We've shown the world we're a powerhouse in badminton | By Leroy D'Sa
1982 and the 1986 Asiad medal-winning shuttler Leroy D'sa writes for The Bridge, explaining the significance of Satwik-Chirag's historic badminton gold at the Asian Games 2023.
It is a really happy and proud moment for Indian badminton. After 37 years, India has won another medal - a silver - in the team event at the Asian Games. Way back in 1986, at the Seoul Asian Games, we won a bronze medal. At that time, I was part of the Indian team along with Vimal Kumar, Ravi Kunte, Sanat Misra, Syed Modi, Prakash Padukone, and Uday Pawar.
After that, there was a big lull, and we did not win any medals right up to this Asian Games. We have a very good team, and as our team is the Thomas Cup champion, there was a lot expected from our players.
To win a medal in the Asian Games in badminton discipline is a big achievement, and our Indian team was able to get the silver medal after beating Korea in the semifinal, it was a huge feat.
The standard of badminton in Asia is even higher than in the World Championships or the Olympics because you have all the top-notch world-beaters to play against.
The credit for this magnificent feat goes to the singles players - Lakshya Sen, HS Prannoy, and Kidambi Srikanth - who played extremely well to win the matches and defeat Korea 3-2 in the semifinals.
Unfortunately, our top men's doubles combination of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy lost a close match to the reigning world champions Kang Min-hyuk and Seo Seung-jae.
It was a match where it could have gone anyone's way, but the Korean pair was able to hold their ground, and they came out victorious.
However, what I have noticed is that Satwik and Chirag were not deterred by the defeat. It did not do any harm to their concentration and their abilities, and their confidence was still high.
They knew that they had stumbled in a few areas, and if they could keep them in check, then winning a match would not be difficult. And that is exactly what they did in the next match against the Chinese pair Liang Weikeng and Wang Chang.
It was a thumping victory for the Indians. We won the first match and then the win by the doubles players gave us the second victory, but unfortunately, we could not capitalize on a 2-0 lead and we went on to lose 2-3 against China. It was a very sad moment because to beat China in China would have been the greatest achievement of Indian badminton.
Well, at the same time, India lost in the final itself was a very big achievement. We have shown the world that we are also a powerhouse in badminton.
I would give credit to Mathias Boe for making Chirag and Satwik play the type of game that made things very difficult for the opposition to exploit any weakness. This is something that they were not able to do earlier, and now they are doing it perfectly.
At the moment, they can play their pushes and jabs in such a way that in today's contemporary badminton for the opponents to take the point away from these players is becoming difficult.
Satwik-Chirag's fortified game
In their repertoire, they have different types of games; they can change the pattern of play midgame. These boys are now playing in such a way that is making life difficult for the opposition.
When they played against their nemesis Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in the semifinals, they had gone on the court losing 10 times and winning only once. Their only win came at the previous meeting at the Indonesia Open.
At the Asian Games, the performances of Satwik and Chirag were much better. They beat them in a much easier way than what they had done in Indonesia. This speaks volumes of their preparation, their confidence, and their ability to find the gaps in the opponents' style. This is a very important thing.
You may play a one-off good match. But this victory against the Malaysians and the way these boys played was certainly not a flash-in-the-pan performance. From the beginning to the end, they were playing on a different level. Today they are the world's number one combination because of their fortified game.
It was also because of this reason they have now become the target for the other players. The one who is the number one or the one who is the champion will always be the target. Hence, it will be great to watch how they tackle the opponents from here onwards and how well they can hold on to the number one spot.
That is something that the coach and the support team will have to take cognizance of and prepare them for all the future matches that they are going to play.
These boys go to the court with more than one or two plans in their mind, their strategies are such that if Plan A is not working, then they can easily shift to Plan B and if Plan B is also not working, then they can shift to plan C and between Plan A, B and C, one of the plans will most certainly work.
In the semifinals, these boys played a fast game primarily not because they wanted to, they played a fast game because the pace was set by the Malaysians. They benefitted because of their ability to stick to their plan.
The Malaysians thought that they would play a fast game and dislodge the Indians as they used to do earlier. But Satwik and Chirag held their guard and rattled them with a counterattack. They were well prepared for it. This was one part of the plan to counter the opposition when they were trying to force the play.
By doing so, they not only held forte but were also able to take the attack back and score the points. This was one thing that was very, very noticeable in their game. It is a very big advantage that they have achieved.
In the final, against the Koreans, it looked as if they were losing their concentration because they conceded a four-point lead at the beginning of the game. But when play at a certain level, and when you know have beaten them twice in the part, it gives you additional confidence. So, for Satwik and Chirag losing an early lead was not a problem. It's not the end of the world.
They held on to their game plan, and they were able to not only equal. But they ran through the game immediately after that. And in the second game, right from the beginning to the end, they were bossing it. That means they can play the type of game that would get them the results. If the opposition is trying to counter that or if the opposition is trying to do something different, these boys already have another plan in place. They are now ready to face whatever eventuality comes to them.
Historic significance of this gold
The gold medal-winning performance, along with the HS Prannoy's bronze medal-winning display, will be an eye-opener to Indian badminton lovers that such a feat is possible. And now on, we will have to plan our training strategies.
We will have to plan our training programs whereby we can increase the number of players and the quality of their game. Having just one world beater is not going to answer your prayers for the gold medals.
You have to have 23 world-class players in every event. And the way I look at it, the talent is there, they have only got to be modulated into a winning combination.
There are very good players individually. They have to be made into a fighting unit that can win. And that is what the coaches, the planners of badminton in India are supposed to do even in the singles.
Now there are very good singles players in Kiran Goerge, Mithun Manjunath, and Priyanshu Rajawat. They in a year or two will most certainly rise because the other players are also ageing.
So now we have to look at our younger brigade and make sure that they can step into the shoes of the already established senior players.
In the meantime, we have to make sure that we have adequate competent replacements in men's and women's doubles. Currently, we have very good players in both disciplines. We have to increase the number of pairings. Having good players who are not performing is not going to answer your call. You will have to have players of a very good level who are giving results. It will be only then we will be able to sustain the status of a powerhouse in badminton.
(As told to Sudipta Biswas)