This is The Golden Age of Indian Badminton: Dinesh Khanna
Indian badminton has gone from strength to strength in the last few years. The country now has medallists in all world-level tournaments, but the seeds of this success story was sown long back. Dinesh Khanna, who completed 50 years of his historic 1965 Asian Championship triumph on Saturday, is one such pioneer who inspired many generations of shuttlers.
Some occasions need to be celebrated in a big way. And if it is the golden jubilee of the first, and till now only, triumph by an Indian at the Asian Badminton Championship, then it needs to be etched in the history books. Dinesh Khanna achieved the feat on November 14, 1965, when Indian badminton was still taking baby steps towards world domination. (Read more badminton stories here)
Indian badminton has seen many world-class performances since then, but no shuttler has been able to win the Asian Championship. Despite that Khanna, who now coaches kids at the Siri Fort Sports Complex in the Capital, feels that the current crop of players are truly world-class. (Saina Nehwal Goes Down to Li Xuerui in China Open Final)
We talk to him regarding his historic triumph and his take on the current generation of Indian shuttlers.
Q: It's been 50 years since your Asian Championship triumph, how do you think Indian badminton has progressed in all these years?
A: I consider this the golden age of Indian badminton. We have four to five players in both the men's and women's singles who are in the top 20. Saina Nehwal was recently the world No. 1. We have also won medals in almost every major championships, so nothing can be better.
I only have one wish and that is to see another Indian winning the Asian Championship crown, so that I have company.
Q: How do you think the facilities have changed for shuttlers in the last 50 years?
A: It has changed a lot and it has changed for the better. The top Indian players have specialised coaching, trainers and they get to play regularly with top players. In our time, we had no such facilities. I remember, during my playing days my backhand was considered very strong. But nobody taught me, I only learnt it by reading a book by Kenneth Davidson.
Also, the players had to spend from their own pockets if they wanted to pursue the sport in a serious way. Nowadays, it is easier for the players to get sponsorships.
Q: Despite all the challenges, how did you win the 1965 Asian Championship? Can you take us through the journey?
A: At that time, I was 22 and was returning from a knee injury. I had not even won a national championship till then, let alone international tournaments. I barely had a couple of month's training before going into the tournament, which was being held in Lucknow.
There were four Indian players in the tournament and I was the fourth one. I was unseeded but then I hit the right chord at the right time. Out of all the wins, the quarter-final triumph against Japan's Yoshinori Itagaki gave me confidence as the match had long rallies. I only won due to better stamina.
In the semi-final, I defeated another Indian Suresh Goel and then in the final I got the better of Thailand's Sangol Rattanusora to clinch the title. But many thought that my win was a fluke, but after I won the Nehru Memorial International Badminton Tournament in Delhi, which happenned right after the Asian Championship, everyone started taking me seriously.
Q: Why did you take up badminton as a sport and not anything else?
A: I started playing badminton as a hobby. I come from a well to-do family, and almost everybody played one sport or the other at my ancestral farmhouse near Amritsar. I was particularly good at badminton, but then once I got to play against PS Chawla, who was an India nationals player, and understood that I had to improve a lot and then staretd playing badminton seriously.
Q: You now also train kids in badminton. Can you tell more about that?
A: I only train kids at the basic and intermediate level. If they want to pursue the sport more professionally, then I refer them to other centres like the one being run by Pullela Gopichand or Prakash Padukone.
Q: Recently, India's only Olympic medal winning shuttler Saina Nehwal changed her coach from Gopichand to Vimal Kumar. How do you see that?
A: We should all remember the fact that Saina won lot of laurels under Gopichand. But then, Gopichand is the national coach and he has to handle six to seven top shuttlers. Maybe, Saina wanted more individualised training and so she opted for a new coach. At the top level, all this matters.
Q: Any young gun whom you think will really make it big in the next few years?
A: PV Sindhu is doing really well, she is still very young but has two world championships medals. I think she has a long way to go. Among the men, Kidambi Srikanth is one player, who I think has a wonderful future.