Shuttlers grab limelight in cricket-crazy India

India's historic first Thomas Cup crown was splashed across front pages in the country on Monday with some people saying it could be a turning point for badminton, much like winning the World Cup in 1983 did for cricket.

Going in as underdogs against 14-time champions Indonesia, India won the final of the men's world team championship 3-0 on Sunday in Bangkok to propel badminton to rare centre stage in the cricket-crazy nation.

It was the first time India made it to the final of the tournament.

World No. 11 Kidambi Srikanth defeated higher-seeded Jonatan Christie to wrap up the victory and trigger wild celebrations in the Indian camp. "Team India scales the peak," read the headline in The Indian Express, "Our Highness on Court," said the Hindustan Times.

"I would rate this as the biggest achievement (for Indian badminton)," said former international and team manager Vimal Kumar, who won the 1986 Asian Games bronze in the men's team event.

"When you call a nation a top badminton nation, all singles and doubles players perform. That is exactly what happened.

"I know in 1983, when we won the cricket World Cup, things turned around for the sport to a great extent. So I expect that to happen for Indian badminton as well and I am very happy I get to see that in my lifetime."

All-rounder Kapil Dev's India sparked a cricket revolution in 1983 when they beat the favourites West Indies in the final at Lord's in London, a journey that was captured in a recent Bollywood movie.

"Unforgettable red-letter day for Indian badminton. We have now truly arrived," said Indian great Prakash Padukone, who won the prestigious All England title in 1980.

"It was a brilliant team effort. The team's performance was no flash in the pan, they worked very hard for it. It is no small feat to beat Malaysia, Denmark and Indonesia in a week."

India's cricket icons joined in the celebrations. "Historic moment for all Indians! What a day for Indian badminton," Sachin Tendulkar tweeted.

Virat Kohli said: "A historic achievement and a massive moment for Indian badminton."

Indeed India's Thomas Cup win has all the makings of a defining sporting moment - rarity, incredulity and impact. Since the event began in 1948, India qualified only 13 times.

In the tournament's 73-year history, the title changed hands among China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and Denmark. On Sunday, India became only the sixth country to break into this elite club.

India entered the 16-nation team event earlier this month with its best men and a bold claim on the title on the players' WhatsApp chat group: "It's coming home."

In cricket-crazy India, badminton is still heavily based in the southern states, operating primarily out of Hyderabad and Bengaluru.

The sport that has given the country two Olympic medallists and two All England champions is a testament to individual virtuosity. So a team gold at Thomas Cup, with 10 players on the podium, speaks of the collective will and strength of the men's team in a sport where you are hardwired to put yourself first.

"I've never been a part of such a team in my career," senior player H.S. Prannoy told the BBC.

"Week after week, when you're playing for yourself, it's sometimes tough to suddenly think as a group or let go of personal ambitions.

"There are no ranking points to be won, no prize money, it's just your hunger for the title. It's what everyone wanted, and that fire drove us."

AFP, Indo-Asian News Service


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