Badminton: a guide for Indian fans

As badminton stars increasingly become household names in India, we look back on the sport’s history and rules of the sport.

With the likes of PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and B Sai Praneeth making India proud on a regular basis, badminton’s popularity is on the rise in the country.

Whether enjoyed during picnics or on a professional indoor court, it’s instantly familiar with the masses. However, not many might be aware of just how the sport's evolution has shaped up in India.

PV Sindhu won her maiden World Championships title earlier this year
PV Sindhu won her maiden World Championships title earlier this yearPV Sindhu won her maiden World Championships title earlier this year

Here, we run through the history of the sport and the people who made it famous, and help explain some of the basic rules of badminton.

The equipment

The shuttlecock is synonymous with badminton - a 'ball' unlike any other used in sport.

Traditionally, goose feathers are used to create the flight, with 16 of them inserted into a cork base covered with a thin layer of leather.

Feathers from the left wing only are normally used as these are said to produce the best results.

The length of the feathers can be between 62 and 70mm, with a weight from 4.74 to 5.50 grams.

In a professional game, normally around 20-25 shuttlecocks will be used as they tend to lose their shape quickly.

Players can ask to change the shuttle in the course of the match, but can only do so if the umpire and opponent agree.

The shuttlecock: a 'ball' unlike no other
The shuttlecock: a 'ball' unlike no otherThe shuttlecock: a 'ball' unlike no other

Colonial pastime

While the exact origins of the sport remain somewhat obscure, with similar pastimes involving a shuttlecock being around for hundreds of years across Europe and Asia, the game as we know it today is said to have derived its name from the Duke of Beaufort's Badminton House in England’s Gloucestershire county.

The Duke, after witnessing British officers stationed in Pune, India playing the game, introduced it to his guests at a get-together in 1873. The game was named after Pune, or Poona, as it was known then.

After a few British sanctioning bodies were set up, such as the Bath Badminton Club in 1877 and the Badminton Federation of India in 1899, the Badminton World Federation was established to govern international badminton in 1934, and India joined in 1936. Post-war times have seen Asian nations emerge as formidable contenders, with not just India but China, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan also producing world-elite players on a regular basis.

Rules of Badminton

The modern game of badminton can be played in three formats - singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.

Singles games allow the players to take advantage of their entire half of the court. This, of course, necessitates tremendous levels of fitness and timely employment of various strategies that are a mix of aggression and positioning.

Doubles, on the other hand, are more about synchrony between the two players on each side. With not as much of a focus on positioning as in a singles game, doubles matches are normally a far more aggressive affair, particularly men's doubles.

Mixed Doubles differ in that there is a general focus on positioning the female player at the front and the male at the back, on account of the latter's usually stronger reach and smash. This leads to the opponents employing a style of play that tries to force the female player toward the back or vice versa.

Badminton is played on a rectangular court divided into two halves by a net. The court is marked for both singles and doubles play but, in some cases, it's permissible for a court to be marked for singles only.

The shuttlecock may only be struck once before it crosses over the net, and should the shuttlecock strike the floor or the umpire calls a fault, play ends and a point is awarded to the benefactor of the fault. Whoever reaches 21 points first is declared the winner.

However, should the score reach 20-all, the game goes on until either side gains a two-point lead, or if the game reaches 29-all, in which case, whoever scores the 'golden point' wins.

The rules of badminton also account for 'lets'. These are occurrences that crop up in case of some untoward instances such as a runaway shuttlecock landing on the court from a match being played in an adjacent court, a shuttlecock grazing the tight confines of a smaller facility, or when the receiver is not ready during a service. In such cases, if a let is called, the rally is stopped and re-run, with the score remaining unaffected.

Badminton and the Olympics

Badminton made its first appearance at an Olympics when it was included as a demonstration sport at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

However, it was not until 1992 that the sport was finally fully included on the Olympic programme, with men's and women's singles and doubles competitions.

Then four years later in Atlanta 1996, mixed doubles was also added - and the competition schedule has remained the same ever since.

Legends of Badminton

Of the internationally renowned badminton players, China's Gao Ling, with four Olympic medals between 2000-2004, is a name that comes up quite frequently, as do South Korea's Gil Young-ah and Kim Dong-moon, who each bagged three Olympic medals, between 1996-2004 and 2000-2004 respectively.

China’s Lin Dan is one of the most successful active players in badminton
China’s Lin Dan is one of the most successful active players in badmintonChina’s Lin Dan is one of the most successful active players in badminton

Lin Dan is another name that is revered and regarded by many as the best singles player of all time. Till date, he is the first and only player to have won the nine major titles of badminton. It's no surprise then that he's nicknamed 'Super Dan'!

Doing India proud

Prakash Padukone is the first name that comes to mind when one talks about India's prowess in the sport. His pioneering achievements, such as winning the men's singles gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, made him the first player from India to achieve the World No. 1 spot in 1980. In his footsteps followed the likes of Syed Modi and Pullela Gopichand. The next generation was led by female stars like Sindhu, Nehwal and Jwala Gutta.

Badminton's global popularity really took off after it made its debut as an official sport at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Dipankar Bhattacharya was the first badminton player from India to have participated on that occasion.

Since then, Indians have consistently made it to the Olympics each year, with Sindhu and Nehwal being the only two medallists, having clinched bronze at London 2012 and silver at Rio 2016 respectively.

From Padukone co-founding the Olympic Gold Quest to Pullela Gopichand's Herculean effort of setting up the Gopichand Badminton Academy by putting his house up for mortgage, Indian players have done their best to give back to the sport that brought them name and fame.

Their efforts have helped produce many of the big names of the sport we know today and helped propagate badminton to ever-higher levels of popularity.

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