Season of Indian badminton stars

When Kidambi Srikanth raised his arms in triumph in the Indonesian Open final on Sunday, he lifted the profile of Indian badminton by another notch. Two skilled and strong-willed women, Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu, have been the flag-bearers of the sport in the country in recent times. But with his victory in Jakarta, Srikanth showed that the male players too were rapidly acquiring the consistency required to be reckoned as a force at the world level. Every now and then, Indian men have produced flashes of brilliance, but this year, the story has been different. Titles have not arrived in a rush but the results have been encouraging enough to mark them as threats to any player in the world. From being on the periphery to genuine contenders, they have made a heartening transition. Srikanth’s win in Jakarta and B Sai Praneeth’s triumph at the Singapore Open two months ago were big forward strides in this context.

The 24-year-old Srikanth has always been a top talent but despite notching big wins early — he had won the China Open three years ago and reached No. 3 in world rankings — he could not take the next big step due to various reasons. Injury was one of them. The tussle within his mind was another. The celebrations that followed his victory were an indication the Indian champ­ion had finally broken the shackles. Till Srikanth’s final win, the man creating the waves in Jakarta was another Indian – H S Prannoy. Prannoy’s wins over former world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei and Olympic champion Chen Long stirred the imagination before he stumbled in the semifinal. But by then, he had further strengthened the theme of the season for India.

A look at the world rankings shows there are six Indian men in the top-50, a good number for a nation that doesn’t have a proper system to nurture talent. Private academies have powered the sport, with Pullela Gopichand in Hyderabad and Prakash Paduk-one in Bengaluru playing stellar roles. The arrival of Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo, the man who coached Taufik Hidayat to stardom, has also helped the Indians to improve their fitness and performance levels. But looking at the larger picture, it is obvious the Badminton Association of India needs to do much more to sustain the momentum. The BAI’s plan to encourage the setting up of more academies nation-wide is a welcome one in this regard. Saina’s arrival
created a badminton boom around the country with youngsters rushing to emulate the Hyderabadi. Sindhu has carried the baton forward while the men players are now raising the bar higher. Indeed, it is too good
an opportunity to be missed for Indian badminton.

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