India lost the mixed team badminton finals to Malaysia on Tuesday night, a sobering defeat in which only PV Sindhu won her match. But the silver medal does bring a silver lining: the defeat has fired up the Indians. With five more badminton golds on the line, there's a lot of hurt to fuel India's performance. Add in a pumped up Malaysia ready to take on all and the badminton action at Commonwealth Games is just warming up.
After the match, Satwisksairaj Rankireddy, who had along with Chirag Shetty had been overwhelmed in the opener of the tie, would say that everyone is hurting. "I'm so happy we have that pain. Me, Chirag, Srikanth anna, Treesa, Gayatri... we are all fired up. It's not like, 'ah it's done, and we got silver.' We want more." The team's doubles coach Mathias Boe speaks about it similarly. "They're all angry in there, and that's good. It's about channeling it now."
The final itself had been a superb spectacle. High quality badminton that tested nerves and skill. And the ability to feed off, or stave off, the electricity around them. For it had been a ferocious atmosphere. A repeat of last edition's final. India were meant to have the edge here after Malaysia superstar and world No 5 Lee Zii Jia pulled out to focus on the World Championships later this month. But Malaysia had a great leveler on their side: the crowd.
A large contingent of Malaysian athletes led the cheers, an equally large section of Malaysian fans took it up. The best of which were a couple of belting, football-anthem style cheers: goose-bump inducing stuff. Every time an athlete clad in yellow jumped for a smash, there was an "ooo" that backed them. Every time they won a point, the roof wondered if it'd still be there.
India held their own for a bit, with their traditional chants to the tune of "Saaachin, Saaaachin" (substitute India or individual player names there) and the less traditional (Twinkle Twinkle little star, Srikanth is a superstar) and it was often cheerleader-in-chief Chirag Shetty leading them on from down on the court. But as the night wore on, they we drowned under the football-like Malaysian chants.
On the sidelines, both teams lived the match. Every dive to retrieve, every smash, every net cord... they felt it. Jumping up for every point, berating perceived poor calls, cheering close decisions on reviews, laughing, screaming, and fist-pumping. When Malaysia won they vaulted the small barrier and piled in for a group-hug-cum-group-dance routine. Magnificent scenes.
After the match, where he had pulled off a stunning upset on Kidambi Srikanth, Tze Yong NG would say that he may not have heard exactly what the crowd was chanting, but he fed off their energy when he needed it most.
In 2018, when India had won the gold, Srikanth had been pivotal. He'd beaten one of the greatest badminton players of all time, Lee Chong Wei, to set the whole thing up. This time the Malaysians flipped the script on him. And it wasn't like Srikanth had been poor, Tze Yong simply hit a level beyond most: the crowd, the emotion of playing for your country... the kind of intangibles that often drove India on during that Thomas Cup run earlier this year.
Srikanth acknowledged it to the press, saying sometimes your opponent is just too good, talking about how it's all part of the game, but privately he was distressed. Satwik said after the match that it was the first time, ever, that he'd seen his senior cry. "Srikanth anna was so distraught. He kept blaming himself... but it wasn't his fault! It's a team event. Even I lost a match!"
He spoke about how he and Ashwini Ponnappa had come from nowhere to win their match in that 2018 final, using it as an example to prove form on paper really doesn't matter.
This is a close knit team, and there was no way they'd offer up a scapegoat. Nor would they allow one of their own to volunteer themselves for it. Win or lose, together; right now, feel the pain together. Going into the individual events, they will continue to feed off each other's energy. And they're all primed to explode.