Asian Games 2018: With two bronze medals, Indian table tennis has emerged as formidable challenger at Asian level
When we talk about racquet spots in India, tennis and badminton take centre stage given the laurels won by our shutters and tennis stars at the world stage. The likes of Leander Peas, Sanai Mirza, Rohan Bopanna, Saini Nehwal and PV Sindhu have consistently medalled at the Asian and Commonwealth Games besides winning tournaments at the very highest level. However, that could change pretty quickly with our paddlers making rapid strides.
The Indian table tennis contingent surprised quite a few when they clinched two bronze medals at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang. Given the tough field at the Asiads comprising of some world-class paddlers from China, Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei and Singapore; Indians certainly proved their mettle by challenging the status quo and securing their place on the podium not once but twice.
India’s seasoned veteran Achanta Sharath Kamal combined brilliantly with upcoming star Manika Batra to win bronze in the mixed team event. The men’s team comprising of Achanta Sharath Kamal, Harmeet Desai, Sathiyan Gyanasekaran, Sanil Shetty and Anthony Amalraj then stunned a much higher ranked Japan to book a place in the semis and assure themselves of another bronze. The Indians went down fighting to Korea in the last four but scripted history by securing the second bronze.
For long India has played second fiddle to Asian heavyweights and have never been in contention for a podium finish at major table tennis events at the continental level. The Chinese paddlers followed by the Koreans, Japanese and Taiwanese have always been a cut above the rest. Indian paddlers didn't have enough exposure at the world level and were at best competing at the SAF Games and other regional tournaments.
In the 70s and 80s, Venugopal Chandrasekhar, Kamlesh Mehta and Manjit Dua dominated the nationals but were their achievements were limited to the realms of the Indian subcontinent. In the 90s and early 2000s, Chetan Baboor and Subramanium Raman were India’s flag bearers at the international stage and helped the nation clinch back to back medals the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships.
At the turn of the century, a plethora of talented paddlers like Achanta Sharath Kamal, Soumyadeep Roy, Subhajit Saha, Sourav Chakraborty, Poulomi Ghatak and Mouma Das emerged onto the national scene.
Medals kept on coming at the Commonwealth Games and regional competitions but a podium finish at the Asiads deserted us. However, Sharath Kamal’s long stint at the German league pursued others eminent paddlers to charter overseas territories. Playing against the Swedes, Germans, Chinese and Koreans in the top tier European leagues has definitely given the Indians the much-required exposure.
Indian table tennis has witnessed a renaissance of sorts in the last four to five years. Achanta Sharath Kamal broke the shackles by becoming the first India to win an ITTF World tour event, clinching the Egypt Open in 2009. Sathiyan ended a long wait by becoming only the second India to win an ITTF event, coming out as champion at the 2016 ITTF Belgium Open. Soumyajit Ghosh went a step further by winning both the singles and doubles at the 2017 ITTF Challenge Chile Open.
Indian paddlers swept away medals in the table tennis disciplines at the 2018 Commonwealth Games held at Gold Coast. It wasn’t a walk in the park as a world-class field comprising of Liam Pitchford and Gao Ning made the field quite competitive. While Sharath Kamal, Harmeet Desai and Sanil Shetty medalled across various events, Manika Batra became the first Indian female paddler to win gold at the Games.
The advent of the much awaited Ultimate Table Tennis league has paid huge dividends. The league has given Indian paddler an opportunity to lock horns against the best in the world and take a leaf out of invaluable experience and skills. Seeing some of our paddlers beating higher-ranked opponents in the last edition of the league has done them a world of a confidence.
Much like badminton, India has a strong core group of table tennis players. Besides Achanta Sharath Kamal, we have Sathiyan Gyanshekaran, Soumyajit Ghosh, Harmeet Desai and Anthony Amalraj who all are ranked inside the top 200 in the world.
We also have a strong emerging crop of players in Manav Thakkar and Zubin Mehta who look to have a promising future ahead of them. In the women’s section, Manika Batra has turned all heads with her impressive showing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Seasoned veteran Mouma Das has been around for long and is still a force to reckon with.
So Indian table tennis certainly looks to be heading in the right direction and the two bronze medals at the 2018 Asiads is certainly an inflection point from where the sports can make steady progress at the international arena.
Apart from the roaring success of the Ultimate Table Tennis League, India will have to envisage a robust university circuit where some budding talents can be spotted for further grooming. Petroleum Sports Control Board (PSCB) and the STAG academy have been at the forefront of producing some international paddlers courtesy their state of art training and coaching facilities.
The Indian table tennis federation needs to get lucrative sponsors for our national championships and reward our champions more in monetary terms as it serves as the feeder tournament for choosing the best among the rest.