As a memorable 2022 draws to end, ESPN India picks ten images that tell the story of the most extraordinary Indian sports moments witnessed over the year. We start with Lakshya Sen at the Thomas Cup.
Lakshya Sen had been hurting. It was the final of the Thomas Cup, a final India had reached for the first time ever. India had been brilliant, but Lakshya had suffered.
He was India’s no. 1 men’s player, and with that came the honour of facing the opposition’s top player. In the quarters it had been one of the world’s best, Lee Zii Jia. In the semis, one of the all-time greats of the sport, Viktor Axelsen. Both times he had lost… not just lost, dismissed. LZJ had beaten him 21-23, 9-21. Axelsen had been even more straightforward, 13-21, 13-21. Each of these times his teammates – Srikanth Kidambi, HS Prannoy, and the doubles duo of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty – had helped overcome the 0-1 deficit at the start of the best-of-5 match.
He had been blown away by Anthony Ginting in the first game of this final too. And it hadn’t been pretty. A 17-minute game had ended 8-21. In the second game, though, something clicked. It started with an impossible retrieve at 5-8, lifting a drop at the net first before sprinting to the backline and returning a traditionally unreturnable smash to keep a 46-shot rally alive. The voice of world badminton, Gillian Clark, would call it as most of us saw it: “How on earth did Lakshya Sen retrieve that out of the back of the court? He was way out of position!” He won the point, and then the game, 21-17.
In the third he would start slow again, conceding a 7-11 advantage at the break. He would then rally to make it 12-12. He didn’t concede the lead after that. At 20-16, he clinched it: A short stab of a serve. A short half-drop of a return from Ginting. A sensational horseshoe of a drop in turn from Lakshya. After an hour and five minutes of intense badminton, a three-shot rally had decided it.
Lakshya spun around, threw the racket to a side, and crumpled to the floor. Hands on his head, legs splayed, an emotional wreck, the relief and joy and feeling of triumph finally washing over him. This time, this most important time, he had given India the lead. 1-0, not 0-1. And that against 14-times champions, Indonesia, the winningest team in the history of this competition. The weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. It had taken heart to win the second game, but what he had shown in the third game was something else – remarkable defence, on-point aggression, a clarity of purpose. The kind of game a champion plays. By the end he had looked in total control of his, and his team’s destiny.
He lay there on his back for barely two seconds before remembering his manners and bouncing back up to shake Ginting’s hand, but those two seconds would give us one of the most memorable images of Indian sport in 2022.