When 2 Indians refused to play with each other at the All-English Badminton Championships

ONOn December 18, 2021, professional men’s badminton in India witnessed one of its highest points when Kidambi Srikanth defeated Lakshyu Sena in the semifinals of the BWF World Badminton Championships (held in Huelva, Spain) in an epic three-set bout.
(Picture above Prakasha Natha on the left and Devinder Mohan on the right courtesy National Badminton Federation)

It takes more than an hour and nine minutes, Srikanth he defeated Sen 17-21 21-14 21-17 and became the first Indian to reach the BWF World Cup final. While Sen finished with a bronze medal, Srikanth lost to Malaysia’s Loh Kean Yew in the final and won silver.

There is no doubt that fatigue played a role in the final defeat of Srikantha by the champions after his efforts in the semi-finals. Given the path ahead of us, should talented Indian shuttlers have decided not to play against each other and give the result by tossing coins?

Given the ultra-competitive nature and economy of today’s game, it seems very unlikely that Sen and Srikanth would dare to take this path, but in the 1947 edition of the All-English Championship — which was considered the world’s first badminton tournament before official world championship launched in 1977 – two talented Indian shuttles and friends decided to equalize in the quarterfinals by tossing coins.

Prakash Nath, a virtuoso striker, and Devinder Mohan, a powerful striker, met under these circumstances at the All-English Championship, the first to be played since the end World War II. Without any records indicating the current form of each player entering the tournament, schedules were assigned based on performances before World War II.

India has set up its two best players – Natha and Mohana, who were national champions, fierce professional rivals and good friends. In fact, over five state championships between 1942 and 1946 no one won the singles title except Nath or Mohan.

So the Indian Badminton Federation selected both of them for a tournament in London organized at Harringay Arena to compete with the best in the world. Given the arbitrary scheduling system and the general lack of awareness of how good the two of them were, the All-English authorities put them together in the same quarter of the draw.

When Nath and Mohan arrived in London after a long journey from Lahore to London, they expected to face each other in the title final. But to their shock, they realized that the draw would not allow it, and only one had a chance to make it to the finals. Despite their strong protests against the tournament committee, Chief Judge Herbert Scheele refused to consider their complaint and asked them to continue with it.

Both Indian shuttles had no real problems reaching the quarter-finals, although Nath overcame the challenge of popular title defender Tage Madsen of Denmark in three sets in the first round in front of a then-record crowd of 25,000 spectators at Harringay Arena.

When it came time to confront each other, they decided to take a pretty new step. The Shuttles knew the game so closely, foresaw a long and arduous encounter, and realized that whoever was at the top would be too tired and stiff to compete in the semifinals. So instead of playing an intense match, they both decided to toss a coin instead.

I’m talking to a veteran badminton writer Dev Sukumar in a 2007 interview, Nath recalled: “There was no point in bothering each other. We knew each other in the game. Our goal was to win the trophy. Devinder had no bad feelings for me after I won the throw and played the semifinals. We’ve been friends all our lives. ” The British press went wild with the story of how a valuable gold coin was used to throw between the two, although Nath denied the rumor.

Nath won the coin toss, got a warm hug from his friend and advanced to the semi-finals where he defeated an Englishman named Redford before meeting Dane Conny Jespen in the final. Nath was confident he would beat the Dane, but that all changed when he read The Times newspaper on the morning of March 3rd.

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Badminton legend Prakash Padukone
Prakash Padukone became the first Indian to win the All England Open badminton championship.

Giving up the racket

The division was in full swing, and his hometown Lahore was on fire. He read about how the city was affected by violent riots. Specifically, the entire area around his house was on fire. Since all lines of communication were cut off, he didn’t know if his family was alive or not. Although Nath was unable to play the finals, he did.

In another interview, he recalled that the day of the finals was an ‘ugly dream’ and that he had just ‘gone through the motions’. What was supposed to be a day of celebration eventually became just the beginning of a long and long nightmare.

When Nath returned to Lahore, it was no longer a city he did not recognize. With a looted house, a thriving successful family business and bloodthirsty mobs raging in the street killing people, it was now a matter of survival. Nath nearly lost his life on several occasions, and those days haunted him for years after that.

Given the religious polarization of the time, Nath and the surviving members of his family had no choice but to leave everything behind and migrate to a refugee camp in Delhi. Badminton was the farthest from his mind and he swore he would never touch the racket until his family got to their feet. And he did not depart from his vow.

The family eventually settled in the capital, where he built a successful business with electronic machine tools. Living a solitary life, he eventually moved the family business to his son, retired and passed away in relative anonymity in 2009. His friend Mohan, meanwhile, won several more singles titles at the 1949 and 1950 national championships, in addition to which he led Indian contingent in the Thomas Cup (1948, 1952). Among other things, he led the Indian contingent in a disturbing victory against so many announced Danes in 1952.

To this day, Mohan remains a legend of Indian badminton. Suffice it to say, one could speculate whether Nath could have become the first Indian to win the All England Open badminton championship before Prakash Padukone’s 1980 special run. further achieve bigger things in badminton. Unfortunately, we will never know.

But at least he had that moment with his friend Mohan.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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