For any sport to get due attention in a cricket-frenzied nation like India, the achievement has to be truly unprecedented and unbelievable. One deserving incident was when the Indian men’s badminton team bagged the Thomas Cup victory in Thailand. From securing a semi-final spot in 1979 to winning the whole thing in 2022, India has come a long way.
In the last edition of the badminton tournament, India were knocked out after losing to Denmark by 3-1. Fast forward to 2022, they defeated the heavyweights like Malaysia, Denmark, and Indonesia making way to their historic Thomas Cup championship.
This has been nothing short of sensational. With Lakshya Sen suddenly hitting a lean patch in the tournament, Kidambi Srikanth back from a three-year hibernation, and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty set to be up against the world’s best double players, the odds were heavily tipped against them in the final. On another day they could have lost all three games. But not yesterday. Everything clicked in unison for Team India: Sen snapped the losing streak; Satwiksairaj and Chirag brought their A-game, and Kidambi Srikanth provided the final punch.
Let’s take a look at how the Indian men’s team created history in Thailand:
The Group stage was the easiest hurdle for the team, as none barring Chinese Taipei looked threatening enough to script an upset. They kick-started their tournament with a 5-0 drubbing of Germany. Lakshya Sen easily outmaneuvered Max Weisskirchen, while the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj and Chirag were made to work hard for their win.
Then against Canada, they repeated the scoreline. India rested Lakshya Sen for this fixture, and his replacement HS Prannoy did a fine job by winning his tie in straight sets.
Chinese Taipei then gave them a much-needed reality check just before the knockouts. Lakshya Sen won the first set against the world No 4 Chou Tien Chen but was unable to offer any resistance in the next two sets and ended up losing his first game. In the doubles, Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin comfortably saw off the challenge from Satwiksairaj and Chirag. The defeat of MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila gave Chinese Taipei an unassailable lead.
India Beat Malaysia by 3-2 In Quarter-Finals
It was a topsy-turvy round where balance swung either way with each game. Lakshya Sen’s second successive defeat put India at a disadvantage before Satwiksairaj and Chirag levelled the score with the scoreline of 21-19, 21-15 against Goh Sze Fei and Nur Izzuddin. Kidambi Srikanth’s dream run continued, as he registered his fourth successive win to put India ahead by 2-1. HS Prannoy then overturned an early deficit of 1-6 to take the game in two sets to ensure the first-ever medal for India.
“I feel a lot of emotions. This is one tournament where we have never done well in the past probably due to many reasons. But this time it was one of the best teams to come (from India) into the Thomas Cup and everybody stepped up. We said we are going to fight right till the end no matter what. We are just going to play what we are capable of,” said Prannoy after the game.
India beat Denmark by 3-2 In Semi-finals
It didn’t take much time for the world’s number one Viktor Axelsen to give a 1-0 lead to Denmark. Lakshya Sen proved no match to Axelsen, who won the tie by 21-13 (twice). It was a repeat of quarter-finals, as India soon overcame an early defeat to take a 2-1 lead, thanks to the doubles pair of Satwiksairaj and Chirag, and Kidambi Srikanth, who defeated world number 3, Anders Antonsen, in three sets.
India then suffered another loss before HS Prannoy came from behind to set up the final date with Indonesia.
India Conquer Thomas Cup With a 3-0 Win Over Indonesia
Going into the final, the major worry for the Indian men’s badminton team was Lakshya Sen’s form. He had suffered three straight defeats, and there was a lot riding on him in the final. The fourth defeat too seemed inevitable when Lakshya ended up losing the first set to Anthony Sinisuka Ginting by 8-21. But what transpired after that was one of the greatest sporting comebacks that laid the foundation for the championship win. Ginting lost his plot, and suffered 21-17, 21-16 defeat in the next two sets.
Satwiksairaj and Chirag then stepped up when India needed the most, as they saw off four match points to level the set before winning the third one rather comfortably. Then Kidambi Srikanth finished his game in just 48 minutes to ensure a gold medal for his country.