomas Cup. Some of them are aging, but the doubles pair and Sen have more to offer. The immediate future looks good.

What lies beyond is a bit of a concern. There are no notable newcomers in women’s singles. Gayatri Gopichand and Treesa Jolly have a long way to go if they are to become medal contenders in doubles. The same can be said of Mithun Manjunath and Priyanshu Rajawat, the upcoming faces in men’s singles. While savouring success, it’s time to invest in the future.

Also Read: Strength of Mind and Will Has Elevated Prannoy to the Elite Level

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *