Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann Ki Baat last Sunday made a special mention of shuttler Kidambi Srikanth winning the Indonesian Open Superseries title and congratulated him, saying he has made India proud.
Soon after Modi’s speech, Srikanth went on to win back-to-back Superseries titles, clinching the Australia Open, beating current Olympic champion Chen Long in straight games.
Modi may not refer to many things people feel he should, but he certainly makes it a point to compliment any achievement by Indian sportspersons. He sounds sincere when he lauds sporting achievements and advises parents not to discourage their children from playing sport.
Srikanth’s coach Pullela Gopichand, who met the Prime Minister at a function along with his champion ward, was all praise for Modi and his knowledge, insight and vision of sports.
Gopichand is not the one who easily got satisfied or who showers praise on his trainees. If he feels Srikanth’s victory will infuse confidence in his other teammates Parupalli Kashyap, Ajay Jayaram, B. Sai Praneeth and H.S. Prannoy, all have great potential to be world beaters, it is a big compliment coming from him.
Gopichand knows that India does not have systems in place to catch up with China. It’s just not enough for an odd Gopichand to run a first rate academy. India, as he has said, should grow organisationally, it is not enough for the government agencies to pump in money. The country should have many more academies with top class coaches running them.
It was not easy for Gopichand to put up the facility; some players in the national squad refused to train at his academy. Some even accused him of bias and favouritism.
Someone like Saina Nehwal quit and shifted to Bengaluru to train with Vimal Kumar at the Prakash Academy, whatever the reason. It became a blessing in disguise for Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, who got full attention from Gopichand and she went to do one better than Saina’s bronze at the London Olympics by winning the silver at the Rio Games last year.
Both Prakash and Vimal Kumar lauded Gopichand’s efforts in putting up a world class ultra modern badminton academy and also for getting the right overseas coaches.
Luckily for Gopichand, the sports ministry, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the national federation stood by him and that made him to produce such excellent players and results.
In the last one year, the badminton scene has witnessed a big change. Till last season it was all Saina and Sindhu. See the transformation within a few months. Now everyone is talking about Srikanth, Sai Praneeth, Prannoy with Kashyap and Jayaram waiting in the wings. Srikanth himself has returned from a stress fracture in his right ankle he suffered soon after Rio and it took three months for him to recover.
It’s not only Srikanth, who is in the limelight entering three Superseries finals this year. He lost the third final against his friend Sai Praneeth at the Singapore Open. Praneeth also won the Thailand Open.
Talking of the two, people seem to have forgotten what Prannoy did at the Indonesian Open. In a sensational display, he removed former world champion Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long on successive days and was unlucky to lose in the semifinals; otherwise it would have been an all-India final at Jakarta.
Both Srikanth and Praneeth are seen as best bets at the upcoming world championships at Glasgow, Scotland, and Prannoy and — if Kashyap and Jayaram are injury-free — India can have their best ever world championships.
The fact that so many young players are fighting to be in the world’s top 10 is a big thing for Indian badminton. Srikanth literally gatecrashed into the top 10 after his victories at the Indonesian and Australian Open. The others are not very far.
Just as the men kept pushing themselves, Saina and Sindhu have unexpectedly struck a poor patch. It is for Vimal Kumar and Gopichand to get them back on the rails. Their losses in recent tournaments were inexplicable, unless they have any fitness problems.
If everyone is fit and in form the Year 2017 could be of India’s.
(The writer is a veteran commentator. He can be reached at [email protected])