For the first time in over two years, the Indian men had something exciting to offer from the world of badminton.
At the end of a low-key year during which P.V. Sindhu added an Olympic bronze from Tokyo but lost her world crown, the performance of K. Srikanth, Lakshya Sen, and H. S. Prannoy in the World championship in Huelva, Spain, comes as a breeze of fresh air.
Without raising any expectations of a badminton-loving nation, the trio reached the quarterfinals and returned with two medals. Srikanth became the first Indian male finalist at the premier competition, while Lakshya became the youngest Indian to receive a world bronze.
List of Indian medallists at badminton world championships
Before looking at the latest gains, it is pertinent to remember that the failed crop of juniors for over a decade has invariably exposed the empty talent cupboard of India in men’s and women’s singles.
After Sindhu’s emergence almost 10 years ago, no serious talent has come out of India in the women’s section. Even among men, barring Lakshya, there is no one who promises much. Worse, the drought is likely to continue for a long time.
Coming back to the Indian men’s performances in the World championships, there was hardly any expectation from Srikanth, Prannoy, and Lakshya, ranked 14th, 16th, and 19th in the world.
As it turned out, the steady tumble of higher seeds left an unseeded 24-year-old from Singapore, Loh Kean Yew, and 12th seed Srikanth fighting for glory.
Though Srikanth lost 21-15, 22-20, he had reasons to believe he could have created more chances to win. After all, he led 9-3 and 11-7 in the first and 9-6 in the second where he also saved two match-points.
However, when it came to the big points, Loh Kean Yew was far more consistent.
If we were to look at this performance in the context of where Indian badminton finds itself at the end of 2021, it could not have come at a better time.
Statistics apart, this performance means the world to Srikanth at this stage of his career. Without a title since 2017, soon-to-be-29
Srikanth has been an unhappy man dealing with a lack of form and persistent injuries. The pain of missing an Olympic berth pulled him down further.
READ: Lakshya: Not happy with world championships bronze, but it’s stepping stone for future
Ever since the Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo returned home prematurely, ending his contract in late 2017, Srikanth felt the void more than any other player. Having won four titles that year, Srikanth was clearly on a high and went on to hold the World No. 1 spot briefly in 2018.
Though a part of these four years was lost to the absence of competition due to Covid, the elite Indian players, including Sindhu and Srikanth, are still searching and struggling to regain their best form. Even today, Srikanth remains far from displaying his dominating, attacking play.
Now, armed with the confidence of being the World Championship silver medallist, Srikanth can also draw heart from the fact that Mulyo is set to return to India. Therefore, this could well be a second lease of life to Srikanth’s career in the new year.
One for the future: Lakshya Sen lost to countryman K. Srikanth in the semifinals, but the youngster defied expectations at the BWF World Championships in Huelva. – AFP
Lakshya, who led Srikanth in the deciding game of their semifinal clash, promises to serve India well in this decade. This 20-year-old has the game to win on the international circuit but still has a long way to go. Consistency and the right temperament follow with time, but he needs to work harder to stay injury-free.
Prannoy, 29, the one who has beaten some of the better players in the world, is another player yet to realise his full potential.
From being a World junior semifinalist, along with B. Sai Praneeth, over a decade ago, an inconsistent Prannoy needs to string together performances over a week to be among the winners on the circuit.
Srikanth: World Championship silver medal culmination of years of hard work
Meanwhile, Praneeth is eager to prove himself all over again after the disappointing show in Tokyo Olympics, where he participated despite nursing an injury, and the World championship.
Considering 2022 will also be the year of the Commonwealth Games, followed by the Asian Games, Srikanth and this determined bunch could well turn the clock back.