England’s not so bad, is it?

Take heart. England has many positives for Indian sport. History is replete with examples.

Aparna Popat July 28, 2011 15:39:52 IST
England’s not so bad, is it?

We never seem to be well-prepared to play in England, at least not in the initial few matches.”

This was the impression among cricket loyalists and fans alike after our recent Test match loss to England at Lord's. Even though we had won the previous Test series in England, a majority of the times, the performance has been mediocre. So, one may speculate whether it is due to our poor preparation or are the conditions prevalent in the country to blame.

Over lunch while having yet another discussion about the Test match, my colleague D V Prasad, a chess candidate grandmaster and a sport icon during the 1980s and 1990s, commented, "It’s not true that England is always inauspicious. I won my Commonwealth Chess Championship in London in 1986.”

Englands not so bad is it

Pullela Gopichand of India on his way to a win today against Anders Boesen of Denmark during the Yonex All England Badmindton Championships in Birmingham. John Gichigi/ALLSPORT/Getty Images.

This took our lunchtime discussion on another tangent. Is England really that bad?

Who can forget the 1983 cricket World Cup victory? We were crowned champions of the world at Lord's, the Mecca of cricket. The nation was euphoric. In fact, I don’t think we ever got over that win and never will. Dilip Vengsarkar created a sensation by scoring three centuries in as many appearances at Lord's. Thereafter, he was christened ‘The Lord of Lord's’.

The Wimbledon tennis championships held at the All England Lawn Tennis Club have been a happy hunting ground for us. Apart from four titles in the junior events, in the open category, Ramanathan Krishnan reached the semi-finals twice. Vijay Amritraj, with his quarter-final singles performance, found a place in the famous ABC of tennis- Amritraj-Borg-Connors.

Today, of course, it's Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes accumulating the doubles and mixed doubles titles. So, all in all, the performances have been outstanding.

Geet Sethi, winner of eight world titles, made his foray into an arena of international billiards and snooker in 1984 by winning the International Snooker Professional-cum-Amateur Championship in England and the International Billiards Amateur Championship in Windsor.

The Indian success at the All-England badminton championships is legendary. First, it was Prakash Nath who reached the finals in 1949. Thereafter, Prakash Padukone did us proud by claiming the title in 1980 and Gopichand emulated his feat in 2001.

The British ruled India until 1947. Stories about the freedom struggle still give us goose bumps and invoke a sense of patriotism as does each one of these sporting achievements in England.

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As for badminton specifically, apart from these performances, England has been an integral part of the sport of badminton. During the British Raj, the British soldiers were impressed with a game that they came across in Poona. Thereafter, they brought the game back to England and called it ‘Poona’. In 1873, it was officially introduced, with some minor changes, at the estate of the Duke of Beaufort. This estate was called ‘Badminton’, thus the game came to be referred to as badminton.

In 1887, an England group known as the Bath Badminton Club drew up some official rules for the sport. Then, in 1893, a new group, the Badminton Association of England, took over and revised the rules even more, bringing them to what is still in place today. In 1934, the International Badminton Federation (IBF) was formed at a meeting held in London. The first official address of the IBF was Winchmore Hill, London. Its head office was located in Cheltenham, London, since its founding until 2005 when it was relocated to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Apart from this history, The All England Open Championships is widely regarded as one of the most illustrious and esteemed badminton tournaments in the world. The tournament was regarded as the 'unofficial World Championships', until 1977 when the IBF introduced an official event. The All-England is currently held at Birmingham. However, in 1957-1993, it was held at the Wembley Arena in London, widely known as the spiritual home of badminton. Besides having held the prestigious All England championships between 1957 and 1993, it is also the stadium where the badminton events will be staged in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

But prior to the Olympics, the 2011 Badminton World Championships from 8–14 August shall see the return of this arena. The Indian interest primarily lies in the fiesty Saina Nehwal, seeded sixth at the event. We shall also see the comeback of the Jwala Gutta-V Diju mixed doubles pairing who are making it big on the international circuit until Diju was laid low with an injury.

Commonwealth gold medalists Ashwini Ponnappa-Jwala Gutta could create a flutter in the women's doubles. In the men's singles, there are the promising lads P Kashyap and Ajay Jayaram and pairings of Rupesh Kumar-Sanave Thomas and Pranav Chopra-K Tarun in the mens doubles.

The playing conditions in Wembley are known to be challenging. I expect there will be a drift on the court that will make it hard to stroke the shuttle accurately. The hall is very big, thus the players will have to put in that much more punch into their strokes to make them effective. Fortunately, the weather in London during this period will be pleasant, unlike the wet weather with strong winds usually prevalent in England that can make the players stiff.

Our Indian team is conscious of these pros and cons. Hence, I’m sure that they would have strategically prepared for these World Championships. They obviously realise that they will have to be at their best in each match as, unlike in cricket, here there are no second chances.

Looking at the entire picture, the fact that a chunk of Indian sports history has been created on England soil, England’s role in the history of the game of badminton and the historic Wembley Arena charm, I feel that the Indian shuttlers are in line to create a bit of history of their own this time around.

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