Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men run into a kind of fortitude that forces even the Gods to change the script, lean the way of the audacious. And in the process break the hearts of a billion.
Eighty three minutes of the most ardently followed badminton match in the history of India yielded a verdict that we don’t like.
But the same time allowed us as a nation to revel in the glory that comes from excelling at an Olympic sport. PV Sindhu’s medal was tinged silver when Carolina Marin’s courageous, high-risk gameplan bore her to a 19-21, 21-12, 21-15 victory. In defeat Sindhu stays a champion for she fought with the kind of courage we seldom see from our sportspeople on the global stage.
This is a new generation of players from India. This is a generation that is not satisfied with just competing. Hell, it isn’t even satisfied with silver. Second-best has been acceptable to India for far too long. Sindhu on Friday showed that is no longer the case. After all she had the silver in hand even before the match began. She refused to be content and gave her all, though it wasn’t enough.
The 5’10” lanky 21-year-old was grit personified when she reeled off five straight points to come back from 16-19 and claim the first game. The very first time she led in the match, she displayed nerves of steel, a fibre that belies scepticism, leaves the jitters in the cold storage of a calm mind. It was gutsy, it was tenacious and, most importantly of all, the display came on her sport’s most spectacular stage.
However, as the second game began it appeared that Marin was not cowed down. Almost as if the loss of the first game had just embalmed her nerves into the potency of determination. This is the number one player in the world and you don’t get to sit on that exalted spot if you don’t have something special in you. That quality shone through as the match wore on. After the first game, Sindhu was never to lead again in the match. The closest she came to that was at 10-10 in the third but by then Marin had shifted a couple of gears, hit cruise mode.
When the match began, both players were a bit edgy and the rallies short. In fact the one really solid rally of the match came at 15-17 when the shuttle shunted back and forth 52 times. That rally went Sindhu’s way and that was the crucible on which momentum shifted. Though Marin was to take the next two points, the confidence of that point seemed to allow Sindhu a spurt that saw her claim the first game.
Just how much this match meant to Marin and just how badly she wanted to win was obvious when the first six points that she gained in the second game had her screaming out so loud and with such obvious release at playing her A game. By then she was 6-1 up. She never took her foot off the accelerator thereafter.
Throughout the match there were frantic exhortations from Sindhu’s coach Gopichand from the sidelines. At each break, he leapt out of his chair and rushed to Sindhu’s side muttering away to her, placating her nerves. It worked, but again, not enough.
Marin executed a risky gameplan that fully showcased her skill with the racquet. It hinged around short, deft placements in the forecourt followed by deep lobs to make Sindhu weave back and forth, while the Spaniard waited for the late lunge that offered her a high one to pulverize. She hit as hard as 330 kph plus smashes with regularity.
When Saina Nehwal broke off her long-standing relationship with mentor Gopichand, sports journalists mourned what we believed would be the downfall of one of our greatest athletes. Nehwal proved us wrong by carrying on to be world number one. Instead, the split allowed Gopichand to totally devote his energies towards nurturing the next big hopes.
That the coach felt he could bring up another player to Olympian heights talks about the tremendous self-confidence and belief of this man. And the kind of prowess that K. Srikanth has also displayed augurs that Sindhu and Nehwal won’t be the only ones fighting for metal in Olympic Games to come.
Players get the limelight, coaches grind away in the dark. But as we celebrate the joy that Sindhu has given us lets also bow to the man who made it all possible. Gopichand, take a bow. This is as much your medal as hers.