Thomas Cup: India eyeing an encore of Bangkok 2022 - Hindustan Times

Thomas Cup: India eyeing an encore of Bangkok 2022

Apr 26, 2024 09:29 PM IST

The holders kick off their campaign against Thailand and then run into England and Indonesia in the group stage too.

Kidambi Srikanth hammered in a cross-court smash against Jonatan Christie, turned around, dropped his racquet and screamed. His teammates exulted in their seats, leapt onto the court to hug and then lift Srikanth on their shoulders, jumping in sheer joy.

Kidambi Srikanth is over the moon after winning his match at the last Thomas Cup. (Getty)
Kidambi Srikanth is over the moon after winning his match at the last Thomas Cup. (Getty)

Memories from Bangkok 2022 are still fresh in the minds of Indian badminton aficionados. For the first time in their history, India had won the Thomas Cup. And now, it is time for India to defend its hold on the trophy with the men’s team challenging the might of the badminton world over the next nine days.

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Since reaching Chengdu earlier this week, the Indian badminton contingent has gone sightseeing, indulged in the famous Szechuan cuisine and have also looked dapper wearing traditional Indian wear at the formal dinner night.

But never for a moment did they forget their purpose of visit to China as all of them posed in front of the gleaming silver trophy, putting up photos on social media with the caption clearly stating: “Rok sako to rok lo” (Stop us if you can).

India have gone in with more or less the same squad that lifted the trophy in Bangkok two years ago with Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Lakshya Sen and Priyanshu Rajawat handling singles duties while world No.3 Satwiksairaj Rankireddy/Chirag Shetty and Dhruv Kapila/MR Arjun taking the mantle in doubles. The only changes are Kiran George (singles) and K Sai Pratheek (doubles) have replaced the doubles combine of Krishna Prasad Garaga/Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala, who have split as a pair.

Bangkok 2022 was a watershed moment in Indian badminton, providing the impetus to the players to break through barriers they hadn’t been able to in the past and achieve new heights with Rankireddy and Shetty being prime examples.

Back then, the duo was a top 10 pair who regularly challenged the world’s best. But the Thomas Cup triumph provided them with the momentum and confidence to win several accolades, including gold medals at Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Asia Championships, bronze at World Championships, multiple BWF World Tour titles. They also became the first Indian pair to be ranked world No.1.

As it was two years back, Shetty and Rankireddy still hold the key to India doing an encore of Bangkok 2022. The world No.3 pair have changed the dynamics of the team, which traditionally relied on singles players to pull the team through team competitions, with them now being the favourites to win India tournaments than other singles shuttlers.

They have been in fantastic form this year, reaching three successive finals, winning one, before pulling out of many tournaments knowing they had qualified for Paris Olympics and to give rest to Rankireddy’s ailing shoulder.

In singles, Srikanth and Prannoy played crucial roles in helping India win the title. Back then, former world No.1 was in solid form, having become the first Indian men’s shuttler to reach a World Championships final only five months prior. Paris-bound Prannoy gained so much confidence from that triumph that he went on to play the best badminton of his career, claiming bronze medals at the World Championships and Asian Games last year.

But both have had a miserable run of form of late. While world No.9 Prannoy has suffered five early round exits (Round 1 and 2) in six tournaments this year, it's been worse for Srikanth who had eight early round losses in nine tournaments.

This provides a great opportunity for Sen and Rajawat, who only played supporting roles two years ago but have a big chance this time around at Chengdu.

Sen, who went through the worst phase of his young career in the last 18 months and looked all but out of the Race to Paris, finally struck form at the right moment, performing at his best level in February and March, beating top shuttlers. He won all three of his matches at the Badminton Asia Team Championships and then reached the semi-finals of the French Open and All England Open to return to form and also seal his Olympic qualification that will be made official at the end of this month.

Rajawat was an unknown entity in Bangkok but this ‘next big thing’ of Indian badminton has risen rapidly to reach four finals, winning two, in the past two years, crediting the Thomas Cup exposure for his success.

India will be opening their campaign against perennial underachievers Thailand at the Hi Tech Zone Sports Centre on Saturday. But defending the title won’t be a walk in the park with most singles shuttlers out of form. India are also in the ‘group of death’ along with England, facing them on April 29, and 14-time champions Indonesia in a repeat of last year’s final on May 1.

Uber Cup

With most of India’s top players – PV Sindhu (singles), Treesa Jolly/Gayatri Gopichand and Tanisha Crasto/Ashwini Ponnappa (doubles) – pulling out, India have sent a young and inexperienced squad comprising Anmol Kharb, Tanvi Sharma, Ashmita Chaliha and Isharani Baruah (singles) and Shruti Mishra/Priya Konjengbam and Simran Singhi/Ritika Thaker to gain as much experience as possible from their outing.

India go in as the Asian champions, having unexpectedly clinched the title at Shah Alam in February, but with their main firepower missing in Chengdu, Anmol Kharb and team will find it a little difficult while facing the top teams.

India Open against Canada on Saturday and face Singapore on Sunday before taking on record 15-time champions China on Tuesday. Only the top two from the group will progress to the quarter-finals.

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