What Chirag Shetty can learn about online gaming from Leander Paes and Jwala Gutta
One part narcissism, two parts menace and a healthy sprinkling of devil-may-care. They warn you against all those in life. But that’s the recipe for turning the well-behaved double shooter, Shetty, into something of a winning machine.
No one is asking Shetty to go from a front bencher to a badly behaved bad boy. Only some focused shuttle hogging and punching is recommended. Because manning the web requires a certain personality, especially if you didn’t grow up in Indonesia or Malaysia, where the insolence begins to flow through your veins when you match skills with far superior seniors.
India has no precedent for Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Shetty in men’s doubles, they are the first bonafide prototype. That’s one of the reasons why Shetty, the playmaker, needs to don a confidence-boosting suit and start loving his own wrist game. It’s not about pecking at the bird mindlessly, but getting in line with the shuttle and hitting it early, which is a combination of anticipation and footwork.
More than anything else, it stays on its toes, ready to be mobile in both lateral and vertical dimensions. He also doesn’t have to be afraid of the shuttle flying towards him or getting brain freeze, as coach Mathias Boe has called out audibly throughout the season.
By all accounts, it has been a successful breakout season for the Indian duo, with Thomas Cup and Commonwealth Games titles, tour victories in Delhi and Paris, and their first World Championship medal, a bronze. A top 5 climb is imminent. But the pair aren’t exactly the talk of the town, nor seen as Paris Games contenders, just yet. They have a win-loss head-to-head record of 11-0 against Indonesian ‘Minions’ Kevin-Marcus and 7-0 against Malaysian World Champions, Chia – Soh.
Two Indians manned the net in tennis and badminton – and didn’t exactly conform to the checklist of common qualities seen in those positions. Leander Paes was not tall or powerful. Jwala Gutta was not the fastest on his feet like Japanese or Chinese. But both had good hands and a laser eye to spot, manipulate and pounce on their opponents’ weaknesses.
Shetty is not lacking in either, although he has had to work hard on each, having started as a backcourt player with a penchant for slamming down smashes. High too and thus forced to learn to bend and crouch. However, that’s not the skill he’ll be found to suffer from – if anything, he’s working doubly hard. That’s the attitude: one part narcissism, two parts menace; none of that was seen as a negative in sports.
Dr. Vece Paes, recalling what the great tennis coach Tony Roche had noticed in trying to understand Leander’s effectiveness on the court, had said: “The perception that Leander and his reflexes are quick, Tony had said, is because he goes out out of the way to dare opponents standing at the net.”
A slightly begrudging compliment, as Roche carefully tried to steer him away from singles to doubles, actually highlighted what was at the heart of Paes’ incredibly successful doubles game, which marked him as a leader in all of his 100 partnerships.
Shetty needs to reach that level of skill to buy into his own invincibility, if he is to avoid those fights where Boe rips him apart for being relaxed and generally not stiff.
It’s not about sharp strokes or smart serves, but internalizing the instinct that the front yard is his kingdom, and he the ruler.
Jwala Gutta had once explained, “Whenever Arif Sir spoke, I always took his instructions very literally. So when he said ‘the moment the shuttle crosses the net, it’s yours,’ I went after it like my life depended on it.”
That’s what makes badminton a boxing ring – the combative zeal demanded of those at the net, who go from guard to sharp sniper. Doubles turns into a close contact sport as the bird crosses the divider at high speeds that can push you back like a hammer hitting a nail. Nevertheless, you must continue to take the confident lunge forward to attack the shuttle for your own body line. Like running into a storm with full skin.
Being constantly in the crowded firing line also requires an unforgettable temperament. This is where the slightly overthinking Shetty has to loosen up a bit.
Priceless! Commonwealth Games Men’s Doubles Champions! #b2022 @Media_SAI @BAI_Media @IndianOilcl @GoSportsVoices @YonexSunriseIn pic.twitter.com/TdxD9aUAPm
— Chirag Shetty (@Shettychirag04) 10 August 2022
Jwala, easily India’s greatest doubles shooter, before Satwik-Chirag went a step ahead of her with Tour victories, would say fondly: “I’m never worried. I take less pressure. I am the creator, setting up partners for the murders. I have two opponents to deal with.” There was a bit of white knight syndrome there too: “Every split second is important, I know if I’m wrong, partners will be helpless.”
Too often, indecisiveness or nerves at crucial moments, against the Malaysians and Indonesians, has tripped Shetty in charge of the pace of the game, rather than daring opponents at close range.
(1/2) Exactly one year ago we returned empty-handed from the Olympics in Tokyo. Glad Tokyo had better things to offer this time. We could not go all the way, but we are sure to give everything we have to change the color of the medal in the future. pic.twitter.com/Fo8lRjtR1K
— Chirag Shetty (@Shettychirag04) 28 August 2022
Jaseel Ismail, one of India’s best doubles players from the previous generation, wants Shetty to take the initiative and not hang back in trying to disrupt his opponents. He believes it is a game of confidence – a good match at the highest level will bring more victories and take them to the top 5 and contention for the Olympic medal.
Satwik brings the mic drops and firepower plus surprising deception and composure to this pair. Still, it’s Shetty who has to do the heavy lifting – literally, and slide into the online role. There is room to be creative that suits his ingenuity and intelligence.
But the web requires an extroverted bearing or at least someone who spoils for a good scrap. “I like to face attacks first and I am good at taking decisions,” Jwala used to say.
The industrious Shetty, who compulsively Googles what he sees and is voracious to learn about new things, must work up an appetite for battle. India’s next medal may just depend on him accepting the challenge of fighting to take a full-tilt diva turn.
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