'The new points system robs the game of its charm'

KALYAN ASHOK

THE importance of doubles in team events in badminton is immense. Take any competition like Thomas Cup, Uber Cup and Sudirman Cup, doubles plays a key role in shaping fortunes. Sudirman Cup, in particular, is exclusively a doubles event with three doubles ties - men's, women's and mixed matches - being the core component of a five-tie contest.

While the European and Asian powers in badminton have concentrated on grooming quality doubles pairs in their respective countries, in India, the attention is not all that focussed. Seven years ago, the Badminton Association of India had the National doubles under-22 championship, which was later abandoned and doubles events in most championships have remained mere side shows. Only players, who were unable to make a mark in singles, opted for doubles. But that notion is changing now and BAI also has seemed to realise the value of doubles players and it has at last woken up to the need for having an exclusive doubles camp as part of the preparations for the Commonwealth Games at Manchester. A month long camp was held in the Sports Authority of India (South) Centre in Kengeri, near Bangalore, thanks to the efforts of S. Mani, General Secretary of BAI, who used his clout with the Asian Badminton Confederation and the Malaysian Association to rope in the services of the former World doubles champion, Razif Sidek.

U. Vinod Kumar, a former international, who assisted Razif in the camp, rated it as the best doubles camp ever to be conducted in the country. "There were a lot of inputs regarding technique and strategies. Sidek taught the pairs how to think and play and I too picked up quite a few good points from him," said Vinod Kumar.

The 39-year-old Razif, with his outstanding credentials, was the right choice. He is second of the five Sidek siblings, who left an indelible mark on the Malaysian Badminton scene in the 1980s and early part of last decade. Along with his brother Jalani, Razif had fashioned some great triumphs in doubles, which included titles in the All-England Championship (1982), the bronze medal in the Barcelona Olympics (1992), gold in the Commonwealth Games (1982 and 1990) and silver in the World Championship (1987). Razif was the coach of the Malaysian National team from 1994 to 1996.

Razif felt that the camp at SAI was very fruitful and he urged the BAI to go in for more such camps. According to him, the Indians had the potential to become international class doubles players with the right training.

Excerpts from an interview to The Sportstar. Question: How did the camp go?

Answer: It was a well organised camp and I am very much impressed with the facilities that we had in SAI, which is a good sports centre. I thank the organisers, BAI, Mani and, of course, the players for making my stay a pleasant one. What gives more satisfaction to a coach is the response of the players at the camp. It was fantastic.

What was your first impression about Indian players?

To be honest, I was wondering how good they were. I was a bit sceptical. But they turned out to be pretty good. They are very talented, I must say, and with the right training and attitude the present crop of Indian doubles players will really come up in the international ranks.

Was the time frame of the camp sufficient for you and the players?

One month is a bit short and the camps have to be of longer duration. But in the available time, I packed in as much training as possible. I have given follow-up programme to the players and I hope they will work on it when I am not around.

Are there any shortcomings on the part of the Indian doubles pairs?

They are good stroke-wise and they have the right attitude. But they lack in speed, movement and top level fitness which are very essential while playing at international meets. They should work hard on those aspects.

Can you be more specific about the mode of your training?

I trained them the way we do in Malaysia. We worked on strategies, speed and physical conditioning. However, the intensity was less because of shortage of time. But, I am sure, the players can take the full load in camps of longer duration.

Which are the pairs that impressed you most during the camp?

I found V. Diju and Sanave Thomas pretty good and so were Jose George and Rupesh Kumar. Among the girls, Jwala and Shruthi Kurien were impressive. They should stick together as a team and train harder.

What sets apart doubles from singles?

In singles, you have adequate time to play your strokes, but in doubles one has to be doubly quick. There has to be perfect eye, arm and foot coordination and one has to anticipate and think quickly, too. Unlike in singles, where you are on your own, in doubles there has to be total coordination with your partner and each should have the knack to read the other's mind.

How do you train in Malaysia ?

The same way as the Chinese, Koreans and Indonesians do. We train continuously without much break. There are no separate camps for singles and doubles and all of us trained at the same camp.

One is fascinated by the success of the Sidek brothers. What is the secret behind it?

I guess it was because we were too many (laughs). I did play with others including Misbun, who opted to concentrate on singles and then teamed up with Jalani and we began winning big tournaments. Both of us worked hard and wins did not come our way easily. Basically we had an all-round game and our defence, in particular, was pretty strong.

What do you have to say on the current world doubles standard?

It is very good and you have a lot of pairs. Many have specialist doubles coaches, unlike it used to be in our times, when not too many pairs were around and we continued our reign on top for quite long.

Are you in favour of the continuation of the seven points system in the game?

Personally, I don't like it. It robs the game of its charm, it curbs strokeplay and one has to be quick and play with lot of guile and speed and what is worse, if you are up by four points, the game is as good as over. It may be good for the TV, but I wonder whether it is good for the game.

Would you like to come back here again?

Yes, definitely, yes. I loved being here and if the BAI calls me again, I will be back.