Sourabh Verma had his first non-badminton-focused meal in 14 days, at an Indian restaurant to celebrate his Vietnam Super 100 title beating Chinese Sun Fei Xiang 21-12, 17-21, 21-14 in 72 minutes. Now accustomed to using his phone for everything from flight bookings to cheap AirBnB stays in far-flung places from Slovenia and Spain to Chinese Taipei and Vietnam, finding an Indian restaurant to treat himself to a familiar palate, was easy. Otherwise, food was budgeted in—top priority but strictly affordable – on playing days, like it has been all of this year.
“When I started travelling for tournaments on my own without any funding as part of the Indian team, I learnt to plan. Food is very important to keep up strength, so that had to be good quality. I’d figure a good chicken-rice staple whichever part of the world I was playing in, and stick to it everyday. Nothing more, nothing fancy,” he says, talking of days on end when he wouldn’t glance into the menu lying in front from fear of being tempted.
“After food, for flight tickets and accommodation, I’d look for the cheapest deals not really bothering about anything beyond keeping things within budget. No 3-star hotels, calculating costs to balance travel distance,” he adds.
Except in Slovenia, when a dodgy neighbourhood of a hotel he’d considered booking gave him second thoughts and he decided to play it safe and checked into a more secure shared accommodation, but slightly more expensive. “I was relieved I won that tournament,” he laughs, adding that the safe hotel was a luxury and the prize money cancelled out the guilt of “splurging on safety.”
Sourabh has now won three titles this year – Slovenia, Hyderabad a fortnight back and now Vietnam, both Super 100s, a lower notch than the BWF circuit. He also won the Senior Nationals in Guwahati earlier, from where he had flown to Spain for a tournament, with no funding and no coach.
Funding for the Indian squad is available only to the top 25 in men’s singles, and Sourabh, Shubhankar Dey, Parupalli Kashyap and HS Prannoy—India’s second string – need to fend for themselves.
“I’m No. 38 now and might go up to No. 28. I’m no one to decide what BAI’s policy of funding should be. But yes, a bunch of us are in touching distance and need support. It’ll be good to be funded because it gets difficult at times to manage everything and then think about winning,” Sourabh says, a tad overwhelmed.
Funding for the second string and the juniors has been a prickly issue, muddled further by a curious call taken last year when a few India ranking tournaments were arranged, and even pre-quarterfinalists in women’s doubles leapfrogged the men’s singles bunch to stake claim on the funding. A little out-of-depth internationally, they would struggle to make headway in even the International Series, a lower level, but the dilemma remains – whether to jettison the singles second-rung in favour of rank outsiders in doubles, simply to promote them.
Sourabh says he’ll do as told: play the Nationals just before the All England, even if his niggling knee sends up shooting pain, because it’s mandatory, win the title to stay in contention, and carry on playing in Canada, US, and lately Taipei and Vietnam, pushing his ranking up. What rankles though is the absence of support staff.
Wanted: support staff
“In the US Open, I felt it most that a coach was needed while playing a Top- 20 Thai. You need coaches before matches for warm-ups and mental preparation and to strategise against opponents. Or you need a physio after a long gruelling match to fix the shoulder and back. But this year I’ve travelled to meets without a coach or physio,” he says.
Playing on one’s own can set one back by lakhs – US/Canada sojourn came to nearly INR 3 lakh, Thailand was another 50K, Europe was around INR 2.8 lakh, and Taipei-Vietnam INR 1.2 lakh. “You need around Rs 5-10 lakh in your bank account to be able to play tournaments everywhere. My sponsors and my ONGC job help, but I have almost zero savings. Winning a tournament helps in funding the next one,” Sourabh says.
Funding himself has made him responsible though. “You cut out the extras, and the visa of course we do it ourselves. I’ll ask the association again to consider me for funding. Let’s see,” he says, adding he’s ready for all eventualities now. “Fast shuttles, slow shuttles. No funding, yes funding.”