Just months after he turned 17, Subhankar Dey was offered a job at the Food Corporation of India. It would guarantee him, the youngest son of a middle-class household, a steady income and a secure future. But Dey didn’t want the job because it would have meant he would have to put his budding badminton career on the backburner. “My parents wanted me to take the job, they didn’t care much about me playing,” recalls Dey. “The only choice I had was to run away from home.”
So he left his hometown Kolkata for Mumbai without informing his mother. He carried with him only essentials and his kit bag. He was banking on the coach waiting for him at the Thane Academy.
A year earlier, his father had passed away, but Dey had already made up his mind to pursue his passion.”I had made the choice. Badminton was my passion, this was everything,” he says.
On Monday, at the Senior National Championships in Nagpur, Dey, ranked No. 67 in the world willed himself – despite a leg cramp — to pull off a 13-21, 21-18, 22-20 win over World No.16 B Sai Praneeth.
What makes Dey’s win special is that he does not train at the two renowned nurseries of Indian badminton — one run by P Gopichand and the other by Prakash Padukone. In the midst of academy trained players, who are coached by India’s best and reap the benefits of a structured and monitored coaching programme, Dey is a lone ranger of sorts. He does not have a coach and plays for a Danish club in Copenhagen, a city he moved to when his career in India had hit a roadblock two years ago.
This year has been special for him as he has won titles in Portugal and Iceland. While his triumphs don’t carry the weight-age of superseries wins, they give him the belief that he is on the right path. At the Denmark Open Super Series just last month, Dey was drawn up against an old rival in his first round match, Kidambi Srikanth. That was Dey’s first time ever in the main draw of a Super Series, after he made it past the qualifying round. Srikanth went onto win the title.
But not long ago Dey and Srikanth, both of the same age, were the big names on the junior circuit. Dey was in fact junior India No.1, but the high ranking was because his peers were playing on the international circuit.
“Srikanth, HS Prannoy, P Kashyap were already playing abroad, so there was no quality player left for me to train with here,” Dey says. “Slowly the gap widened and I was falling behind.”
He doesn’t have a permanent coach to travel with him, and instead plies his trade in the Danish League, playing for Greve Strands.
The decision to go abroad was taken when nothing much was working for him at home. “The reason Srikanth, Prannoy, Kashyap and all have done well is because they’ve been playing and training together at one centre, but I didn’t get that chance,” says the Kolkata-lad.
There was hope back in 2014, when he got a call up for the national camp in Bangalore after he beat Ajay Jayaram in the Indian Grand Prix. But instead of sharing the training courts with his fellow men’s singles competitors, he was sent to train with Saina Nehwal. “Saina is a brilliant player, but it makes a big difference when you’re training with a lady for the men’s singles. It just wasn’t working,” he says.
Collecting whatever remained of his savings, shifting base to Copenhagen was the only option left.
“The likes of Saina, Srikanth, Kashyap, come to me, they talk to me. Before they never used to do that because they were senior players and I wasn’t that big,” he says. “Now I feel like I can get to that level.”
At the Divisional Sports Complex in Nagpur, he played what was the tournament’s longest match – lasting 73 minutes. Dey’s celebration lasted at least another five minutes after that. The result reignited hopes of a call up to the national camp, to get a chance to train with and against the best India has.
His next match, his first ever semi-final at the senior nationals will be against World No.11 HS Prannoy.
Dey isn’t too perturbed about the quality of his opponent. “I’m a ‘big guy’ too now. I’ve made my mark.”
Sindhu, Saina cruise
PTI adds from Nagpur: Olympic medallists PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal sailed into the women’s singles semi-finals while men’s world No.2 Kidambi Srikanth also notched up a comfortable win in the 82nd Senior National Badminton Championship. In the women’s singles quarter-finals, London Games bronze medallist Saina thrashed Aakarshi Kashyap 21-17, 21-10. In another last-eight match, Rio Olympics silver medallist Sindhu proved too good for Shriyanshi Pardeshi, winning her match 21-11, 21-17. In the men’s singles competition, India’s top male shuttler Srikanth dispatched Shubham Prajapati 21-17, 23-21.
The proceedings in the quarter-finals started with the mixed doubles duo of Satwik Sai Raj R and Ashwini Ponnappa taking on Shivam Sharma and Poorvisha S Ram. Satwik and Ponnappa, with their high speed and seamless coordination, managed to bag the first game 21-14 and the second 21-12.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines