The inspiration for India's recent successes

If individuals can take credit for India’s recent successes in chess and badminton, it will have to be Viswanathan Anand, Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand.

Star show: chess Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand with former badminton stars Morten Frost and Prakash Padukone. Players like Anand and Prakash were pioneers in their sport and put India truly on the world map.   -  SUDHAKARA JAIN

Few sports have actually been ‘invented’ in the sense that the telephone or the electric bulb was. Most existed in some form long before the rules were formalised. One exception is basketball which was invented by a clergyman in 1891. Perhaps rugby too, when a student, bored with football picked up the ball and ran with it. This was in 1823 at the Rugby School in England.

The clergyman was James A. Naismith, a Canadian by birth; the student who ran with the football was William Webb Ellis.

Kicking a stone or small rock is a natural human response — from there to the World Cup football is not too great a leap of the imagination. Likewise with hitting a ball with the palm of the hand, perhaps against a wall or over it — the ‘mother’ sport, as it were, of tennis, badminton, squash and their variants. Origins are usually shrouded in mystery. Standardisation of rules mostly happened in the 19th century, usually in Britain which both adapted sports from elsewhere and spread them to their colonies.

Let’s look at three sports ‘invented’ (or developed) in India. Chess, badminton, snooker.Chess evolved from ‘chaturanga’, an ancient game already popular at the time of the Gupta rulers. Badminton, originally called ‘Poona’, was invented in that city before it travelled to Badminton House, the Duke of Beaufort’s residence in Gloucestershire, which gave the sport the name by which we now know it. Snooker, developed by a British army officer in India can trace its origins to Ooty and Jabalpur, where he was stationed.

Is it a coincidence that many of our world champions have come from these sports? When Viswanathan Anand was first crowned world champion, many celebrated the appropriateness of the title coming to the land where the sport began. Om Agarwal and Pankaj Advani have won the amateur world championships in snooker. Billiards, an older sport, was not invented in India, but gave us many world champions.

Ever since Prakash Padukone put India on the badminton map by winning the All-England title in 1980, India has had talented individual players, but seldom a team that could be put together to win the Thomas Cup, the world team championship for men.

Till now.

India has a strong presence, and the team to beat at the Olympics, world championships and the Thomas and Uber Cups. It has taken a generation from the time Pullela Gopichand won the All-England in 2001 for this to happen consistently. And Gopichand’s role as coach and head of the academy he runs in Hyderabad has been crucial.

In fact, if individuals can take credit for India’s recent successes in chess and badminton, it will have to be Anand, Prakash and Gopichand. The first two inspired by being the pioneers and excellent teachers who were accessible. Anand was India’s first Grandmaster; we now have 67. You can trace a direct line from Prakash to Lakshya Sen, 21.

What next? Other ‘Indian’ sports like polo and archery to the fore?

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