Mumbai: It has barely been a fortnight since India celebrated its 70th Independence Day, and the country already has a week to remember.
The Supreme Court, earlier this week, marked the country’s path towards intellectual progress by passing landmark verdicts, namely the recognition of a citizen’s right to privacy as a fundamental right and the abolition of the Triple Talaq practice by Muslims around the country.
However, these landmark judgements were marred by the violence and lawlessness that followed a Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court verdict, which found popular Godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh guilty on charges of rape.
India watched in horror, as thousands of followers of Ram Rahim poured out onto the streets of Panchkula and Sirsa, in Haryana, vandalising anything on its path, including OB vans of the various TV channels that were present at the scene. As many as 38 people lost their lives in the mob violence and 200 people were injured.
As the week wound to a close, two events from the sporting arena gave Indians the opportunity to put the horror of Panchkula and Sirsa behind them – the Indian cricket team’s dominant display over Sri Lanka, as Virat Kohli and co surged to an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match ODI series in Sri Lanka, and shuttler PV Sindhu’s magical run to the final of BWF World Championships, where she became only the second Indian to clinch silver in the history of the tournament.
Saina Nehwal’s bronze medal finish made the tournament all the more special for the Indian badminton fans.
While a final between Saina and Sindhu would have been the thing that the Indian fans would have desired the most, the way the 2017 BWF World Championship unfolded was perhaps much akin to the 70 years of India’s independence.
Not many things have been perfect. There have perhaps been more occasions warranting tears or sorrow, than joy. Men’s singles shuttlers like Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth and Ajay Jayaram, who showed a lot of promise in previous tournaments in 2017, were knocked out of the quarterfinals and the third rounds, respectively. Mixed doubles pair Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy also crashed out in the third round.
Sindhu herself had had a brilliant outing at the World Championships, breezing past the likes of Kim Hyo-min of Sout Korea, and Sun Yu and Chen Yufei of China. The only real contest that she faced en route to the final was against Cheung Ngan Yi of Hong Kong, who was vanquished 19-21, 23-21, 21-17 in the third round.
The final, however, was a completely different proposition. The Hyderabad girl faced Nozomi Okuhara, who had done a fair bit of giant-killing on her route to the final. The Japanese shuttler overcame challenges from tournament favourites like Carolina Marin and Saina Nehwal, to make it to the summit clash.
Just by reaching the final, the two shuttlers had carved out a piece of history, if not for themselves or their respective countries, then at least for the history of the BWF World Championships. The winner of the summit clash would have the honour of hearing their country’s national anthem ring out for the first time in the history of the BWF World Championships. Of course, there was the small matter of the gold medal at stake as well.
Spurred by the high stakes, both Sindhu and Okuhara dished out a final that was arguably one of the best matches the tournament has seen.
The match itself ebbed and flowed both ways, as neither of the two shuttlers gave each other an inch, in a match that lasted 110 minutes; this was the second longest women’s singles badminton match in the current format, just seconds short of the world record.
As the match wore on, the players were seen taking frequent breaks, as the referee kept calling them back to court. Sindhu was even given an official warning. At the end, it all came down to sheer will as the two dug deep into their reserves.
Okuhara may have come out victorious in the end, but Sindhu can hold her head high. She huffed and puffed, and gave everything. She gave hope to billions, who were still reeling from the atrocious events that unfolded in Panchkula and Sirsa just a few days earlier.
To Sindhu’s advantage, the BWF World Championship final was not the last straw. At the age of 22, the Hyderabad girl is just entering the peak of badminton career, and we can only expect her to better her previous performances. Perhaps an Olympic gold in Tokyo 2020 may also be on the cards.
The prospect of top-notch women’s doubles rivalries is something that will further keep the badminton fans smacking their lips. We have already witnessed the hotly-contested matches between Carolina Marin and Sindhu – the epitome of which reached a little over a year ago, when the 24-year-old Spaniard defeated the Indian in a thrilling summit clash at the Rio Olympics.
Okuhara, who also seems to be entering the peak of her career, is also at the nascent age of 22, giving us hopes of perhaps a three-pronged rivalry. To add to that, 27-year-old Saina Nehwal, who had been struggling with a knee injury for some time, seems to be finding her feet once again. Can she regularly give Sindhu some company on the podium, or even better, challenge her fellow Gopichand-protégé for the top titles?
Only time can answer that question. But for now, Sindhu seems to be the bright knight that Indian badminton deserves.