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Thomas Cup: Baddy boys shuttle to historic triumph

Jun 08, 2022

After winning the Thomas Cup, 'baddy boys' have put their names in the history books

All those who have only heard about India's cricket World Cup triumph in 1983, can mostly make do with a recent movie of the same name to reference from, you can safely note this is what it must have felt like. 

Chirag Shetty floating in the air, cocky enough to essay an audacious 'tweener' (that dripping-in-arrogance return shot from between the legs) in that pressure cooker setting, and then pretty much staying afloat till Kidambi Srikanth smashed home the winner past his Indonesian rival's weakend left, was so much like Krish Srikkanth's one-kneed square cut off Andy Roberts at Lord's nearly four decades ago. 


Like Shetty in his doubles win with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy reinforcing the tone set by an indefatigable Lakshya Sen in the opening singles, it was in the air. Ordained in the stars, it was in the written in the tea leaves that stayed back in your cups you lazily forgot to put away this Sunday morning. 

Of all the sporting triumphs, and there have been a few of late, India's Thomas Cup victory should rank among its finest. For one, Indian men were stepping out of the shadow of the women, and while that is victory enough, Srikanth with his distant, seafarer eyes, Lakshya giving nothing away with his and the life-breathing twin presence of Chirag and Satwiksairaj, this all-male huddle was hurriedly scripting a new chapter in Indian sport that has been riddled with the idea of a 'new India' every other year, after every small hillock scaled that's proclaimed as a summit. 

This was different, this newness has a never-before that's hard to explain to the millennials, hoping they'll look up from their phones, pause, reflect and appreciate. 

Consider this: India's emphatic, rousing 3-0 verdict came over a 14-time previous winner. Seventy-three years since the inception of the Thomas, India was making history by becoming only the sixth nation to win the world men's team championship. 

In Bangkok on Sunday, the Indonesians, original gangsters of this global hustle, could be forgiven for feeling a little perplexed, looking bemused, staring hard into the gutting of their racquets trying to find patterns where none existed, after the collective intensity of the Indians simply caught them off-guard. 

This was supposed to be an elite badminton final, our drawing room, this where we set the rules of engagement, they said. Why was it being usurped, they asked? And why were we unable to do anything about it, they wailed in their heads? The Indonesians should have known. 

In this strange avalanche of intent and tamed aggression that blew them away, the Indian men were only borrowing that mindset which Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu had discovered by themselves with their pioneering efforts for years on the elite badminton circuit and then helped develop and construct for those who followed. In true teamwork ethos, the Indian men were only reaping that. New India? Not sure. Real India? Definitely. 

It showed. Twice, Lakshya Sen fell ungainly on his backside, bang in the middle of the court trying to read the wily Anthony Ginting. It didn't make for good viewing. A game and a half slipping from him grasp, it was clumsy, ungainly, out of depth. Then as if from nowhere, pride kicked in. As you went about your weekend chores, occasionally glancing at the TV, you saw the tide change. With the TV on mute, Lakhsya was silently screaming glory, snatched in improbable fashion -- 8-21, 21-17, 21-16. The prodigious Indian celebrated wildly. He was not in great touch but was raising his game when it mattered the most. It told you greater things were to follow. 

The Chirag- Satwiksairaj duo had wondrous tricks to show, but the makeshift pair of Mohammad Ahsan and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo were not to be swayed. Because, if pride had taken up home here, history hung heavy on the other side. The Indonesians won the first game and were well placed in the second at 20-17. The Indians saved four match points to force the issue and finally win 18-21, 23-21, 21-19. 

Finally, Kidambi Srikanth. Undefeated in the tournament, our man was in a tearing hurry, as if the podium, the Tricolour, the medals were silently calling out his name, and the tie was just a niggling formality to be dispensed with. Srikanth duly obliged, brushing aside, in just 48 minutes, a plucky but little hope, Jonatan Christie with 21-15, 23-21. 

Saving a match-point and then firing a power-packed smash down the line to finish the match, Srikanth turned towards his teammates, flung his racquet in the air and screamed in delight as his teammates rushed on-court and mobbed him. So immersed was the Indian team in celebrating the event that the chair umpire had to remind Srikanth to shake hands with his opponent! Draped in the Tricolour, Srikanth obliged and gleefully hugged his opponent, Christie. It was a strange relief on both sides, first-time victor and shell-shocked vanquished. 

In its maiden flutter at this stage, the Tricolour flew proudly and tears freely rolled down many eyes - on the Bangkok podium and back home in India. 

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