Sri Lankans across the globe were forced to face another loss at Indian hands in the sporting world.
Indian shuttler Parupalli Kashyap beat Sri Lanka's Niluka Karunaratne to reach the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games at the Wembley Arena, only a day after India beat Sri Lanka in a cricket ODI series in Sri Lanka.
Niluka ranked 27 places below Kashyap in the world chart, raised hopes of an upset, but Kashyap proved too strong to become the first Indian man in history to reach the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games.
The 21st ranked Kashyap had to bring in all his experience and craft into play to quell the strong challenge of his rival 21-14 15-21 21-9 in the pre-quarterfinal clash that lasted 66 minutes.
The 25-year-old Hyderbadi thus emulated the feat of Saina Nehwal, who became the first-ever Indian to reach the last-eight stage in the Beijing Games four years ago.
Kashyap survived a scare from the 5 feet 8 inch tall Sri Lankan in a match that witnessed several long rallies.
The Indian was made to work hard for every point as the Sri Lankan showed excellent retrieving power and engaged his opponent in long rallies.
In the first game, Karunaratne stormed ahead 7-4 but Kashyap got the measure of his opponent quickly and showed flashes of experience to first narrow down the gap and then build a healthy six-point lead at 17-11.
Kashyap delighted a packed audience with some beautiful cross-court winners and his trademark drop shots to pocket the first game with a powerful smash.
The Sri Lankan, however, made an impressive return in the second game and involved the Indian in long rallies, forcing Kashyap to commit sideline errors.
It looked like the discussion with his father coach during the break had instilled a new belief in the Sri Lankan as he came back more determined and took a commanding 10-point lead at 18-8.
Kashyap, however, tried to make a comeback and saved eight game points but Karunaratne clinched the game with a smash.
The match-up was billed as one of the biggest sporting clashes between India and Sri Lanka... and it’s not cricket.
Sports fans from the two sub-continent nations, who are otherwise used to cheering their respective cricket teams were locking horns in support of badminton players at London Olympics 2012.
Kashyap thrashed number 11 Tien Minh Nguyen of Vietnam in the second and final Group D match of the men's singles event to reach the knockout stage.
He had beaten Belgium's Tan Yuhan in an earlier game.
Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka losing a home cricket ODI series to India, and losing quite badly, Niluka has suddenly emerged as the great sporting hope for a nation tired of being let down by its cricketers.
Even the cricketers believed in him.
Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene wished Niluka Karunaratne success.
“I watched Niluka’s game and then the highlight as well. I have seen the way he trains. He used to come to the cricket board gym to do his fitness work. He’s an amazing guy.
“A lot of hard work has gone into what he has achieved so far. Very proud about where he has done. Hopefully he will push himself and it’s a great opportunity for him to try and win tomorrow’s next game. All the Sri Lankans will be looking forward to this game.”
Sri Lankans across the world and in the UAE are gearing up to watch the match.
“It is a match between the 20 million Sri Lankans against the 1.2 billion Indians.
“It will be a huge achievement if he can manage to win the match and move on to the next round,” said Farook Kassim, President of the Dubai-based Sri Lankan Business Council (SLBC).
According to Amal M Karunaratne has already made the country proud by beating the number 8 seed.
“He has made the country proud and become the pillar of success for all Sri Lankans. We wish him all the best. The expectations are high and now people of Sri Lanka want him to win a medal,” said Amal.
Badminton is one of the top five games in terms of popularity in Sri Lanka after Cricket and Rugby.
Indians on the other hand say Kashyap’s win along with Indian women top-seed and World No 5 Saina’s Nehwal assured success will be a dream come true.
“The media has been projecting Saina as a clear winner. Now we have Kashyap too joining the race.
“It will be a good treat if both manage to get us medals,” said Raj Bhatia.