Paris Olympics: India needs Pullela Gopichand, Prakash Padukone together in coach’s corner to win singles medals | Badminton News

It's time to call ‘time please’ on whatever are the underlying tensions between Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand, and blend their brains so a proper Team India goes to Paris

First, the dire alarmist scenario: There might be no Olympic medal in badminton from the Paris Games for India.

So the perennial gripe, intrigue, petty politics and tensions of which stake-holders get credit for a medal’s success might not play out amidst that no-medal silence; and absolutely no one will be happy with this scenario. Supporting NGOs, central funders in Delhi, parents, support staff and coaches – both childhood and elite – might have little to celebrate because the Paris badminton medals are very tough to nail down. It’s because everyone doesn’t always pull in the same direction.

Now, an unlikely but ideal scenario: the three big coaches Pullela Gopichand, Vimal Kumar and Prakash Padukone, pool in their brains to help HS Prannoy, Lakshya Sen and PV Sindhu give the medal a proper go.

The alarm is based on pure data and its projections – Indians haven’t exactly been on a title-spree in singles. Sen, Prannoy and Sindhu can all slay the big names but there is not even a whiff of consistency of making semifinals, which put them in the list of favourites for the podium.

Prakash Padukone and Lakshya Sen at the Tata Open India International challenge at CCI, Mumbai in 2017. Express Photo by Kevin D'Souza. Prakash Padukone and Lakshya Sen at the Tata Open India International challenge at CCI, Mumbai in 2017. Express Photo by Kevin D’Souza.

And despite their gold-level potential in doubles, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are up against a formidable fleet of Top-8 challengers, like Vinayakk Mohanarangan recently wrote here. The pressure will only increase as the Games approach. The last World Championships and a bunch of finals before the French Open win have shown other pairings can dissect the Indian challenge.

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Why then does it feel like an Olympics where India can mount a medal challenge in all these three categories? Because of the pedigree of the five players. And the brains of the super-coaches, guiding them.

But can a spot of dialectics (merging diametrically opposite ideas on a midpoint), a sprinkling of counter-intuitive thinking and a wild leap of faith actually give India multiple medals rather than the solitary eked out one from the last three editions? Because these shuttlers are generational talents, and because there are wise coaches, whose insights and exchange of ideas can maximise those potentials.

Pullela Gopichand with PV Sindhu at an event in Mumbai in 2016. Express Photo by Prashant Nadkar Pullela Gopichand with PV Sindhu at an event in Mumbai in 2016. Express Photo by Prashant Nadkar

In other words, can India’s coaching silos be broken down, and the BangaloreHyderabad rivalry take a temporary respite? And utter the uniquely Indian word, ‘tampliss’ (‘time please’) so that Prakash Padukone chips in with pithy advice for Prannoy and Satwik-Chirag, Pullela Gopichand tips off Sindhu and Sen on opponents’ weaknesses and handling big Games, and ‘India’s son-in-law’ Mathias Boe brings his insights on playing in Europe in August to aid all the five Indians, plus the women’s doubles.

There’s a bunch of ideas to ponder. Padukone can bring in a fresh perspective on how to break Prannoy’s stalemate and recurring issue of slow starts that are ultimately pushing him into punishing three-set deciders, not ideal for the 32-year-old. Gopichand and Guru Saidutt expertly broke down Viktor Axelsen for him at the World’s, but an outside-brain like Padukone’s can shake up a few tired-and-tested formulae.

Their equation seems like it may never be remedied wholly, though there’s zero rancour and things went swell at the Asian team gold event, but Gopichand can still plot superbly for Sindhu against the Fab Four of women’s singles – better than anyone. The Tai Tzu Ying quarters from the 2019 World Championships, the last time Sindhu beat her, is a tactical classic.

He doesn’t need to be courtside, though a Padukone-Gopichand combine, helping Sindhu to a medal would be stuff of dreams. Gopichand’s pointed inputs at just the right moment have brought India many medals. And An Se Young is really not looking like she can be broken without a wild spot of inspiration. Gopichand knows Sindhu, and reads her opponents even better. He can help, if only she would allow. His on-court pointers to close out matches have been legendary.

Badminton legend Pullela Gopichand giving tips to shuttlers like Sindhu, RMV Guru Sai Dutt, B Sai Praneeth in 2011. Express Photo Badminton legend Pullela Gopichand giving tips to shuttlers like Sindhu, RMV Guru Sai Dutt, B Sai Praneeth in 2011. Express Photo

For Sen, he could just be a useful out-of-the-box, outside brain, as he heads to his first Games. Like Padukone and Vimal could be for Prannoy.

Mathias Boe has been a rock for Satwik-Chirag, and deserves all the credit for bringing them to this level even at the outset. He’s an Olympic medallist himself, too, and took them to the Asiad gold.

Yet, the duo can benefit greatly from listening to the two All England legends who understand the storms that invariably gather for Indian athletes ahead of Olympics, and in how to win big in Europe. Boe, in turn, can offer his blunt assessments to both Sen and Prannoy on the challenge of going deep into an Olympic fortnight.

Every Indian shuttler headed to Olympics needs not only the soothing words of their mentors, but the eagle eye of a critic or nitpicker who can objectively analyse and point out if there’s scope for improvement. It’s not even about many cooks having a go at the broth, but just some garnish here, and some tempering there. The supportive teams can do with a dash of brutal honesty at this stage of preparation.

Boe, Padukone and Gopichand alongwith Vimal Kumar are all experienced professionals with fascinatingly incisive badminton brains and above petty upmanship now, having etched legacies that can’t be erased.

Politics, mistrust and routinely instigated foment can spice up rivalries alright. And the player-coach tensions might offer popcorn accompaniments to the uninvested gossipy swathes. But the Paris Games could do with some pan-India plotting against the Chinese, Japanese, Danes and Indonesians by a united badminton brain, if all learn to trust.

There’s three medals possible, but it could even be zero. So, nail down the medals first, we can devote reams to who gets credit later.

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