Before Thomas Cup magic, 10 Indians became one in Prannoy's WhatsApp group 'It's coming home'

HS Prannoy created a WhatsApp group — "It’s coming home. "The group had exactly 10 participants – every playing member of the team that would travel to Bangkok for the Thomas Cup.

HS Prannoy with the Thomas Cup trophy

Many weeks before they would finally hold the glinting sterling silver Thomas Cup aloft; at a time when the notion that India would win the ultimate team title in badminton was nearly unthinkable, H.S. Prannoy decided to make a physical manifestation of a dream.

So, shortly after the Indian team was named for the tournament, Prannoy created a WhatsApp group — "It’s coming home. "The group had exactly 10 participants – every playing member of the team that would travel to Bangkok.

The phrase had become a bit of a meme about the England football team's chances at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. What had started as an in-joke, nearly willed itself into reality as England made its way to the semis. Prannoy, however, was adamant that the Indian side would go all the way in Bangkok.

Not everyone was convinced.

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READ | Poor and happy Mathias Boe's love, hate, scars packed in India's Thomas Cup title 

“Everyone was laughing about it on the first day,” admits Prannoy, who at 29 is the oldest member of the group.

“But I told them see, you need to write the exact thing that you actually need. I guess I was right,” he grins. “Even before we won it, we had to believe."

Throughout the tournament, "It's coming home" stayed exclusive to the 10 players of the national team. “There was another group which had the coaches and support staff and we would post training timings and other news about the tournament. But our other group was just for the boys. And the only thing in it was about motivating each other,” he says.

That most exclusive of groups was just one of the ways the team bonded and became a tight-knit unit, there for each other whatever the circumstance.

 

“It was a conscious effort that we had to be as one. Not just in team meetings, but at all times,” says Prannoy. That would mean being there for each other’s matches too. “That’s one of the things we decided. That after a player finished a match, we’d have to come back and cheer for the rest of the team,” says Prannoy.

One exception was made for players playing the fourth (doubles) or fifth matches.  “It’s always a bit taxing because you are in a very confused state. You want to support the team in all the matches, but at the same time it's very tiring to stay courtside until your match comes,” he says.

Prannoy and the second doubles team discarded even that exception in the knockout stages.

READ | How Satwik and Chirag won from multiple match points down

“We were too excited to not be there to support the team. I was staying with the team and making all that noise before my matches,” says Prannoy.

While he knew there was purpose to being that extra cheering voice and supportive face, Prannoy had to find balance with his own demands as an athlete.

“In the final I was doing the cheering from the sides, but also resting whenever I could. Whenever I felt there was a slow phase in the match, I’d go and take a 15-minute break,” he says.

That compromise was maintained in the final as well.

“I was taking a quick nap during matches. After Chirag and Satwik won the second game, I quickly set a 15-minute timer to nap. And I timed it for 15 minutes because I knew that after that the game would be about to end and I wanted to be there for Chirag and Satwik at that time,” he says.

It’s a terrible way to prepare for a high-pressure match, but that's what Prannoy chose. After last match heroics in the quarterfinal and semifinal, he’s more than relieved he wasn’t needed against Indonesia in the final.

“It’s not the best way to get ready because you might have to wait five hours before your match and lose your energy when you are so emotionally involved. I’m just happy these guys finished it off yesterday in time with 3-0. That was lucky for me,” he says.

READ | One for the team, from Lakshya Sen

A day after the end of the tournament, the players have started going their separate ways – home for some and competition for others. On Tuesday, the team will be back playing individual matches at the Thailand Open. But Prannoy knows the Thomas Cup is something that will always bond them.

“It took 73 years for an Indian group to win this tournament. Who knows, the next time a group has a similar experience! This is a very unique bond that we guys share,” he says.

That bond will remain, feels Prannoy even as the other physical reminders start to fray. Take for instance the WhatsApp group he created. Already Prannoy notes, the messages on the group are getting more infrequent. But “It’s coming home” isn’t going to be shut down just yet.

“All of us have promised we’ll have one more get-together in India when we all are back home. We have something planned out for just the 10 of us. So, it’s going to stay open for at least a few more weeks.”