BANGKOK: Have Malaysia been left behind in the chase for badminton glory?
The national team are going through a transition period over the last four years with Lee Zii Jia taking over from Lee Chong Wei; with a massive shift in the doubles with the exits of Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong and Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong; and with younger players pushed to the fore with the exodus of many seniors, who were either dropped or have left by choice.
Malaysia’s lack of depth was evident in their 2-3 quarter-final defeat to eventual champions India. They stunned the world with their exploits to win the Cup for the first time after dethroning defending champions Indonesia in the final at the Impact Arena on Sunday.
Indeed, there is some catching up to do for Malaysia.
But India’s doubles coach Mathias Boe does not think a massive shift has taken place in terms of quality of the game but admits there are more teams fighting for honours, which is good for the game.
“Badminton has progressed in the last six to seven years but I don’t see the level has improved a lot since we’ve seen Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei at the top and it’s the same with the men’s doubles,” said the former Danish doubles player.
“But players are more consistent and there are more countries fighting for the spoils.
“In this Finals, eight countries among all the quarter-finalists were challenging for the title. Even Taiwan were extremely dangerous. It was such a tight race.’’
India lost 2-3 to Taiwan in the group stage.
“But to win, you need to believe, have a little momentum and this is where I think the Indian players, who were as cool as cucumber, thrived under pressure.
“They also trusted each other, and I think that was what pushed Lakhsya (Sen) to step up on the last day. Every one was important in the team.”
Boe, who has played against Malaysia countless times, said they were unlucky.
“It’s hard to look at what had gone wrong but sometimes, there is the element of luck too,” he said.
“The pressure is enormous, and the sport is so big in Malaysia. The expectations to win are so high at all levels. So it can be difficult to cope with.
“Malaysia always had a team to contend for titles but it has always has been close in the Thomas Cup, World Championships and Olympics... sometimes, you need a bit of luck and the ability to handle pressure.”
Boe was in the Denmark team that won for the first time in 2016 Kunshan and now he has lifted the Cup as a coach with India.
“Teams like Denmark, China and Malaysia did not rule us but they didn’t see us as one of the main contenders either. The difference for India was that they stuck together, stayed united on court and believed they had a chance,” he said.
“I did not expect a 3-0 win but having played in so many Thomas Finals, there is always a slim chance. They had the right tactics, played with spirit and were full of energy.
“It all went down to the last few points, and I know what emotions a player goes through at that time but our players took their chances well.
“To win as a player was great and to win it as a coach in my young coaching career is awesome. I’m still learning and right now, I just need time to digest this outrageous success.”