‘Everybody started to step in as everybody wanted to be part of this history’: HS Prannoy
HS Prannoy was not required to play in the Thomas Cup final against Indonesia. His teammates sealed the tie by winning the first three matches in the best-of-five tie in Bangkok on Sunday night. India’s savior in the previous two wins could savour this triumph from the sidelines. It was the 29-year-old who ensured India reached their first Thomas Cup final in 32 editions with sensational wins in the deciding singles rubber, against Malaysia in the quarter-final and Denmark in the semi-final.
The Kerala shuttler, who reached the Swiss Open final in Basel in March, remained unbeaten at the Impact Arena through the week. He won all his five matches, propelling India to the next stage of the biennial tournament each day.
In this interview, Prannoy talks about belief within the squad to win the title, the contribution of each player and his own performances, especially overcoming an ankle injury in the semi-finals.
How did you celebrate?
We didn’t do much, just went for dinner and then chilled for a while. We wanted to do something, but the 10 of us need to go somewhere, Goa maybe (laughs). We’ll see when we can do that with tournaments in between. Hopefully, soon.
You are the reason India reached the final.
Everyone is a hero. Everybody had to step in when needed, extraordinary effort from everyone. It was just that I was there in the last matches so I had to pull it off. Everybody had their role and extremely proud of the way they played.
You had a bad fall in the semis. How is the ankle?
The courts were way too slippery. It was scary to see everyone slip. I got a jerk when I skid. It was hurting. It was bad for a while. The next day it was pretty sore. Yesterday it was slightly better. Now it doesn’t look bad. The pain is kind of intact. Luckily, the ankle didn’t twist. We all tape our ankles, especially in these (slippery) conditions.
You’ve been part of Thomas Cup teams in the past too. What was different this time?
Everything changed. It’s because of the team we had. A couple of seniors like me and (Kidambi) Srikanth with the rest youngsters; so, there was a lot of energy. Luckily, we didn’t have any negative vibe in the team, everyone was so positive. We had our bad days like (the loss to Chinese) Taipei (in the group stage) but the way these guys came back, credit goes to each one of us out there.
Not just the guys who played, but the players who were supporting us, the support staff who were there for all of us the entire week. All the coaches were so pumped up. Everybody had the feeling that this is the chance because everybody in the support staff knew how we ten as a team were so strong and emotionally connected. Everybody got the feeling this was the time when we can go full throttle. They all realised and stepped up. The women’s (Uber Cup) team was there cheering for us; a big thanks to the association (BAI); they changed their tickets for our final so that they can stay and support us. That’s a big gesture. That boosts everyone that we just need to go all in.
Did you have the belief you could win the Thomas Cup previously, or is it only this time?
Only this time around. See, (playing in) team event is something which we have to cultivate. We don’t have this in our blood, 90% of the time we play individual events and the mindset, preparation is different. Here our approach needs to be different, seniors have to step up. There are no shortcuts. I and Srikanth realised it much before the tournament that we need to step up, have conversations with the youngsters because they will take time to come to their normal self after a loss; it was very important we addressed these issues. These were things we discussed in the first meeting—that it is a very long tournament with seven days of continuous matches. So, to sustain (performances) the first thing is to accept that if you lose on a certain day it is okay, but you’ve to come back to grind it out the next day.
That’s the most important thing—the grinding part needs to be constantly up there, win or lose. Things need to be kept simple…make sure that mentally you are always accepting the fact that if there is a loss it is okay, we’ll put it aside, come back and play the next day. Lakshya (Sen) couldn’t get three matches but look how he came back to pull out that important win in the final. That’s where the character came in, that’s where team talk comes in. We all were so sure that Lakshya will pull off this match because the team talk was so positive that he was raring to go. He wanted that win.
You have to create that atmosphere. It just doesn’t come, you have to speak to players and then they start to speak openly. Most of the time juniors don’t speak. You don’t know what’s happening with them so you have to give them the opportunity. Team meeting was where we were telling everybody to speak—if you have anything, just speak loudly because all these guys are very silent. It’s very important you express yourself, and everybody started to (eventually). They took time but after one or two days everybody started to step in as everybody wanted to be a part of this history. You consciously need to put in that effort that you’ve to be out there positive.
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty had brilliant wins over top-ranked pairs.
Hats off to them! Chirag is always pumped. He’s one character I really love. He always expresses it out loud and clear. We don’t have any doubts about him. Post the (Chinese) Taipei match he was so upset that they couldn’t give us a point. He straightaway says ‘we need to meet and talk’. That kind of an initiative comes from players like that. Things changed and see the way they played the last three matches, their body language and effort. Satwik is much silent but yesterday before the final huddle he said he wanted to talk. He spoke for a good five minutes. These are the things you want to see, listen and experience. When someone like Satwik talks you realise how involved everyone is. That just gives you the extra energy you need to play team events. The way they respect each other is a very good lesson for all youngsters out there, especially playing doubles. There have been several off days for both but they make sure they support each. They never utter a word that the other was off. They just say ‘we were off’. That’s a big thing. I love watching them play and learn a lot from them because both are great characters. For doubles that’s what you need more than the game and the results will automatically come. Without them this wouldn’t have been possible.
In an individual sport how different is it to win a team event?
Totally different! This is not something we are used to. We have to cultivate and create it. There was doubt whether we will be able to pull something off like this. I thought that needs to be changed at some point and last night we did. Now everyone believes we can do it. That’s very important for the next generation which will play the next Thomas or Sudirman Cup or Commonwealth Games. It’s very important to have that belief. You dream about it and it’ll surely come to you one day.
How satisfied are you to have contributed to the team’s success?
A lot. In the last decade of my badminton I have never experienced this kind of a victory. This was something different. I can’t express how happy I am. I never thought this would happen. You dream of becoming Olympic or world champion. You never say you want to be a Thomas Cup champion, but it is always there inside you that yaar team event ek baar to jeetna hai (must win at least once). We all had that in our mind because we wanted this not just for ourselves but for the country. I am just happy I could be a part of this memorable event.