India is brimming with confidence and will once again try to lift their weight when they face 14-time winner Indonesia in the Thomas Cup final on Sunday, in a bid to make history one more time. Given their formidable record, defending champions Indonesia was the team to beat in the competition, but the Indian men’s team has shown its mettle by taking down mighty Malaysia and Denmark to make its first-ever final at the prestigious tournament.
It was a historic moment for the unheralded Indian team as despite the odds, they never lacked confidence and showed exemplary mental strength to recover twice from initial reversals to beat their opponents.
If India goes into the final, it will try to prove that it has the means to pull the carpets from under the feet of their alleged rivals.
While Indonesia is ruthless with an unbeaten record, India has lost only one match so far – against Chinese Taipei in the group stage – in the competition.
When Indonesia defeated China and Japan in the knockout stage, India overtook five-time former champions Malaysia and 2016 winner Denmark.
The Indian men’s badminton banners – Kidambi Srikanth and HS Prannoy – have taken responsibility with an invincible record of five wins, while the best doubles doubles Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty in the country raised their hands when the chips ran out .
The young combination of Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala proved to be a weak link, but they showed themselves well during their losses against Malaysia and Denmark.
The Indian think tank is likely to bring back MR Arjun and Dhruv Kapila as the second doubles pair for the final.
The duo has played two round robin matches with one win and one loss.
World No. 9 Lakshya Sen, who suffered food poisoning at the start of the tournament, played well in patches but was unable to give a positive start to the last two matches.
On Sunday, Sen is likely to take on world No. 4 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, and the Indian will draw inspiration from his latest appearance against the Indonesian, who he easily broke apart in straight matches at the German Open in March.
Srikanth is expected to face the world’s No. 8 Jonatan Christie, who was in glowing form with title wins at the Swiss Open and finished second at Korea Open and Badminton Asia Championships.
The Indian has a 4-5 record against Christie, but he comes into the game after losing in two equal matches against the Indonesian this year and would like to set the record this time.
If the match fails, Prannoy, who had suffered pain after spraining his ankle to take the team home, will be called up again and will likely cross swords with the world’s number 24, Shesar Hiren Rhustavito.
Prannoy, currently 23rd in the world rankings, has a 2-0 record against the Indonesian, but has not played the youngster in the last five years.
“We have a fairly balanced team, the doubles contribute a lot. All the players played exceptionally well and took matches from close situations. So I think we have a 50-50 chance against Indonesia,” former India coach Vimal Kumar, who is with the team, told PTI.
“The playing conditions are very different here, there is a lot of drift in the room, so players who adapt well have a better chance of success. That is the message.”
“Also, there is extra pressure on Indonesia, which is an advantage for us because we have nothing to lose. We are not under pressure like the Chinese, Indonesians or Danes and that helps,” he added.
Indonesia boasts some of the best double shuttles with three players from the two best pairings in the world — Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan — among their ranks in this competition.
They also have the world number 7 combination of Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto and it will be a tough task for India to win the doubles matches.
However, Chirag and Satwik had defeated Sukamuljo and Ahsan at the 2018 Asia Team Championships and with Danish legend Mathias Boe by their side they will seize their opportunities.
“Indonesia has a lot of choices in doubles with many players of the same level, so they can try different combinations. They are all experienced guys and have done well, but I am hopeful,” said Vimal.
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