Excerpts from an exclusive chat with the affable 63-year-old, who is now involved in coaching at the new Centre for Sports Excellence in Bengaluru.
How important is it to have good infrastructure in sports?
Infrastructure is of foremost importance in any sport. Without it, you cannot start. Without coaches and proper equipment you can still somehow manage, but infrastructure is priority.
Though we have some good training centres in badminton, the game has still not spread well across the country...
For the growth of the sport it is important to have training centres across the country. As a first step, you should have national centres in the five zones -- north, south, east, west and north-east. The next stage is for each state to have its own academy and that is when the numbers will grow. That is how it is done in most countries, including China.
Among men, we have good bench strength but there is nobody to take the mantle from Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu?
Yes, that’s a cause for concern. The success of these two girls is mainly because of their physical prowess. Most Indian girls are technically very good but not good enough to reach the top-5 or top-10 in the world. Either we are not fit or not as fast as others. So there is a big gap, which is not the case with the boys.
Do you see an Indian winning the All England again?
Our top players have won everything, from medals at Olympics and World Championships to other titles. So it is just a matter of time before they win at All England. It could be Kidambi Srikanth, Sameer Verma, Sindhu, Saina — anybody can win. It is just that they have to peak in that one tournament. I won’t be surprised if it happens this year itself with so many strong contenders.
How do you see the progress of Sindhu since Rio Olympics?
She has been very consistent, it’s remarkable. It is not easy to remain at the top in such a competitive field. In 2018, in almost all the important tournaments she reached the finals. She is probably the only player who has been so consistent, even though she did not win except the last one (BWF World Tour Finals). It is extremely creditable. Besides her, Tai Tzu Ying was the most consistent in last 12 months.
What separates Tai Tzu Ying from the rest?
One thing that differentiates her from the rest is her deception. Sometimes the players are not able to read Tai’s strokes. It is not easy at all to develop deceptive strokes and then, more importantly, to execute them at the right time. It takes years and years of practice. Tai is one example of combining the old style with the new. It doesn’t mean that you will not lose, but you will be much more consistent than the others.
How can someone like Sindhu work towards developing something distinct?
Her game has developed a lot but if I were her coach, I would have brought in a little more deception. She will then have something distinct and different with this. The use of the wrist comes naturally to Indians. In cricket, the way we use the wrist, nobody else does. Our badminton players can do the same.
The game has become so physical now. Do you think the skill aspect has come down?
I feel deception and skill definitely have a role to play. Tai is a classic example. From the same position you don’t know what she will play. It’s something like a googly in cricket, but deceptive strokes should be used sparingly. Compared to my time the skill part is not so much there because of the emphasis on speed and power. So anybody who has speed and power and little bit of deception will have the edge. Some players who are doing well like Kento Momota have better skill.
The Tokyo Olympics is a year and a half away. How should one plan to peak at the right time?
Our players have taken part in two Olympics. They must plan in a way so that you are at your peak during the Olympics. If I were the coach I would work backwards. I would sit with the sports science people and make a plan, work backwards.
Before Olympics you don’t want to play a tournament, you want to be fresh. So four weeks before Olympics, no tournaments. Before that how many tournaments you want? Again, work backwards and come up with a plan from May 1 till the end of qualifying period, probably April 30, 2020. Effort should be to reach the peak at that time.