India is a great nation with a great history. A history of struggle, pride, valour, courage and unbelievable devotion to the country. Our first and my favourite story of an Indian Revolution is the “Revolt of 1857″. The Britishers came to India as the East India company in 1612 and slowly and steadily colonised the whole of India. In the March of 1857 one man named Mangal Pandey decided that he had enough of the Britishers and started a revolution that almost shook the Britishers to the core. The rebellion led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858. It also led the British to reorganise the army, the financial system and the administration in India.
The word revolution literally means ” a forcible overthrow of social order”. A revolution is started by an act of one person and has a rippling effect on hundreds of people which leads to creating history and changing the social order for good. One of the most recent revolutions in the country was started by one woman who changed the history of a game forever and made India a force to reckon with. She challenged the social order of the Badminton world. That woman was Saina Nehwal. For me the great Indian revolution of today is that which is happening in the world of Badminton.
A revolution isn’t really the product of one day. It takes years and years of work, a vision and an undying will to change things. In my opinion following are certain major factors that led to the Indian Badminton Revolution.
PARENTS AND COACHES
All the top players today come from very middle-class and non-athlete backgrounds. Before I mention any of other factors it is crucial that I mention the parents and the coaches that were present way before the professional academies. It takes guts to choose sports as a career in a country like India. The country that is crazy about cricket and does not exactly have a sports culture. Badminton is a very tough sport. The rackets,the shuttles, the travel and the coaching is all very expensive. Most of the parents whose kids are stars today had to take loans, work double shifts, or sometimes leave their jobs to invest full time in their kids careers. The first step of any revolution is the foundation stone and for Badminton it is the parents and the coaches. Coaches like Tom John in Bangalore, Arif Sir and Govardhan Sir in Hyderabad, Santosh Kshatriya in Mumbai, Vasant Gore and Hemant Hardikar in Pune, and so many more unsung heroes that are still coaching and training players all over the country. They just can’t be forgotten.
PRAKASH PADUKONE ACADEMY
Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, was launched on October 1st, 1994. Located in Bangalore, the Academy is the brainchild of Mr. Prakash Padukone, Mr. Vimal Kumar and Mr. Vivek Kumar all stalwarts of Indian Badminton. Prakash Padukone is a living legend. Vimal Kumar is himself an Olympian and also currently the coach of Saina Nehwal. Nobody who knows Indian Badminton can deny the contribution of this academy in the making of todays Badminton scene. Everyone from Pullela Gopichand to Aparna Popat to todays junior champion is a product or has trained in this academy. I too was a trainee of this academy first in Pune and then I moved to Bangalore. The great thing about this academy is that you can only be satisfied if you become a World Champion. We always had Prakash Sir around who had set the bar so high, that a good performance in a national event was only considered a beginning and not the end. The academy’s contribution to the game is beyond words. It was and will always be the first and one of the best IIM’s of the Badminton world. It laid the foundation of International Badminton in India with a vision of making World Champions and not just National champions.
PULLELA GOPICHAND ACADEMY
Gopichand Academy was started in Hyderabad by Pullela Gopichand who won the All England in 2001. His dedication and devotion to the sport both as a player and a coach is truly commendable. Though I never trained under him I had some great opportunities to train with him for short stints as a member of the Indian team. We would have our camps in his academy. Gopichand would be on the court from 4 am in the morning till about 6 in the evening. His work ethic is second to none of the best coaches in the world. Saina Nehwal is a product of his academy. To his credit he didn’t just stop and rest on Saina’s success. He wanted to raise an army of players and he did. Today after Saina, we have Sindhu at 13 in the world rankings. In the Mens singles we have Srikanth Kidambi at 5 and Parupalli Kashyap, H.S.Prannoy, Sai Praneeth all of them in the top 50 of the world. All of these players are a product of his academy.
The foundation of greatness was led by Nandu Natekar, Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand. For me personally though, Saina did start the Badminton revolution in this country. I was her room-mate and the part of the cheering squad when Saina won her first Grand Prix title in Philippines. She won the tournament being unseeded and beating the world no 2 at that time. That match changed everything not only for her but all the players watching her in India. She was fearless, ruthless, brave and just so strong in that final. We all knew we were witnessing something historic and were privileged to be a part of it. For a very brief period in the juniors and the early years in the seniors, Saina and I played some great finals in the national tournaments. We were always shuffling between being 1 and 2. Though I could match her national record of being national champion in all the categories in the circuit I could hardly come close to her International achievements. Saying this I had the privilege of watching her train and play some incredible matches and win them.
Saina changed the face of Indian Badminton for various reasons. She showed us that beating the Chinese doesn’t have to be a one-off thing. You could be world number 1 training in your own backyard. You didn’t need a Chinese coach or need to use the infrastructure available in Malaysia. You could train in India and achieve your dreams. She showed us that there was no excuse good enough to not be the best player in the world. Her commitment, her hunger, her consistency and her pure passion for success truly had a great effect on our entire generation. I myself saw a change in my performance and was able to play two Grand Prix finals and reach no 27 in the world in the year 2008. Great things always have a rippling effect on everybody around them. It was just very difficult to not be inspired.
JWALA GUTTA AND ASHWINI PONNAPPA
It would be unfair to talk about the Badminton revolution without mentioning this great pair. They showed India that India could do well in doubles too. The pair has some amazing results and some great “First Ever” achievements to their credit. As a pair they have a World Championship bronze medal and multiple Commonwealth medals to their credit. Ashwini has one of the hardest smashes in the whole of the International women circuit. On a good day they could easily be one of the best doubles pair in the world. They are our best chance to an Olympic medal in doubles.
THE CURRENT INDIAN TEAM
Today Indian Badminton is at its best shape ever. Almost every week there is some news about a great victory or an Indian reaching the finals of a Super Series event. Ajay Jayaram who trains under Tom John played a Super Series final recently in Korea. He followed it up with a win in the Dutch Open Grand Prix. Parupalli Kashyap is a multiple Commonwealth medalist and also had great showings in the Olympics and the World Championships with quarterfinal finishes. Srikanth Kidambi’s China Open win this year beating the legend Lin Dan in the final was epic. H.S.Prannoy has had some great wins lately beating Lin Dan in the recently concluded French Open. P.V.Sindhu already has two World Championships medals and her recent form in the Denmark Open only raised my hopes of us certainly winning not just one but two medals in the next Olympics, in the women’s singles. Manu Atri and Sumeeth Reddy have featured in a couple of Grand Prix finals and won some International challenger events. All of them feature in the top 30 bracket in the world rankings. Every player mentioned here has the potential of being a World Champion and the cherry on the top is most of them are young and have a good five to ten years to go.
Yes! The great Indian revolution of today is Badminton. This army of warriors is already taking on the world. The recent news headlines are filled with stories that disappoint and scare us. Every country needs heroes and something positive to hold on to. That hero today is the game I had the privilege to play. That hero is Badminton. The great Indian Badminton revolution is here. Be a part of it, witness it, acknowledge it and be inspired.