Badminton: How India’s men are finally getting out of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu’s shadow

Indian men have won the last three major titles on the international circuit.

K Srikanth and B Sai Praneeth will face off in the quarterfinals of the Australia Superseries in Sydney on Friday.

In the past, an all-Indian encounter at this stage would have seen the fans rejoice as it would mean that India would guarantee one spot in the semifinals. Instead, the underlying feeling now is that such a clash so early in the competition is probably robbing India of another spot at the business end of a tournament.

The feeling of being short changed is understandable given the performance graph of India’s men’s shuttlers in the last 12 months.

Since the Rio Olympics, Indian men have won three Superseries titles and recorded two runners up finishes with at least one or two players consistently making it to the last eight stage. Add to that a sizeable number of Grand Prix level titles and runners up finishes and one can safely say that the days of Indian men primarily being looked as journeymen on the international circuit are long past.

It’s not to say that Indian men haven’t won titles in the past. Srikanth bagged two Superseries crowns back in 2015 while the likes of Aravind Bhat, P Kashyap, Ajay Jayaram and even Sameer Verma had Grand Prix gold titles to show for their effort in the past.

However, most of these podium finishes were looked at as one off triumphs and the consistency to challenge for the big titles was missing. But India has won the last two Superseries titles and had HS Prannoy converted a match point in the second game of the semifinal against Kazumasa Sakai, both would have seen an all-Indian summit clash.

So what exactly has changed for the men since PV Sindhu came back home with an Olympic silver from Rio?

It’s not like the men have found a magic potion that has helped them transform from being talented shuttlers into champions. Though Saina Nehwal and Sindhu would take the limelight with their performances and titles, the men had been showing the depth in numbers for the last few years with at least half a dozen breaking into the top-100 and at least a couple of them making it to the top-20 world ranking positions consistently.

HS Prannoy at the Indonesia Open. Image Credit: Badminton Photo
HS Prannoy at the Indonesia Open. Image Credit: Badminton Photo

Currently India has six shuttlers in the top-35 and will have four of them in the World Championship in August. And the competition is just getting intense among the Indian men with youngsters like Sameer Verma, Harsheel Dani, Lakshya Sen pushing the established stars for a place in the national team.

But what has really changed in the last two years thanks to the success of Nehwal and Sindhu is the hunger to win titles and not just be satisfied with rankings and team selections. This has meant that the players are prepared to take a break and train harder after returning from injury or even in case of slight niggles.

Sai Praneeth did not play a single tournament for almost seven weeks after suffering a shoulder injury just before the senior nationals in February and though it did take him time to hit the ground running on the international circuit, he was the first to credit his improved fitness levels for the Singapore Superseries title.

The other catalyst for the suddenly rising performance graph is the arrival of Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo and his assistant Hariawan at the start of 2017. The coach of former World and Olympic champion Taufiq Hidayat came in at a time when chief national coach Pullela Gopichand was struggling to do justice to the ever increasing demand on his time and body with the expanding group of performers.

Coach Mulyo Handoyo with Srikanth. Image Credit: Badminton Photo
Coach Mulyo Handoyo with Srikanth. Image Credit: Badminton Photo

“We had Indonesian coach Mulyo along with Hariawan. Also the likes of Siddharth Jain and Amrish Shinde have been spending more time at the camps and that has ensured that all the top players are getting more attention,” Gopichand says explaining the changing system at the camp.

While Gopichand now concentrates on the bigger picture and works with individual players depending on their needs, Mulyo takes care of the overall planning and sessions. The Indonesian has tweaked the training program quite a bit with sessions getting longer with a focus on playing long matches.

However, it wasn’t as smooth as it looks now. There were players, including Prannoy, who felt that the system was not working for them and the coaching staff had to make changes to suit individual players need.

“Mulyo is very open to changes despite being such a successful coach,” says Gopichand, adding the partnership is still evolving and should lead to a lot of success in the future.

All we can say is that the shuttle has taken flight but whether it regularly ends up on the podium or not will depend on how focussed the players can remain.

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.