When Mohinder Amarnath started his run-up to deliver the 6th ball in 52nd over at the Lords, little did he know he was going to script history. The ball swung inwards, hit the pads of Michael Holding and rest, as they say, was history. India lifted their first-ever World Cup defeating the mighty West Indians. The defining moments of Indian Cricket, which made Indians glued to the game for 36 years and counting.
Every sport has had its watershed moment. If Sania Mirza made Tennis look cool among Indian sports fans, Sushil Kumar’s Bronze at 2008 Beijing made sure we tune into wrestling during London and Rio. Mary Kom’s Bronze in London inspired a generation to take up the sports. Saina Nehwal’s Bronze at London made Badminton a household name. Indoor halls sprouted across the country. Kids carrying their Yonex kitbags, riding a 2 wheeler with their parents became a familiar sight even in smaller towns.
Around the same time, an aspiring kid from a small town called Amalapuram in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh and a lanky kid from Goregaon, Mumbai started weaving their dreams to represent their country one day in Badminton. They were soon spotted by Gopichand and brought together the Pulella Gopichand Badminton Academy at Hyderabad, the mecca of Indian Badminton. They paired up to play in the Men’s Doubles category.
Yesterday, Satwik Sairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Chandrasekhar Shetty created history at the Huamark Indoor Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand, as they defeated the reigning world champions Li/Liu to win their first-ever super series Gold medal in Men’s Doubles category. This can be the watershed moment for Indian Doubles Badminton which has been long ignored and always seen as a second fiddle to the much elite Singles events.
The road to the top has not been easy. Doubles Badminton in India was never cool, so to say. What added to the agony was, Chirag/Satwik being India’s top doubles shuttlers, never had the big stage experience. Sure, they have won smaller BWF events like Hyderabad Open, Mixed team event at CWG or runners up at Syed Modi International. But, at a big stage like a super series, as much as the game, one also needs the nerve. As the newly appointed Indonesian doubles coach Flandy Limpele puts it, the players are really good but mentally weak and that’s exactly what he said he was going to work on.
Satwik was out of the circuit for later part of 2018 and early part of this year nursing a shoulder injury and stiffness. Chirag took a break to prepare for his college exams. They got together again in May and played some international events to get back into the circuit. Winning the Brazil International Challenge and getting to the semis of Denmark IC restored some confidence before going to the big stage. Their real journey started this year, only 2 weeks back at Jakarta, Indonesia playing one of the marquee events of BWF, The Indonesia Open. Their journey was cut short at the 2nd round when they met the favourites, current World no 1 Kevin Sanjaya/Marcus Gideon, but they did show some flashes of brilliance, however lack of match practice was clearly showing. Kevin/Marcus went onto win the tournament.
Next week, in Japan open, they went one step ahead to QF before succumbing to home favourites and world no 2 Kamura/Sonoda. But this match really showed us what the pair is capable of. At 21-18, 21-19, the match could have gone either way. They didn’t lose their heart and marched on to Bangkok with all vigour.
They entered the Thailand Open as unseeded players. Beat World no 7, Alfian/Adrianto in straight games in the 2nd round. They faced the former World Champions, the Korean pair of Ko Sung/ Shin Baek in the semis and came out with flying colours.
The final was against the reigning World Champion Chinese pair Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen. The Indian pair started well and maintained their lead throughout the first game and eventually took it 21-19. 2nd game started fine as well but at 17-all, the Chinese changed gears and levelled the game 1-1 winning 21-18. Chirag and Satwik were a little shaky at the start of the decider and were soon trailing at 0-4. However, soon they took things in control and kept it really simple. Satwik, who is still not 100% fit could not use his USP, the swashbuckling smashes. So they kept the shuttle low and attacked at the first opportunity. While Chirag was lightning fast at the net, Satwik guarded the backcourt. The one aspect, where all Indian doubles shuttlers lack against their Asian counterparts, is a defence. But Satwik and Chirag showed some brilliant defence and retrieval abilities in the game.
However, at 18-19, this 32 shot rally changed everything and gave them the much-needed fillip and a match point. From there, they just needed to keep their cool and a simple push from Satwik, in the end, scripted history for Indian Badminton.
No, a Thailand Open is not as big as a World Championship, a World Cup or an Olympics. But every sport needs a launchpad. A win at world stage to set you up for the bigger thing. Saina’s semifinal in 2011 Denmark Open super series set the ball rolling for her before she captured the big stage at London. Chirag and Satwik have caught Indian Badminton fans imagination for long but they lacked a big win at a world stage. Sure, they have made their marks before like coming close to defeating the legendary Boe/Mogensen at All England in 2017 but this win at Bangkok changes everything.
Recalling the match, Satwik said, “I was not playing like usual but I kept telling myself that it’s just one more match, one more match. I was so calm and whenever I got a chance, I wanted to finish the shot. I could see that they didn’t want to lift the shuttle for me”.
“I can’t believe that we’ve just beaten the current world champs. They are really good attacking players so our plan was to keep the shuttle low”, his partner Chirag added.
They would attain a career-high ranking and break into top 10 when the new world rankings are released tomorrow. Sports is uncertain and one can’t say how they would fare from here. However, this occasion calls for throwing the caution to the wind and savour the moment. As their opponent Liu puts it, “They are a big potential threat for a long time.”