For a state that has so far been a breeding ground for talent in badminton, coaches and veterans alike are worried that the younger crop of players are not quite coming through
Kerala is supposed to be a top nursery for badminton in the country but surprisingly, its top four men are all hovering around 30 years. And shockingly, there is none to push them.
“We have a big problem here, we don’t have quality singles players now, somebody who could be a force in the national circuit,” says M.J.Mohanachandran who coached P.C. Thulasi to the senior national women’s singles silver medal a few months ago. “Only Thomas Kurien is there but he is also getting old. We don’t have a second string which can take over.”
The scene is pretty bad, admits State champion Thomas, the 2005 Asian Satellite champion.
“A few years ago, we had around five or six players - Sanave Thomas, Rupesh Kumar, Diju, Jose George and myself - who were of the same quality. We could give each other a good fight in singles and in doubles, we were together for almost four to five years,” says the 30-year-old Thomas.
“I don’t see that now. Now, we see only H.S. Prannoy, who is showing promise at the junior level. He is a big talent, our only hope.”
“Even Prannoy has moved out,” says Mohanachandran, the Kerala State Sports Council coach. “He joined the Gopi Chand Academy in Hyderabad a month ago and is not likely to play here in the immediate future. He also has an Air India contract.”
So, why are our juniors not rising to the occasion? Have they lost the hunger to excel?
Problem of patience
“The problem is youngsters are not patient. Persistence is not there,” says Thomas, an ONGC Officer.
“As you leave the junior phase and move to the senior level, wins don’t come easily, it gets tough. But you need to hang on, despite the defeats. That is missing these days, they all want immediate results and when they don’t come, the youngsters just give up.”
Some of them move over to doubles. “If you are a reasonably good singles player, you can do well in doubles.
“Our singles players reach the fourth round in national circuit tournaments but when they make the switch to doubles, they reach the semifinals without much hard work,” says K.A. Aneesh, 34, the former Karnataka and Kerala men’s champion and the current State No. 2 (Joy T. Antony and Antony Jacob are the other two in Kerala’s top four).
Switching to doubles
“Our players find it easy to get into the Indian doubles team, so they slowly give up singles,” says Aneesh, who used to put in nearly ten hours training every day. “And the sad thing is now they are making the switch to singles at a very early age, at 14 and 15.”
It has come to such a stage that even good singles players from Kerala are slowly forced to switch to doubles by coaches at the national camp. “Even P.C. Thulasi, despite being the senior national singles runner-up, is being asked to take up doubles seriously,” says Mohanachandran.
“This has been killing our singles players. Now, we don’t have any left. A few years ago, Alwin Francis and Sankar Gopan were shaping up into good singles players, now they are deep into doubles.”
“We need to think professionally to solve the problem,” says Mohanachandran. “Right now, all the top players are at Kochi’s Regional Sports Centre which has all the facilities.
“We need to see that other districts too get similar facilities, good infrastructure, cheaper shuttles, flexible playing hours which will make it easy for youngsters to start and stick on to the game.”
When there is a big rush to badminton from all over the State, the flow of champions in singles and doubles will be faster, feels the coach.