Indian badminton legend Prakash Padukone called the men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy as the “most valuable players” in the team’s historic Thomas Cup triumph last week in Bangkok.
Reputed coach and former Olympian, U Vimal Kumar, who was in Bangkok as the Indian team manager, credited Satwik and Chirag, saying: “They played a very crucial role in winning, their contribution was enormous.”
Former top-ranked men’s singles player and 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Parupalli Kashyap, termed the Satwik-Chirag win against Malaysia (in quarterfinals) “the most crucial encounter in the entire Thomas Cup”.
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The world No. 8 duo of Satwik and Chirag have come up the ranks brilliantly to become a force to reckon with. This is something unprecedented. While a lot of credit goes to the Malaysian doubles specialist coach Tan Kim Her for bringing Chirag and Satwik together, Denmark’s doubles ace until recently, Mathias Boe, a former World No. 1 doubles player along with Carsten Mogensen, has molded them into world beaters.
Boe is an all-time doubles legend and knows the nuances of the modern game and its demands. Kashyap says that the best thing to have happened to Indian badminton in recent times is the appointment of Boe, the 41-year-old from Denmark, though it is not for a long term. Boe’s presence in Bangkok helped Chirag and Satwik overcome some tough situations that may not be visible to the naked eye.
Kashyap, who has seen Boe closely in the international circuit and observed the way he goes about his business, told News18.com: “Boe has played these events (Thomas Cup among other major tournaments) for a long time and had a pretty long career at the top. That is a huge thing to get into. Someone who has reached the world No. 1 rank in doubles, we need those kinds of people to maintain standards in our training. That is a major thing when you look at Chirag and Satwik. “
Boe and Mogensen have won Olympic medals (silver in 2012), gold in Thomas Cup (2016), silver (2013) and bronze (2014) at the World Championships and All England gold twice (2011 and 2015) besides many other major triumphs.
Kashyap added: “Chirag and Satwik started doing well after Malaysian coach Tan Kim Her came. He basically changed partnership from juniors and made them an established pair. They started improving the circuit once the Indonesian coach (Flandy Limpele) came. Limpele was world No. 1 in doubles, won bronze in men’s doubles in 2004 Athens Olympics and had a lot of knowledge in training. That kept Satwik and Chirag going. After his departure, Boe started to train them ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Satwik and Chirag have trained with three world-class coaches, the third being a very recent player makes a lot of difference. “
Boe is not new to India and Indian badminton. He played in the Indian Badminton League in its inaugural season in 2013 for Awadhe Warriors and later for different teams (Mumbai Rockets in 2015-16, Bengaluru Blasters in 2017-18 and Pune 7 Aces in 2018-19) when the name was rechristened to Premier Badminton League. The Dane is currently dating actress Taapsee Pannu, their relationship going strong for quite some time now.
Vimal told this website soon after returning from Bangkok: “Credit to our doubles pair Satwik and Chirag, they played a very very crucial role in India winning the Thomas Cup. Their contribution is enormous. This has never happened in the past in doubles. “
The former chief national coach of the Indian badminton team and now head coach, director and co-founder of Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru currently housed at Padukone-Dravid Center for Sports Excellence, said: “Our players met Boe during Indian Badminton League when he was an active player. In the badminton league, the players get to meet top stars from around the world. That’s how Chirag developed a rapport with him. Whenever he visited India, he helped them. Subsequently Tan Kim Her from Malaysia formed this combination. When they started showing the results, we wanted somebody steady with them all the time. That part was missing in Indian badminton. We could rope in Boe for the Thomas Cup.
“Eventually, tactics play a very very important role. In doubles, that is very crucial. You have to make split decisions fast. They went through a lot of pressure situations. That is when Boe brought in the calming effect. That was huge. That is something we all have to appreciate. The communication with the coach matters. At the moment, I find them really gelling well. There are two other combinations as well. They have not made the sort of impact that these two guys (Satwik-Chirag) have made, beating the best pairs but I feel they can mature into excellent players in the coming months the moment they start playing international badminton. “
Kashyap, who has been battling injuries and is working hard to make a comeback into the circuit, continued about Boe: “He knows what is happening regarding the style of play, having played Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon of Indonesia. Boe has a clear idea on what has to be done. He has stayed in the top five rankings for so many years. He understands the intensity in training, has consistent performances, and knows how to prepare for major events. The fact that Boe and Mogensen were not only in the top five but were also consistently performing in major events like the Olympics and All England makes a huge difference. You have the experience of these matches, how to tackle tough matches, how to pump up the player, what technically needs to be done at crucial juncture in the matches. “
Satwik and Chirag were fighting match point twice (20-all and 21-all in the second game) against Sanjaya and Md Ahsan in the final before winning the match 18-21 23-21 21-19 to give India a 2-0 lead last Sunday.
Kashyap said: “They won a close encounter against Malaysia in the quarterfinal, which to me was the most crucial encounter in the entire Thomas Cup. Boe’s experience in these situations helped. It also gives the players’ confidence when a top player is involved. He maintains intensity in practice. That is what he is trying to get into the players. Although the arrangement was for a very short term before the Olympics, now again it is a short-term till the Asian Games. That is of immense help. Boe has made a very valued contribution to Indian badminton. We all need these kinds of people to come and help us improve and maintain top standards. “
Vimal agreed with Kashyap and said: “I did have some talk with Boe and it is tough to spend a lot of time. He has indicated that he would be available to help the doubles teams till the Asian Games. The players seem to be gelling well, responding to his style. We need to take that forward. “
Rarely have we had European top players visiting India to coach badminton players. PPBA invited legendary Denmark player Morten Frost for a short stint to its academy a few years ago and even guided Lakshya Sen in his country a couple of years ago during the European circuit on an exchange program. Otherwise, it has been largely the South Asians from Indonesia, Korea and Malaysia. Vimal said: “They (Europeans) are very expensive. Their expectations are very high. “
The 35-year-old Kashyap agreed with Vimal, saying: “The Europeans going out and coaching does not usually happen. Boe travels quite often to India as Taapsee is his girlfriend. This makes it a little comfortable for him to manage it. Otherwise, Europeans, especially the Danes, are not seen coaching outside, except maybe in England. Kenneth Jonassen coached the England badminton team. Peter Gade has his own badminton academy. There are more career options for former European shutters. Asians rely on coaching after their playing days. A few of the former Danish players have taken up the administration.
That said, Boe is still exploring how to go about it. There is no one else better than him to do this (for Indian badminton doubles). Chirag and Satwik have been getting the results. They had the toughest quarterfinal in All England (losing to Sanjaya and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon). Had they been on the other side of the draw, they could have made it to the final. They came really close to the Olympics. Finally, they did their job in the Thomas Cup. The results were just round the corner.
“One of the main factors for this is Boe, for sure. You develop them into players from the start, but when it matters, you need the experience of a top player who has played there and performed. It is usually the case with every other country. Results don’t happen just like that. Boe is working with four to five pairs, giving 100%, extremely motivated, what intensity to be maintained for top results to be achieved. I see the players in practice daily (at Pullela Gopichand academy in Hyderabad). Even the second doubles pair (MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila) did well. It is a matter of time. Some people shine quickly, some others take time. There is no better person than Boe to be guiding the Indian doubles badminton players. “
Kashyap said Boe is a great person to be hanging around with. “Mogensen inspired me. Mogensen was extremely skilful and gifted. His partner Boe was a hard worker. He worked very hard on various aspects of his game – service, return of service – mastered those aspects and that is why he maintained his game at a high level. The intensity they maintained was unbelievable. “
Boe’s guidance apart, Vimal said a lot of credit for the Thomas Cup victory should go to Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy. Vimal said: “As senior players, they were giving confidence to the younger players and motivating them. We coaches can do our part. But, when players get positive vibes from the seniors, I found that extremely good with this team. We have had individual brilliance in the past. But, as a collective effort, it mattered a lot this time. I would give players full credit. This is a historic feat and we can all be proud of the historic feat by the fantastic players. “
And, Boe can certainly feel pleased with his work so far with Indian badminton.
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