As the nation celebrates the Indian badminton team’s historic triumph in the Thomas Cup, we travel 70 years back when another Indian team nearly etched their names in the history books. 

The inaugural edition of the Thomas Cup, the brainchild of Sir George Thomas, was held in 1949 in England and was won by the Malaya team. Three years later, the next edition was held in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Singapore where India made their first appearance.

The Indian team qualified from the Pacific zone, blanking both Thailand & Australia 9-0. They now had to vie with USA (Americas zone) and Denmark (European zone) to have a shot at defending champions Malaya in the Challenge round. 

USA received a bye into the intra-zonal final and India were drawn to face Denmark in what was a virtual semifinal in KL. Few gave India a chance against a very strong Danish side. So much so that the official Malayan Badminton brochure even printed a USA vs. Denmark final cover page.

The unfancied Indian team had other ideas though. More at home in the hot & humid climes of the Malayan capital than their European counterparts, India shocked everyone by registering a comfortable 6-3 win. 

“Under-rated Indians play havoc with formidable Danes” – read the headline of a leading Malayan newsdaily. The Americans now stood between India and a shot at glory. They were starting with a handicap though. 

The Indian team flew out to Singapore from KL immediately after completing the Denmark tie and had to hit the court the very next day. In contrast, the Americans were fresh & rested. It showed in the performance. After day 1, the USA led 4-0. The result seemed a foregone conclusion. 

What happened next was one of the most stirring comebacks not just in the history of badminton or Thomas Cup but in sports as a whole. Leading the charge was Indian captain Devinder Mohan who upset world no. 2 Martin Mendez to open India’s account. 

Trilok Nath “TN” Seth produced a dazzling display to follow, defeating Dick Mitchell in 3 games. Amrit Lal Dewan then kept up the good work and the tie was now 4-3. Mohan returned with William Ferreira to take on the American doubles pair of Carl Loveday & Bob Williams. 

The American pair were in red hot form and were expected to sweep it. Despite losing the opening game, they destroyed the Indian pair 15-3 to draw parity. But Mohan became invincible in the decider and ably supported by Ferreira, clinched a narrow 18-17 win. 

The 10,000-strong crowd simply went crazy at this incredible comeback by the underdogs. Many barged into the playing area to congratulate the Indian team as commotion broke out. It took 40 minutes to restore normalcy and it was time for the deciding doubles. 

When TN Seth and Manoj Guha were leading 15-6 and 9-3, it looked like a miracle was about to take place. Unfortunately, the tide turned right there. The exhaustion of continuous matches and travel caught up with the Indians as the American pair leveled and went on to take the game. 

The decider was a letdown as the Americans pretty much ran away with it and thus won the tie 5-4. The Indians were defeated but far from disgraced. The headlines of next day’s dailies were full of praise for the amazing heart & fight shown by the Indians. 

The contest with USA, although ending in heartbreak, went a long way in putting India on the badminton world map. The journey started by a group of lion hearted players witnessed its perfect culmination yesterday as Srikanth, Lakshya & team stood on the top of the badminton world.