Saturday Features

Birds of a feather

  • The Tamang siblings—Sara, Nangsal and Ratnajit—have dominated Nepali badminton for the past decade. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing
- Adarsha Dhakal
It is a question often asked. Is Nepal satisfied with just one Ratnajit and Nangsal?

Oct 14, 2017-

At 24, Tribhuvan Army Club’s (TAC) badminton prodigy Ratnajit Tamang has won almost everything he can domestically. His trophy cabinet is filled with 22 titles he has collected over the last five years, a duration during which he has ruled over the sport, missing out on only three of the 25 titles he has participated in. 

 

Ratnajit, Nepal’s top shuttler, has been a cut above the rest for a reason. Equally effective with his trademark backhand smash as he is with agility and forehand play, Ratnajit has won the last three domestic finals at a canter. 

 

Last year, Ratnajit playing with his sister, Nangsal Tamang, landed Nepal its first-ever international gold, winning the mixed doubles at the Pakistan International Badminton Series. He had also managed to reach the pre-quarterfinals of the US Open Grand Prix and currently sits at 159th spot in the world rankings. 

 

Like Ratnajit, his two sisters—Sara Devi and Nangsal—have also dominated women’s badminton for the past decade. Their undisputed reign began after Sara went on a title winning spree in 2009 after the former national No 1, Sumina Shrestha, emigrated to the United States. Since then, the Tamang sisters have split 30 different titles between them. 

 

There is little denying that the three Tamang siblings, originally hailing from Bhojpur, have made national-level badminton their own over the last decade.

 

Nepal Badminton Association President, Ramji Bahadur Shrestha—who himself played professionally for two decades—believes that a part of the siblings’ success can be attributed to their tough upbringing.

“They come from a remote village in the hilly Bhojpur district. They have seen a lot of hardships growing up and their level of dedication has been exemplary,” he says. But even while crediting the Tamangs for being immensely talented, Shrestha acknowledges that their total domination over the sport is also a result of the lack of quality competition. 

 

It is a question he gets asked often. Is Nepal happy with just one Ratnajit and Nangsal?

 

A decade ago, Nepali badminton was thriving with quality, competitive rivalries. Pashupati Paneru and Balram Thapa played some memorable tournaments together, as they jostled to wreathe the No 1 spot from one another.

They both left for the US in 2008 as well. Another reigning No 1, Bikash Shrestha, also opted to move to the United Arab Emirates to pursue a lucrative coaching offer. Their departures left a sizeable void in the game that took time to fill. 

 

“We struggled for six years after they left,” Shrestha admits, “We had invested a lot on Pashupati, Balram and Sumina. They used to play at least 10 tournaments a year and Nepali badminton was beginning to take shape. Today, the competition they could have provided to young players like Ratnajit and Nangsal would have been invaluable.”

 

But if men’s badminton has frequently seen some neck-to-neck competitions in the past, women’s title showdowns are often extremely lopsided affairs. Sara, who has been out injured for the past year and a half, has often won finals with ease. In her absence and following the retirement of five-time national champion, Puja Shrestha, Nangsal has been enjoying the best form of her career.

 

Last year, Nangsal claimed eight titles, hardly sweating in any of the finals. And president Shrestha agrees that the talent deficit is particularly acute in the women’s game. “I know that the women’s competition looks lifeless but we can do nothing if rising players chose other careers over badminton,” Shrestha says, “We are lucky that Nangsal and Sara are still playing in Nepal.” According to him, since Sumina’s departure, Nepal’s women’s badminton has seen several young shuttlers with potential but they invariably never make playing badminton a priority. 

 

This comes despite the fact that players today have access to a lot more exposure than they once did. Former national No 3, Nabin Bikram Shah—now secretary of the badminton association—believes badminton has become a whole lot more lucrative since his playing days, even if it is paltry when compared to international standards.

“I still remember how we craved for domestic tournaments in our playing days. Even a single tournament used to be a great boon,” he says, “But now we have five high-profile domestic tournaments that attract players from all around the country. Additionally, there are a host of international tournaments for the players to compete in.”

 

In contrast to the lopsided women’s game, men’s badminton has at least seen some talented shuttlers challenge Ratnajit’s reign in the past few years. Another youngster Dipesh Dhami, who emerged onto the scene as a U-17 prodigy, beat Ratnajit at a national-level competition final this year.

Another rising player, the 19-year-old Nabin Shrestha, has also given the duo a run for their money in recent tournaments. And at 24, Ratnajit too remains a young player yet to exploit his full potential.

 

But even the comparatively competitive men’s game can flatter to deceive. Take for instance the 2011 Krishna Mohan Memorial Badminton Tournament—a national competition organised by the Armed Police Force.

 

The tournament saw a comeback for Pashupati Paneru, who had returned from the US, having not played competitively for three years or even practiced for the tournament. In the final, despite sustaining an injury, he beat Ratnajit—the newly-crowned national champion at the time—handily, with breath to spare. 

 

Following his victory, the former No 1 did not appear elated. “I am not happy that I won,” he had confessed, in a conversation with the Post, “My level has not improved in the past three years, it has declined.

 

It shows how badminton has stagnated in Nepal. It shows how little we have done for the sport. This is not a happy moment.” 

Published: 14-10-2017 08:41

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