If there is one thing that Indian badminton doubles coach Mathias Boe should be given an award for really, it should be for maintaining a poker face, remaining calm and at all costs, not showing the nerves, facially speaking, during India’s Thomas Cup 2022 campaign.
“Believe me, even as a coach, I was trying to pretend that I was calm but inside I was running around in my body,” Denmark’s Mathias Boe, who trains India’s star doubles duo Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, animatedly mentions, recalling his potpourri of emotions from the slew of matches India contested en route to crowning themselves as the champions of the Thomas Cup.
Rehired only recently to add more spunk to the Indian doubles, Mathias Boe’s re-addition has already started reaping rewards as Satwik-Chirag ended up winning five out of the six matches they played at the Thomas Cup, enabling India’s dream to lift the Cup for the first time a surreal success tale.
So, has this former World No. 1 and Olympic silver medallist shuttler from Denmark finally been able to digest this win?
“No, not at all. The full implications of what we have achieved haven’t sunk in yet,” he tells The Bridge, sitting in his hotel room in Bangkok.
Full of nerves and packed with tremendous pressure, India’s Thomas Cup outing was by no means for the faint-hearted and Mathias Boe, for one, was victim to it.
“I think my pulse was 160 throughout the team’s matches and I’m not sure if that was healthy,” he chuckles and mentions.
Especially up against the half and half Minions and Daddies pair of Kevin Sukamuljo and Mohammad Ahsan, Boe could barely sit still on his courtside chair.
“They (Satwik-Chirag) were down and out in the first game and then Satwik-Chirag pulled off a miracle by coming back at 19-15 in the second!
Kevin is the best doubles player right now undoubtedly and to defeat him, finally, at this stage, is such a moment of delight. I’m extremely proud of the boys as they showed how they could cope with the pressure and I’m happy they could contribute to the historical win,” Boe mentions, still overjoyed by the magical run.
Celebration jumps and sweet acts of revenge
For the India Open champions, Satwik-Chirag, the Thomas Cup outing pitted them against fairly tough competitors and even though they always stepped up, it wasn’t without the show of nerves, taking matches into deciders that along with Boe’s heart, made a whole country palpitate.
“I was trying to show them that I am calm and confident so that they don’t get more nervous while looking at me not being able to sit still in the chair,” Boe mentions, an easy smile playing on his face.
“When I was playing too, I didn’t want the coach to show too many emotions, cheering is fine but not like rolling your eyes at a mistake or coaching too much, so I was trying to be brave too!”
And he did play his part to the tee because every time Satwik-Chirag looked at him after a point, he sat there Kabir Khan-like still from Chak De! India, with a similar look in his eyes, if we are to find a Bollywood-y parallel.
But it was enough to instil the World No. 8 pair with the surge and push them towards miracles.
“We danced a little, had the #TUC2022 prize ceremony, then we took a lot of pictures…and then some more pictures, then I went to press room and came back an hour later and guess what – they were still clicking pictures!”
– @mathiasboe realizing how picture-obsessed India is! 😆 pic.twitter.com/fDFSSvTvyK
— Sohinee Basu (@teeny_tiny_nee) May 16, 2022
The final was yet another dramatic showdown as Satwik-Chirag defeated the Indonesian pair for the first time and led India a step closer to the cup, as Chirag erupted on the court, leaping wildly, taking his shirt off, very Sourav Ganguly style, while Satwik rushed to bear hug him and Boe also leapt onto the court, unable to sit still anymore.
“If you ask Chirag now, I’m sure it’ll be a blur. I have done crazier things myself,” Boe reveals about the shirtless Shetty moment the 24-year-old Mumbai shuttler had.
“But I saw some still pictures of him jumping during the celebrations and I now wish he can jump as high as that when he is jump smashing,” Boe continues, ready with a creative plan.
“So when we go home we need to see how we can bring that celebration jump in his game also so he can jump even higher and smash even harder,” he laughs.
Up against Denmark though in the semi-finals, Boe had to battle personal emotions of another variety altogether as India was playing his teammates and friends for a place in their first-ever finals.
“I was totally loyal to India!,” Boe exclaims with a laugh, having been taunted as Judas by his fellow Danish players for coaching the Indian side during the tie.
“But, yes, it was a little bit weird to play against your own country. Not just that, they were playing against my teammates and friends. But we are used to this kind of leg-pulling.
“I’m happy I could smack down their Judas chants by winning the tie, that was some sweet revenge,” Boe proudly states, patting himself on the back for this glorious “act of betrayal”.
What’s next for the World Champions?
After having clicked a gazillion pictures that made Boe feel that his “face would fall off for one more selfie” and some raw fish-eating sojourns later to mark the victorious night, it will be back to work for this World Champion Indian team.
Boe’s mind has already raced ahead to the National camp in Hyderabad where he wants to implement quick and steady changes to help sharpen Satwik-Chirag for the future so that they can also be “just as good as the Minions, if not better”.
“It won’t be possible for them to play at this level if they don’t have good practice partners. In that way, India right now has a good army of doubles players with Krishna Prasad, Vishnuvardhan Goud, MR Arjun, Dhruv Kapila and even Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri there to give competition.
They all have a lot of respect for Satwik-Chirag, especially the young lot, but I tell them when we practice, we train to be the best and I need them to be hungry in every match, try and suck the blood out of Satwik-Chirag and learn from them, beat them at practice, then Satwik Chirag can also be sharper.
This atmosphere of competition needs to be created to raise the bar. This is something which we did in Denmark and it produced so many champions. I understand how it can be difficult given India’s cultural conditioning but I really want to implement this change during the National camp,” said Boe, revealing his intentions.
Not forgetting to marvel at India’s Uber Cup team that was led by 2-time Olympic medallist PV Sindhu, Boe mentions, “Although our win is overshadowing it, but the Uber Cup team also deserves the accolades. It was crazy how they qualified for the quarters without Saina, Sikki, Ashwini, Gayatri and other experienced players. It was impressive to see the young girls step up!
Moreover, their presence during the Thomas Cup matches meant so much. Their cheering and supporting really motivated us, they are equally a part of this victory,” Boe gratefully says.
But for now, the Danish coach, will simply concentrate on digesting the enormity of what has happened over the last week and gulp it down fast, so that the future can make this kind of historical moment a more regular affair.
Breathe in, Boe, breathe out.