After the storm

All’s well… Hyderabad Hotshots’ star players Saina Nehwal and Taufik Hidayat during the semi-finals of the Indian Badminton League in Hyderabad. “Taufik has been a terrific influence on all of us,” says Saina.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Hotshots owner Potluri V. Prasad’s deft handling saw Taufik Hidayat and Saina Nehwal come together to thrash out what at one time was a raging controversy. V. V. Subrahmanyam reports.

It was a spectacle any badminton buff would love to retain in his memory for a long time: two of the finest players of the game, former World and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia and India’s top star Saina Nehwal, coming together to share a few thoughts during the inaugural Indian Badminton League.

In a way, it was the deft handling by the Hyderabad Hotshots owner, Potluri V. Prasad, that saw the star players coming together to thrash out what at one time was a raging controversy. Taufik’s reported comments, that the international players were bought for lesser amounts compared with the Indians and the response from the normally unflappable Saina — that Taufik should realise he is a retired player and cannot expect the same as what active players get at the auction — were shocking. And joining in the issue was Jwala Gutta, who tweeted that Saina should know how to respect senior players.

Against this backdrop, a visibly cool Taufik and Saina attempted to clear the air even as serious efforts were being made to make the inaugural IBL as popular as possible.

Typical of her nature, Saina said that her career is representative of her nature. “I always respected any player and it was never my nature to criticise anyone. That is why, perhaps, I have won so many events,” she remarked.

“Taufik is a fantastic player and more than that we are all enjoying his tips as the coach (the Indonesian played just one game in the IBL). It is always so important when someone like him passes on important inputs during a crucial contest, when we will not be focussing on possible weaknesses in the opponent’s game. He has been a terrific influence on all of us,” Saina explained.

To the surprise of his critics, even Taufik made it clear that he was never unhappy. If that was the case, the Indonesian added, he would not have been in India.

Taufik even clarified that if the Hotshots owner wanted him, he would love to be back in the IBL next year.

Interestingly, Taufik, who had retired from the international circuit after the 2013 Indonesian Open, where he had suffered a shock defeat at the hands of India’s emerging player Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth, is also donning the role of the coach and there is no doubt that Hotshots enjoyed this to a great extent.

“For the first time in my career, I am donning this role. It is a great feeling and I am enjoying my time helping them (Hotshots players),” said Taufik.

The Indonesian even spoke on the Chinese domination, or rather its receding supremacy of late, especially in women’s singles. “I hope the new generation of players like Ratchanok Intanon (the newly-crowned world champion from Thailand) and P. V. Sindhu will be a force to reckon with against the Chinese players.

“There are many good players around these days to ensure this,” he said.

However, Saina intervened to remind people that China always has the ability to come back really strong. “Just remember that in India we have only one academy like the Gopi Chand Academy, whereas in China there are hundreds of such set-ups. Good that we are able to challenge them, but again it will be a daunting task by any means,” she said.

As for the IBL, both Saina and Taufik were of the view that it should do a world of good for any player, be it a foreigner or an Indian. “Just imagine the kind of impact it would have on a young player who trains under the watchful guidance of someone like Taufik. This kind of experience would not have been possible but for the IBL,” Saina said.

“It is good that some of the lesser-known players who otherwise would have been out of the limelight are also getting paid. After all, they deserve to be taken care of while they are chasing big dreams,” the London Olympics bronze medal winner said in response to a query.

“Honestly, I never thought that the IBL will be such a big hit in its very first edition itself. It should be a bigger feeling to win this than many of the Super Series events. The intensity of the matches and the very high standard of games are proof of this. There are areas that need to be worked out, like the schedule and the travel. But again, these things can always be sorted out in the coming editions,” Saina said.

“IBL has come to stay and will only grow bigger and bigger,” were Saina’s parting comments.