Boe basks in reflected glory after guiding Indian doubles pair

Mathias Boe had been going through withdrawal symptoms. His chosen poison turned ailment: top-grade badminton. The former Thomas Cup winner and Olympic silver medallist, who retired two seasons ago, had not really come to grips with being away from the circuit. He immersed himself in his business, and his personal life. “But I missed winning like this at the top events. I’m happy India gave me the chance to experience this once again,” said India’s doubles coach, who helped the newly-minted Thomas Cup champions pull off a sensational 3-0 win against all-time leaders Indonesia in the final.

Boe has always shared a great equation with Chirag Shetty. And was guiding him along with video analysis online at the All England even when he wasn’t formally the India coach. India’s efforts to bring Malaysian Tan Kim Her as specialist doubles coach had fallen through, and India’s top pairing was looking and feeling rudderless. Playing at the topmost level, but without an experienced brain ticking behind on the coach’s chair.

“The Malaysian appointment almost came through and then it didn’t. And Chirag contacted me and asked if I was available for a short term. I’ve always had a good equation with Gopi, so we spoke. But these things need higher-ups involved. It was also a good offer for them to sign me. And now here I am in Bangkok, having won the Thomas Cup again,” Boe said, happy and amazed.

He would guide the Indians through wins against Malaysia and his home nation Denmark – two highly-tactical battles against mercurial opponents that needed clarity of strategy. And his typically belief-inducing pep talks. At the Tokyo Olympics, the Indians beat the eventual champions, but went out in the group stage – leaving a whiff of unfinished business.

“Since the Olympics, it’s really something I’ve missed doing. It’s what I like. But my body grew old, and I couldn’t play on the circuit any longer. I missed competing deeply. So, I was happy to be back and help in this capacity. It comes naturally to me to inspire others to win,” Boe said.

Second coming

He would return to Mumbai and immediately change a few things in the training regimen. “As players, they need sparring partners. But I also changed a bit of their style of play and how they communicate.” The Indians had gotten into a rut, losing narrow matches, and flubbing 20-18 advantages on match points. “As a recent player, I had an idea of what’s running through their minds. They also needed someone to scream at them,” he added.

While the group games ended with India going down to the Chinese Taipei pair a day before the quarters, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag had the last laugh. Their belief in the process never dipped. “Quarters was tremendous pressure because losing would mean no medal,” he says. India pipped Malaysia 3-2.

Denmark was a challenge not because Boe had to plot against his former teammates. But because Indians needed the confidence bolstered in their gameplan. “Finals was also that one sole shot at glory. And I didn’t want us to miss it. I’m happy for myself and I’m happy I got the chance to feel this,” he reiterated.

He would watch in awe as the team spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for 10 minutes. “It was an unreal team effort. And India will now realise how big this result is given only 6-7 countries have won the Thomas Cup before. This will count as one of the biggest moments of Indian sport,” Boe said, adding his favourite moment will always be “the Srikanth projectile coming down.”

“Lakshya and my boys also fought, of course.”

His day-after wish? “I hope India really move away from the underdog tag and push forward and defend this crown like favourites.”

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