Kidambi Srikanth: If badminton gains from Thomas Cup as cricket did from 1983 win, that would be special
The Thomas Cup victory has capped a bit of a form patch for Srikanth that began when he won a silver at the 2021 World Championships and reached a couple of World Tour semifinals.
As of Thursday, memories of his jump smash past Jonatan Christie that sealed a historic win at the Thomas Cup will be three days in the rear-view mirror for Kidambi Srikanth. The beat of the international badminton calendar is unrelenting; he didn’t even have time to soak in the victory before he had to start preparing for the Thailand Open. Although a few of his teammates returned to India, Srikanth chose to stay in Thailand.
But while he’s away from the fanfare of home, he reckons that returning to the Impact Arena in Bangkok – the scene of one of his greatest accomplishments – will help him come to terms with his accomplishment. “I haven’t been to the stadium yet,” he told Sportstar a day after the victory. “Maybe once I go to the stadium (for the Thailand Open), I’ll understand the magnitude of what we have done,” he said.
Srikanth started his Thailand Open campaign with a win over Brice Leverdez and was four wins from another trophy, but he pulled out of his second round match against Ireland's Nhat Nguyen. Not that a title win here would have compared to the one he held aloft a few days ago. “It’s one of the biggest wins not just of my career but Indian badminton. It’s not a Super Series or a World Tour event. It’s a team event. We had so few and none in men’s,” he said.
There was also a difference in the mental approach to the tournament. There was the camaraderie of the team event which will now be replaced inevitably by certain selfishness of an individual event. “Before an individual match at a Super Series or World Tour event, you have to pump yourself up. In a team event, nine people will do it for you. So it’s different but it’s nice,” he said.
It’s building that support structure where nine teammates boosted the one on the court that Srikanth considers one of the sturdiest pillars of the Thomas Cup win.
“We were playing at the BAC (Badminton Asia Championships) when the team was announced. When I went back to Hyderabad, we just decided we needed to have team bonding. We needed to have team dinners not just in Thailand but in Hyderabad as well. And we needed to carry that forward to the tournament. Support each other. All of that showed on the court. Every time a player was on the court, the other nine were cheering and being so supportive. That support and help got the best out of everyone,” Srikanth said.
That team spirit was even more essential considering that the Indian team unlike the usual heavyweights of the Thomas Cup – Indonesia, Malaysia and China – never really prioritized the team event. While those sides lived together in camp and trained as a unit, the Indians just had a few days together. “We haven’t really had the time (to train together). We had 3-4 days to train. What we thought was important was to back each other. It was important to regularly talk to each other and have more team meetings. We needed to spend more time with each other and try and understand what everyone was going through,” he said.
That solidarity would be tested after the loss to Chinese Taipei in the group stages where Lakshya Sen and the two doubles pairs both crumbled to defeat. “We discussed what happened we said (to the players who lost) we believe in you. Everyone will go through lows in such a tournament. We let them know we would back them up. We needed them. The next day we supported them once again and cheered for them with all our heart,” he said.
It was an unusual experience, Srikanth admits – this group of 10 elite sportspersons having a heart to heart with each other. “It's not weird or strange, but it’s just different to experience it. But that’s how you have to be in team events. As long as you are a team, it will be difficult to break you. A single player can’t do much against Malaysia or China or Denmark. But as a team, you can win,” he said.
Now though, he will have to win as an individual. The Thomas Cup victory has capped a bit of a form patch for Srikanth that began when he won a silver at the 2021 World Championships and reached a couple of World Tour semifinals. That period had fortuitously followed an extended stretch of his professional career where he’d often appeared lost. With a gold safely tucked in his travel case now, Srikanth is hoping to build on his recent momentum. “I am slowly getting better. I wasn’t thinking so much about what others said (about his loss of form). It’s always about training and then being fit and playing tournaments. Now that I can do that, I really want to win more tournaments,” he said.
Even more, he’d like badminton in India to ride on the same favourable wind too. “This (Thomas Cup) is surely as big as a world cup for cricket. So to be a part of the team that won it is a great feeling. We know what 1983 did to cricket. If badminton also is changed the same way, that would be special,” he said.