India's first-ever Thomas Cup medal is a gold.
India's first-ever Thomas Cup medal was ensured when India reached the semi-final with a gritty, come-from-behind win against Malaysia. The colour was yet to be determined. But this bunch of determined, 20-something-year olds already believed that this was their year.
India's path to becoming Thomas Cup champions was not going to be easy. In their first-ever final, they were up against the most successful team in the tournament's history. Indonesia had won every tie they had played in Bangkok so far - beating heavyweights like China and Japan.
In three-and-a-half magical hours in Bangkok on Sunday, India won their first-ever Thomas Cup, blanking Indonesia 3-0 in the final. Not a single match dropped. India were the winners of badminton's world team championship - the best men's team in the world.
How did it happen?
Lakshya Sen fought back from a crushing first-game deficit to outpace and outwit Anthony Ginting at his own game. He matched the insane speed of Ginting's attack with intense defence of his own. Recalibrating after losing three straight matches to higher ranked players earlier this week, he stayed calm and found his feet in the final. The 20-year-old won 8-21, 21-17, 21-16 and gave us one of the defining images of the final.
Indian badminton fans rn: pic.twitter.com/LFKyCnBO3a
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) May 15, 2022
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty faced four match points against two of the best doubles players in the world right now. Yes it was a scratch team, taking a player each from the world No 1 and world No 2 pair due to injuries. It was a team however, that is used to winning.
Satwik-Chirag had wasted five match points in the semi-final against Denmark. Two of them in the second, when silly errors extended the match. They did convert their sixth overall in the decider, but the extra minutes would have weighed on them. India had needed to clinch that doubles to stand a chance after all.
Yet, in the all-important final, against an improvised 'Daddy-Minion' pair, they didn't give an inch. A shot straight at the body, a quick smash dropping in no player's land, a sharp shot cutting through both players. A game point, converted to force a decider. A see-saw third game that witnessed their sheer willpower and self-belief triumphing the odds.
Two matches down, and the three youngsters had done their part - fought the odds; beaten the seasoned players.
Now, it was the turn of the veteran Kidambi Srikanth.
Former world No 1. Current world championship silver medallist. One of the best touch players in the world when his physical and mental games click together. One who had not lost a single match at this Thomas Cup. He was not about to let the final be his first.
Against a Jonatan Christie in good form, Srikanth didn't even need a third game as he expertly mixed his deft drop shots and jugular-killing jump smashes with cool composure to win 21-15, 23-21. The soft touch at the net and the tough kills from the forecourt almost symbolising the ebb and flow of his own career. Two games later, it was done.
As the team came rushing on to the court - for the third straight time this week as India clinched a first in badminton - the emotion was clear on everyone's face - in the dancing, the jersey ripping, the huddle and then when the national anthem played.
This was a massive, massive win. A win to remember for a long time in Indian sport. India has had a world champion and All England winners. But a team gold medal in badminton signifies the true strength and depth of the sport in India.