India’s Thomas Cup winning team interacted with the media across patchy connections from Bangkok, all smiling and laughing, all en route to a well-deserved party.
Excerpts from the chat with coach Vimal Kumar, and players HS Prannoy, Kidambi Srikanth and Chirag Shetty:
On the magnitude of the win
Vimal Kumar: I would rate this as the biggest ever. Prakash (Padukone) winning the All England Championships, Gopi (Pullela Gopichand) winning the All England C’ships, Saina (Nehwal) becoming world no.1, (PV) Sindhu winning the World Championship… these are all special, great accomplishments. But as a team, if you look at what he has done… we could never really deliver when it mattered as a team. When you call a nation a top badminton nation, our singles, our doubles perform together, we win a team championships. That’s exactly what happened today. So I would rate this as the biggest ever for Indian badminton.
In 1983 when we won the cricket World Cup, things turned around to such an extent, and I expect that to happen for Indian badminton. Of course, we have individually great players, but as a team… I’m very happy that I got to see this in my lifetime.
Kidambi Srikanth: When you end up winning such a big tournament, it really is a very big win, it will take a while before you actually know what has happened. At the moment I would rate this as one of my biggest wins, that’s for sure. I’m very happy, we all did extremely well. Everyone stepped up when it really mattered.
When you win in these tournaments, the win is for the country, it’s reflected towards the country. Today, people said ‘India won the Thomas Cup.’ It wasn’t ‘Srikanth won Thomas Cup or Prannoy won Thomas Cup’. That in itself is such a precious feeling and I don’t think that many will have the privilege to experience it.
On team spirit
VK: I don’t have many words to describe. This is a group of fantastic players. The spirit they have. I’ve never seen them so enthusiastic! The senior players totally getting involved especially the top two players, Prannoy and Srikanth, I’d give a lot of credit. The rest of the guys are very young, below 23. Even though the coaches used to talk to them, these guys would sit down with them, motivate each other. Only thing we needed is to play to our potential. When it really mattered they all played to their potential.
It’s an achievement of pure team spirit which I’ve never seen in the past. We’ve always had good players but the priority was always on individual tournaments, but I was very keen that when we get together they can definitely achieve [something special]. When it really mattered, [everyone] delivered for us. They firmly believed they could win. That belief turned things around for us. I’m a lucky manager, a lucky coach!
HS Prannoy: The way everyone bonded this week, I think we should give credit to all the players out there and we made a conscious effort to do this. We knew this is not something which is very common among us, we play individual events the entire year and then to come to a team event all of a sudden and gel is tough, but we all made that conscious effort. The day we left Hyderabad, this was the first talk – this is the time where we can win this, because we have a team that can actually challenge for the title. But the only thing we have to do is help and support each other because that what will change the results in the tournament, and that’s what happened.
KS: I know that I’ve played more number of team events than anyone else in the team but I didn’t really have to give any big speeches. It was just about letting them know that they are doing well and that ‘even if you play just one hour, you have to do really well in that one hour.’ I’m really happy that the youngsters stepped up and played so well, and handled the pressure so well. They are really pumped, very excited to play this event and we came here thinking that we will do whatever it takes to win this medal.
HSP: The feeling was always there. All of us had the feeling that this was a team that could actually contend for the title, but then I think the quarterfinal match was the crucial one where we knew that we don’t have a Thomas cup medal yet. All of us stepped up at the right time. Post that quarterfinal, the belief started. Semis and finals we were playing probably at 25% more than what we’ve actually played.
On Lakshya Sen
VK: Lakshya had food poisoning [before the tournament]. The whole flight here he was very sick. Slowly, he [got better]but we had to field him [even when he was sick]. Today, the way he played that first game I was quite disappointed, I thought we would lose, but the way he came back. That showed, the young boy, when it matters he can really play well.
On the pressure of the final
VK: If you look at Indonesia, they are the best nation [in the history of the tournament]. We told them that the pressure is all on Indonesia, just take it as any other team and enjoy. The advantage we had was the singles players were consistent against the top Indonesian players. So we had that hope, and the doubles – they put up a real special performance.
KS: Definitely [there were nerves towards the end against Christie]. Also because I was leading for the most part of the second game. He also plays very good badminton and he’s done very well recently, you can’t write off any player at this level and that too in a final. I was just thinking of playing consistently and not making any mistakes. But yeah, definitely, he played really well after the 11 point break in the second set. I’m just happy that whatever I thought of playing I could play and everything I did really worked for me and that I could finish off the match and give them [the team] the win.
On the party that beckons
Chirag Shetty: Today it’s time to enjoy, we’ll go all out and enjoy and then let’s see! We all are going for a dinner right now, we’ll come back to the room and dance like we always do. After every win we had in this Thomas Cup, we have been dancing!
HSP: Nothing has sunk in yet. I think it’ll take a couple of days more. We need to celebrate it big time. We are in the right place [to celebrate]!