These are times when the Indian sporting scene is being seen in a better light. Hopes and aspirations have risen, and matching them have been the performances here and there in the sporting arenas. Be it shooting, athletics, chess, squash and yes, football to name a few, there seems to be a new urge for excellence that augurs well for the future. The junior shooters’ overall performance of topping the medals tally in the ISSF junior world cup held in Germany evoked praise from Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi himself, and surely these young talents are sure to carve a niche for themselves as the seasons go by. India’s chess grandmaster collection continues to grow, with Aditya Samant of Maharashtra becoming India’s 83rd to earn that honour.
Take squash, which has been proving a medal-winning sport for India at the international level, had one more happy tiding to show, the winning of the Asian Mixed doubles event, something that is to be newly introduced at the Hangzhou Asian Games happening in a little over a month’s time. Dipika Pallikal Karthik and Harinder Pal Sandhu formed the winning pair, and they stand a good chance to give the country an additional medal in the sport in the Games. As for football, a sport that is finally showing some signs of waking up, the recent performances can be considered heart-warming. Three titles _the tri-nation, Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF championship_ at a quick pace needs to be commended, but as the road ahead is still very long, Sunil Chettri and his colleagues have given enough reasons for the fans to express optimism with the country now back in top 100 in the FIFA rankings.
Above all this, what has added sparkle to the setting it can be said is the happenings in badminton. True, the struggle that the queen of Indian badminton P V Sindhu is undergoing to get back to her wonted form is disturbing, but hopefully this highly rated player will get her act together sooner than later. But what has been an eye-opener is the way the doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy has risen to the world doubles number two rankings with some spectacular performances down the way. Though they had been throwing in flashes of brilliance in tournaments around, what brought the duo truly into the limelight was the historic gold medal triumph in the Badminton Asia Championship held in Dubai in April. They thus happened to be the first Indian doubles pair to win the title, and this also was India’s second gold medal in the Championship, the first coming way back in 1965 courtesy of Dinesh Khanna in the singles event.
Having won the Commonwealth Games gold medal earlier in 2022 and also being part of the winning Thomas Cup squad, Satwik and Chirag had dug in well as the premier badminton pair in the country, something India had not been strong till then. But it still required results of the highest quality to catapult them to fame, and that is what the prized duo are experiencing after the latest success in the Korea Open a few days ago. The remarkable aspect of that success was their win over the world number one Indonesian pair of Fajar Alfian and Muhamad Rian Ardianto in a thrilling final where the Indians came back from a game down to check the challenge of the famed rival. This win was also the Indian pair’s second successive win over the Indonesian duo in a month’s time, the earlier coming in the Indonesian Open.
All these happy tidings could not have come at a better time, with the Asian Games just over a month away and Indian hopes rising higher. Yet for all this, a pair like Satwik and Chirag would never have been there but for the thinking of the experienced Malaysian coach Tan Kim Her serving Indian badminton. Pairing two players of a similar kind and build can, it is said, prove counterproductive, but the two six-footers, Satwik and Chirag, showed they can blend into a deadly force. Both these players are known for their power-packed smashes and aggression. In fact, just a few days ago, Satwik set a Guinness World record for the fastest badminton smash, blasting the shuttle at 586 kmph! So much then for their power. What still perhaps clinched for the Malaysian coach to bring the two together in 2016 was their presence on the court. Two formidable players as opponents can be unsettling for any pair across the court, and that is what the Indians now seem to be thriving on with their repeated wins, be it the Swiss Open, Indonesian Open and now the Korea Open.
And yet a pair like them would never have been a reality! Chirag was enjoying himself as a singles player, and Satwik was well entrenched with his childhood friend Krishna Prasad. Indeed, Chirag’s play-suited doubles event was something his initial coach Uday Pawar had advised much earlier. As events and his talent flowered, Chirag’s future unfolded spectacularly with the coming of Satwik as a partner. Both the players when they shifted to Gopichand’s academy in Hyderabad, the new chapter of wonders began, so to say. After the wondrous run thus far, the most recent quarterfinal exit in the Japan Open was a touch setback, but there are still opportunities ahead for the now famed Indian pair to realise the ultimate dream, a World Number One ranking!