IT HAS been 20 years since Malaysia won the Thomas Cup but the then captain Razif Sidek is unable to forget the celebrations at Stadium Negara.
Leading the Malaysian team to win the Thomas Cup was one of the two highlights of his badminton career. The other was winning the All England men’s doubles crown, with younger brother Jalani, in 1982. The brothers also won the bronze medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
But for Razif, lifting the Thomas Cup was a proud moment as they were not ranked among the favourites.
“But we overcame the odds and became the champions in front of Malaysian fans. We were really surprised with the fans’ support. Their presence created a carnival atmosphere and also motivated us,’’ said Razif.
In the Thomas Cup, Malaysia qualified for the semi-finals after finishing second in the group. They were against China, who had the world’s best player — Zhao Jianhua — as their top singles player.
Malaysia’s top singles player Rashid Sidek had never beaten the Chinese ace in a competition.
On that day, Rashid rose to occasion and upset Jianhua 17-15,10-15, 15-12. Then Razif-Jalani defeated Li Yongbo-Tian Binyi 5-15,15-10, 15-5. Malaysia’s winning point came from Soo Beng Kiang-Cheah Soon Kit. They upstaged Zheng Yumin-Huang Zhanzhong 15-9, 18-14 to clinch the winning point for Malaysia.
Razif said Rashid’s win was due to excellent guidance from singles coach Yang Yang.
“Yang Yang was Jianhua’s sparring partner until he joined BAM as a coach. He knew Jianhua’s game well. Yang Yang was not selfish and shared all his experience with Rashid. He also gave tips on how to overcome Jianhua. In fact, it was not only Yang Yang but also Han Jian and Chen Chengjie. They were from China but were involved wholeheartedly in Malaysia’s preparation for the Thomas Cup. They were committed to Malaysia’s ambitions,’’ said Razif.
After ditching China, Malaysia went on to beat Indonesia 3-2 to lift the Thomas Cup after 25 long years. Malaysia’s three points came from Rashid, Foo Kok Keong and Beng Kiang-Soon Kit.
Razif said Kok Keong’s match against Alan Budi Kusuma was the turning point.
“Kok Keong had never beaten Alan in any competition before that match. But he played exceptionally well and defeated Alan 15-6, 15-12.
“Jalani and myself lost in the first doubles but Kok Keong was there to keep us in the lead. What I am saying is that we had depth in the team,’’ said Razif.
He paid tribute to then Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Tan Sri Elyas Omar and secretary Datuk Punch Gunalan, who was the team manager, for their success.
“Tan Sri Elyas was like a father and mentor to all the players in the team. Punch, with his vast experience, also played an important role,’’ added Razif.
However, the biggest motivation was the desire to bring glory to the nation. Unlike the current players, who are full time trainees, the players in the Thomas Cup team were working. Rashid, Razif, Jalani, Foo Kok Keong, Beng Kiang and Soon Kit were with Public Bank while Kwan Yoke Meng, Rahman Sidek and Wong Ewee Mun were with Kuala Lumpur City Hall.
There was only training allowance and training was thrice a day. All the players, Razif said, wanted to win for the nation.
“We were all fired up. We were prepared to go the extra mile to win. All the players were like a family. As the captain, I had to motivate them. We are grateful to the management and Tan Sri Elyas for all the support. Otherwise, I don’t think we could have won the Thomas Cup,’’ added Razif.