It is the most overused term in Indian badminton. There are countless stories on how effectively Indians have used it against foreign players – consequently, every young player is told to learn it.
We’re talking of the ‘dribble’. In India, no badminton conversation can be complete without talking of this shot, because there is a sense of Indian mystery to it. Players like Suresh Goel, Nandu Natekar and Prakash Padukone were famed for taming faster and harder-hitting opponents purely by virtue of mastering the dribble – which essentially meant a shot that sent a shuttle spinning over the net tape, leaving the opponent unable to counter it.
The theory is that Indians have more supple wrists compared to the others, and so are able to impart more spin to the shuttle. This theory sits well with the notion of how we have produced world-class spinners in cricket, but not so many fast bowlers.
And yet – I find rather belatedly – there is no such term as the ‘dribble’ in badminton lexicon worldwide. It’s an exclusively Indian term!
Pat Davis, author of ‘The Encyclopaedia of Badminton’ refers to four shots that belong to this category of net shots: upward; hair-pin, stab, and spin. The last three resemble the dribble: the hair-pin is used when the shuttle follows the trajectory of a sharp ‘U’ – rising from below the net tape and sharply falling over it; the stab is a sort of poke under the base of the shuttle, making it turn ‘cork over feathers’, while the spin is imparted with a racket “following a curved path, and striking feathers and base spins the shuttle on its axis”.
Terms like hair-pin, stab and spin are hardly ever used in contemporary badminton writing. Long-time commentator Gill Clark usually refers to this as the ‘tight spinning net shot’. Earlier writers, like Betty Uber, used the term ‘tumble’. In some parts of the world, the ‘net roll’ is used.
Nandu Natekar, revered by earlier generation of Indian fans for his racket skills, says the ‘dribble’ has been around as long as he can remember. “It’s played by cutting the shuttle a little bit,” he says. “When you did that, it wobbled. The cut, or slice, was a subtle action. Modern players tend to ‘keep’ the shuttle at the net – I’ve never seen them cutting or slicing it. The term was used extensively – I don’t know where we got it from.”
It does seem that the ‘dribble’ is an Indian contribution to the lexicon of badminton.