Tuesday, May 24, 2011
A couple of months back, Clarence mentioned a Corporate badminton championship in the Bay Area. Usually I don't play tournaments because, thanks to my dodgy shoulder, I have to play a notch below my best and that puts me at a lousy level where I cant compete in A division and B division players cannot read my strokes. In this case I was intrigued for two reasons. The Bay Area is the mecca for badminton in the USA and I was sure I could meet up with a few of my old National level colleagues. Also, it being a team championship, I wasn't going to win anything single handed. Others had to win their matches too. So the guilt wasn't there. After a bit of begging and pleading with Pratibha, I readied for the trip.
As is usual with any of my endeavors, I had my pre-event meeting with Mr Murphy. I took off on a hike a weekend before the tourney to a Desert called Anza Borrego. Out in Asia deserts invoke images of camels and Sand Dunes. Apparently the memo never reached North America. Out here it's huge boulders, steep slopes, and did I mention the cactus? Steep slopes and cactus do not make a good pair. If you walk into a cactus on a steep slope you have two options. Jerk back in pain, lose balance, because of the slope, and fall on the cactus behind you. Or bite your lip and get cut in two places .. the lip and the leg where the cactus poked you. Having tried both options several times, I assure you the second options is better (the same way a punch on the nose is better than a kick in the nuts). Thanks to that misadventure, I had badly cut up hands and legs a week before the tourney.
Clarence had trouble of his own. Our star women's player was having a baby and another star men's player went down with a fractured foot. A third one wasn't sure he'd be able to make it. Finally, With plenty of begging and pleading, scolding and whining, seven from our office in San Diego started for San Jose in a rented Van with three more joining use from our office in Santa Clara. The tourney was from 9AM - 9PM on Sunday. However, assuming we get knocked out in the first couple of rounds, we figured we'll get out by 5-6 in the evening and still make it back to San Diego by a little after midnight.
We reached San Jose at close to 3 in the afternoon and met up with the folks in Santa Clara at 4:30 for a practice session. The courts were lovely. I don't remember the last time I saw 18 hova courts dedicated to badminton at one place. Wait .. I remember .. I've never seen that before. Maybe I was distracted by all this, but I soon realised I couldn't see the shuttle. All I could see when I look ahead was the court in front of mine and then the court in front of that and so on. It was like standing in one of the changing rooms in a mall with mirrors all around you. After an hour and a half of disorientation, we gave up and left for what we really came for. If San Jose is the mecca for badminton, it is also the Vatican for Asian food. Juanning, who is from Santa Clara told us of a nice dig for Schezwan Chinese food (that's the spicy version .. Cantonese is for Wusses). We agreed to go there and Juanning took off for the place right away. The poor guy had never heard of Indian Standard time. He ended up waiting for a good hour before we joined him. The food was lovely tasty and spicy. We tucked in and tucked in some more, and then some more and then finally a bit more. I wanted more .. but even the cavities in my teeth were full. The mind was willing but the body wasn't up to it. So I regretfully got up. After a meal like that, sleep wasn't an issue and before I knew it it was Sunday morning.
The way a team championship works is, between teams, there will be 5 matches. Three men's doubles, a mixed doubles and a women's doubles. No team member can play more than one match in a tie. For each tie, teams would hand out the names of their first second and third men's doubles as well as their women's and mixed doubles ahead of time. This would be compared with the name list from the opponents. The first men's doubles team would play the first men's doubles from the opposition, the second men's doubles team would play the second team from the opposition and so on. The team that wins 3 matches first, wins the tie.
Our pool had 4 teams including us. Our goal was to finish the league stage in the top two of our pool so we qualify for A division playoffs. After that, we dint expect to go much further. Me included, we had 5 strong men's doubles players, two reasonably good men's doubles players, and a reasonably good women player. That being so, we had two options to win 3 games. Leaving me, we could pair the remaining 4 men's into two strong doubles teams, and have me pair with one of the two decent players to make another strong doubles team. the other option was to pair one strong doubles player with the decent women's player and play a decent mixed doubles. That way we would have one really strong men's doubles with me and another reasonably strong doubles. The remaining two ties would always be as good as lost. We would choose our suit based on the opponents. If we felt their women were weak, we would place a strong player for mixed doubles and have two strong men's doubles too. This would also gives us a chance against teams with an A level player (just hope he pairs up against me in the drawing). If the opponents had a strong women's player, we wouldn't chance it with our mixed doubled. Instead, we would pair me with the weaker player and hope I can cover for him.
I think there's something to be said for going in with no expectations. Things went surprisingly smoothly for us throughout the tourney. We had our fair share of trouble with one of our players stubbing his toe and another two cramping badly after the semi finals, but I always ended up playing the opponents best player and somehow squeaking through. A couple of our mixed doubles were really close. Our women's doubles also won a game for us. Before we knew it we were in the finals and getting a royal drubbing. And that's when I realised why Mr Murphy hadn't poked his nose yet. It was close to midnight. We were still in San Jose, we hadn't had dinner, we were dog tired, and we had a 7 hour drive ahead of us to San Diego. Still happy and tired is way better and unhappy and fresh. So Mr Murphy .. you miscalculated. We collected our trophies and left for San Diego with happy memories and huge grins on our faces. I don't remember the last time I felt happy after losing in a finals. It feels good to be an Amateur.