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Thomas Cup: All singles must-win games for India against doubles-heavy Indonesia

Beating Indonesia in the finals of the Thomas Cup at once seems like an earworm – a song stuck in the head on loop, given the events of the last few days. Namely, the headbangers of Indian shuttle rock – Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty, presently the Unbeatables. But the prospect is also a number-scramble for the eyes – figuring out from where the three wins will come: all 3 singles or 2 singles and 1 doubles with HS Prannoy going for a third straight win in the decider.

Winning Thomas Cup though is Indonesia’s second skin. Their singles players routinely punch above their weight, and their doubles are so formidable that India’s singles players might well think of all their matches as must-wins to add up the straightforward math.

Yet, history is determined to play tricks and stands possessed with favorable memories. In their only previous meeting, Satwik-Chirag had beaten Mohammad Ahsan and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo 18-21, 21-18, 24-22, at the Asian Championship in 2018 for a 1-0 head to head. On its own it shouldn’t count for much that the Indians have beaten half of the legendary Daddies & Minions pairings for Indonesians are different beasts in team events and don’t typically get frazzled. But it can incite dilemma over fielding of the Full Daddies (Ahsan with Hendra Setiawan) against whom top Indians are 2-3.

Whatever may be the case, Satwik-Chirag cannot afford to flub 20-18 leads like against Denmark. Indonesians don’t waste energy on obnoxious court antics and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo is a once-in-a-generation talent. The Indians will need to avoid being intimidated by defense and stay patient with their attack, and the usual high intensity wading into attacks might not work against the cool cats. Indonesian fans will create a din and are best silenced by winning, rather than outdoing their decibel.

Lakshya’s moment of reckoning

Sen has struggled in three matches against Chou Tien Chen, Lee Zii Jia and Viktor Axelsen – all Top 3 regulars, extra portion of ripped muscles since the last time he met them. But Anthony Ginting – one of the shortest and easily the fastest player on the circuit, crowds with his pace. He started torrid, and then stepped up in the knockouts. But Sen has beaten him 21-7, 21-9 in their only meeting, again non-contextual here except for the confidence it gives Sen.

The Indian No.1 has had the cushioning of 4 more matches for India, but will need to treat this as a do or die contest against a resurgent Ginting. “You can’t take Indonesia lightly. It’s strictly 50-50 for Lakshya,” Vimal Kumar says despite history.

Given India’s weaker doubles, Sen will be expected to back himself and believe he’s one of the world’s best, not just India’s and dig deep into the start of the season. His attack from him has looked subdued, and rallying is n’t yielding the results. But Ginting can be put under pressure. The feeling in the India camp is Lakshya can set the winning tone for India, if he plays without fear. “Inshallah, Lakshya pehla match nikaalega, uska net attack khatarnaak hai (God willing Lakshya will win the first game, his net attack is deadly,” coach Siyadatullah reckons.

India’s second singles will likely pit Srikanth against Jonatan Christie – who lost to Kanta Tsunayema ​​in semis. Vimal Kumar who had one eye on the Japan-Indonesia tie reckons, Christie didn’t look too convincing. “Srikanth has been losing to him, but he’s stroking the shuttle so well and moving freely. I’ll back Srikanth to get that one,” he says, of a slight 70-30 tipple towards the Indian.

Prannoy after his nasty fall turned up at the breakfast table all cheerful and positive about taking the court against Shesar Hiren Rhustavito, whom he enjoys a 2-0 head-to-head against. Though he last played him in 2017. The magnificently named Rhustavito – second only to Indonesia’s Dionysus Hayom Rumbaka – has delivered in team events consistently, and this is again a 50-50 match as per Vimal.

Korea won the Uber Cup on the back of two doubles and the deciding singles, and Indonesia can fight its way in desperately with that same route, even if Indian first two singles do what they do.

The second doubles might be a little too out of reach of the Indians given Indonesia’s doubles depth.
“All Indians need to close out matches when the opportunity arises,” is Gopichand’s pithy advice. That implies avoiding deciders at any cost, and in turn stemming errors.

When asked for a nickname for this Indian Thomas Cup team, a host of suggestions turned up. Like the merry Bhangra Boyz. Oh Juggernaut. Dream Team, perhaps? Or Blaster Boys given their attack-first instinct. Vimal Kumar’s suggestion was more of an instruction: Silent Assassins. India will need to put their heads down quietly and hold back the fist pumps until the tie is sealed – if it is sealed – if they have to stop Indonesia from winning their 15th title.


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