MUMBAI, June 20, 2017 - An Indian player has stood on the top of the podium in the last two badminton Superseries and a Grand Prix gold event. While B. Sai Praneeth bagged back-to-back titles earlier this month, former world No. 3 Kidambi Srikanth made the world take notice of the depth in Indian badminton by clinching the Indonesia Superseries Premier in Jakarta on Sunday.
Not just that, India will send their biggest ever contingent to the BWF World Badminton Championship in August this year. They have won a medal in each of the last four editions of the event and many could argue that it would be the number of medals and not the number of participants that should be the parameter of success from here on.
There is no disputing the fact that only medals could help India break into the small group of world badminton superpowers and slowly but surely they are getting there.
But for a nation that struggled to get multiple entries in the world championship before the emergence of Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu, bagging 17 entries in the flagship event speaks about the all-round progress they have been making over the last decade.
Despite the exploits of former All-England champions, Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand, in the past, India have never been a force to reckon with in world badminton with hardly anyone coming close to challenging for major international titles or making it to the business end of the tournaments.
All that changed with Saina’s Philippines Open title back in 2006 and Gopichand taking over as the chief national coach in the same year. The initial period of his tenure was marked with acrimony as the 2001 All-England champion pushed for a system that focused on training harder without thinking of the international rankings. But the next generation bought into his vision as Saina began to come up stellar performances.
Till 2010, Saina was the lone flag-bearer for India on the international stage but the Government of India’s decision to invest in athletes training for the New Delhi Commonwealth Games that year gave the much needed impetus to the sport.
Long term coaching camps, multiple international exposure trips and quality foreign coaches to assist Gopichand not just got India two individual gold and a bronze along with a team silver but also laid the foundation for a badminton revolution in India.
Since then, Saina alone has won 10 Superseries titles, a World Championship silver and the London Olympics bronze before climbing the world ranking summit in 2015. The women’s doubles combination of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa have won a CWG gold and silver and the 2011 World Championship bronze, P.V. Sindhu has an Olympic silver to show along with two world championship bronze medals and K. Srikanth and Sai Praneeth have Superseries titles to show for their effort.
The individual titles apart, India have 14 men’s singles players in the top-100, seven in women’s singles and half a dozen in men’s singles as of today. But the real success of the system, put together by Gopichand, can be gauged by the fact that India are considered formidable opponents in team events, signifying the all–round progress the nation has made.
Credit also needs to go to the Sports Ministry that has been providing funds to the tune of Rs 30 crore annually for round the year camps and hiring the right coaching talent. The arrival of coach Tan Kim Her has also helped changed the doubles landscape in the country with more pairs making a mark on the international scene.
It was the success of the doubles combination that helped India defeat former champions Indonesia to make it to the Sudirman Cup quarterfinals in Gold Coast last month and should be the driving factor if India aim to fight for gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the same venue.
“There is no reason why India cannot challenge the top nations in multi discipline events. We already have won two Olympic medals in women’s singles and we hope to repeat that feat in doubles in the coming years,” says Gopichand.
The journey has just started in the right earnest.