As the Assam pair of Surajbhan Buragohain and Rajshekhar Das faced their opponents Prakhar Banchhor and Gandhar Nawale in the boys’ U-17 doubles qualification round in the 26th Smt. Krishna Khaitan Memorial All India Junior Ranking and Prize Money Badminton Tournament at Panjab University, a coach would keep an eagle’s eye on the pair. “Attack and understand your game,” the coach would say to the youngsters even though the pair lost the match.
Understanding is crucial to the paired event in badminton, and learning to think as a combine almost non-existent in India, obsessed and content with its singles successes. The 39-year-old coach would then shift his focus to other doubles matches before spending time with the singles’ players in the hall. He is Indonesian.
For Indian badminton fans, Edwin Iriawan is a familiar name in the doubles circle as the Indonesian doubles tactician who worked with the Indian team from 2010 to start of 2014 before shifting back home to work with the Indonesian team.
The 39-year-old coach is back in India in his second stint as a coach with the Assam Badminton Academy since the last three months and his first task is to prepare the doubles team at the academy.
“We have 10-15 girls out of 50 trainees at the academy. But currently we do not have any girls doubles’ players in the academy. One thing which I am certain is that you have to be specific about playing doubles and the sooner we train the players for doubles, it is better. In India, most of the players still think singles is a priority when they start. In Olympics, there are five gold medals at stake and every gold medal counts the same whether it be singles or doubles or mixed doubles,” says the coach, who has signed a two-year contract with ABA.
Iriawan’s three-years stint with the Indian team saw Jwala Gutta and Ashwani Ponnappa winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2010 apart from the pair winning a historic bronze medal in World Championships in 2013. Iriawan’s exit in early 2014 saw Indian team without a doubles specialist coach till the arrival of Malaysian Tan Kim Her.
Iriawan worked for one year with the Malaysian mixed doubles teams followed by working as chief coach for the women’s team for one year.
“Jwala and Ashwini were the best doubles pair for India and Jwala’s pairing with Diju also worked well. They had talent to excel at the world level and with Jwala being a left-handed player, which is rare in women’s doubles worked in her favour and her play in front of net made her world class,” he says.
He has watched Satwiksairaj and Chirag Shetty on television and reckons they will certainly improve with more competitions. “India now has a doubles specialist coach in the form of Tan and it is good for Indian badminton,” he adds.
Coming from a country, which has four teams in top-ten in men’s doubles and mixed doubles world rankings, including the top ranked men’s doubles pair of Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, Iriawan has seen paired specialists from close and believes that doubles and mixed doubles is a completely different terrain.
“In Indonesia, there are 3-4 academies especially for the doubles teams,” he informs. “The national team, which has 80 players, stay in one building and doubles pairs train and live together whole year,” he adds.
Two people, one head
Doubles is like two people playing with one head and that is the key, he stresses.
“I met Kevin first in 2009 as part of national team and he would only talk about doubles. Same with Lilyana Natsir and her mixed doubles gold medal in Rio showed that. And being number one in world rankings in doubles is no less than the singles rankings,” he adds.
A different programme is followed for doubles says the Indonesian.
“Like in doubles, we make players practice shots against 3 or four players on the opposite side and training is different for singles,” shared the coach.
And while Assam has seen singles’ players like Ashmita Chaliha climbing the national rankings, the coach believes it is a new start for him.
“Ashmita has shown progress and her advantage is of being left-handed. This is a crucial phase for players like her as they need to play in International Challenge or Series in one year’s time,” he adds.
Assam already have the number one ranked player in U-13 in the form of Tonmoy. “For doubles also, if I can spot a U-13 or U-11 player and make him focus on doubles only, it will work well,” shared the coach who will take on the herculean task of making Indian kids (and parents) think as part of a paired team, rather than just themselves — a cultural change in itself.