In June 2020, H.S. Prannoy, one of the heroes of India’s historic Thomas Cup win, was fuming over his name being ignored by the Badminton Association of India (BAI) for the Arjuna Award. He had tweeted (deleted later), “Same old story. Guy who has medals in CWG and Asian Championships not even recommended by the association. And guy who was not there on any of these major events recommended. #waah #thiscountryisajoke,”
H.S. Prannoy who was then issued a show-cause by the BAI, on Monday, expresses his gratitude to the federation for selecting his name in the Thomas Cup. The man with multiple reputations is cherishing the performance he was able to deliver under pressure and prove his mettle again in front of a packed crowd at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand. “I am thankful to the selectors and coach for considering my name in the Thomas Cup team. I have totally been able to justify my selection by being a part of this historic win,” says Prannoy in an exclusive interview with The Bridge.
Prannoy’s name was added as the only exception in the team, where otherwise, players who ranked between 1 to 15 in the world had made it through direct selection. The World no. 23 was added to the team through a unanimous decision of the selectors. He was considered only because of his consistent performances in recent times where he went on to beat some of the top shuttlers in the world.
The Indian men’s badminton team wins Thomas Cup 2022 (Source: Badminton Photo)
Between November 2021 and March 2022, Prannoy made some big strides by defeating World no. 1 Viktor Axelsen in the 2021 Indonesia Masters; World no. 12 NG Ka Long Angus in the 2021 World Championships and 2022 German Open; World no. 13 Rasmus Gemke in 2021 World Championships, and finally the World no. 5 Anthony Ginting in the semi-finals of the 2022 Swiss Open. The Swiss Open runner-up was on a comeback spree that could hardly be overlooked by the selectors.
In fact, through the course of his entire professional career, Prannoy has earned the reputation of being a giant-slayer, humbling the best players in the world. He holds a 2-1 record against two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan and has forged victories over Olympic champions Chen Long, Taufik Hidayat, and three-time Olympic silver medalist Lee Chong Wei. The 29-year-old recalls those wins and shares that lifting the Thomas Cup was even more emotional for him. “Winning the Thomas Cup for your country was a more valuable addition to the emotional quotient. We play mostly as individuals but winning the Thomas Cup for the country, particularly for the first time is too big an achievement. Compared to individual tournaments, you tend to push yourself more when it is a matter of the country’s pride,” explains Prannoy.
Prannoy was not required to take the court in the final of the Thomas Cup against Indonesia where Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikanth, and men’s doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty had already sealed the title. But the shuttler had played a crucial part in India’s qualification to the final, coming to the fore when the team needed a win the most. In the quarter-finals, Prannoy had a dominating win over Malaysia’s Leong Jun Hao. He was, however, up for a stern test in the semi-finals where he faced off Gemke again in a do-or-die situation.
Prannoy went on to battle an injury on his right ankle during the thrilling decider. He saw his knee slide and jam into the court during the first game of the final match of the semi-final tie against World No. 13. He showcased plenty of grit and determination and came back from behind to beat the Danish shuttler 13-21, 21-9, 21-12. It helped India win the tie 3-2 and reach their first-ever final in the history of the Thomas Cup team tournament.
“The court condition was quite difficult in Bangkok where quite a few shuttlers had slipped. I fell down and my ankle started to pain. Losing the first game was too taxing for me. But as I slowly settled inside the court from the second game and won a few points, I forgot the pain and got the motivation to pull this off. For me, it became more of a mental game, where I had to emerge as the winner,” recalls Prannoy.
When asked about the pressure he faced during the quarters and semis as the fate of the team’s progress boiled down to his performance, Prannoy responded, ” The pressure was too much for me because the start for me was bad in the semis, but luckily I could get things to work from my side. The fact that we haven’t won a medal in the Thomas Cup before, kept ringing inside my head. Probably that is why I could bring out my best performance,” concludes Prannoy.
While the mood in the camp was jubilant after the first-ever win in Thomas Cup, the veteran shared a photo of himself with the gold medal on his Twitter handle saying he had a hard time sleep as India became the World Champions.
Just a couple of days of celebrations, and Prannoy will be back in the courts of Thailand again to play the Thailand Open. He will begin his campaign in the tournament against Malaysia’s Liew Daren on Wednesday. Prannoy, who is now a toast of the nation, will be looking forward to keeping his form intact, and maybe, his dreams of winning an Arjuna Award will not be that far from getting realised.