Indian table tennis star Sharath Kamal has opined that Manika Batra's twin gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games brought Indian table tennis into the limelight while also uplifting the women's game in the country.
Sharath Kamal shared his views about the growth of table tennis in the country along with the upcoming stars of the future during an exclusive interaction with Indranil Basu on Sportskeeda Live.
On being asked how the women's section is shaping up in India for the bigger stage, Sharath Kamal talked about the marked improvement from the time he had entered the international game.
"When I came into the national team there was a stark difference between the men's team and the women's team. Because most of the men went to Europe to improve ourselves."
He pointed out that it was very tough for the female table tennis players to get the required exposure in those days and they were dependent on the national camps to hone their skills.
"But for girls it was very very difficult at that point of time. You had to live alone and travelling was not easy at that point of time. So, the girls had to stay back in India and depend on the federation for training camps and coaching programs."
Sharath Kamal revealed that there has been a drastic change in recent times, with the women's table tennis players also being able to rise with the substantial improvement in the facilities in the country.
"But now things have changed. Even the girls are able to travel everywhere. Also we are able to have better facilities in India, so we are able to practice quite well in India too. That is bringing up the level of women table tennis also."
The four-time Commonwealth gold medallist commended Manika Batra's phenomenal performances at the 2018 edition of the Games, where she bagged two gold medals while defeating the World No. 4 on two occasions in the process.
"Also Manika Batra becoming the first woman to win that singles gold and India winning the team gold in 2018 Commonwealth Games was really commendable. She beat World No.4 twice, once in the team championships and once in the singles semi-finals."
Sharath Kamal credited Manika Batra's dream run for bringing the focus on Indian table tennis, which was something he had been trying to do for more than a decade.
"What she did there has put table tennis right up the mark. Only after that table tennis got the notice what I wanted to have since the last 10-12 years. But it takes time and you need a bunch of players for the sport to be noticed."
Sharath Kamal on the upcoming talents in Indian table tennis
Sharath Kamal was also asked about the next set of champions waiting in the wings in Indian table tennis. The 38-year-old first talked about G Sathiyan, with the two of them almost neck and neck in the world rankings.
"I took the place of G Sathiyan now. He has been better than me in the World Rankings, always by one spot or two spots. Now I am ahead of him by one spot since the last one year or so."
Sharath Kamal praised G Sathiyan for the rapid strides the latter has taken in the international circuit to climb up the ranking charts.
"G Sathiyan is fantastic, the kind of rise he has had, meteoric rise since 2017. He is doing really well, 32 in the world. Even the Asian Games medal, we made a gamble where I put him as the No.1 player and I played as No.2."
Sharath Kamal also talked about the strategy the Indian men's table tennis team had adopted at the 2018 Asian Games, which landed them an unprecedented bronze medal at the continental level.
"That's the amount of trust he could give me that he could go ahead of me and I could stay behind and defend the whole team. Normally it is the 2nd or 3rd player who stays behind and plays safe and allows the No.1 player to take the risk. But I had the confidence in G Sathiyan that he could go ahead and take the risk and I could play safe."
"Then there is Manav Thakkar, the current World No.1 in under-21 and Archana Kamath, who is World No.2 in under-21. Of course there is Manika Batra who is the poster girl of Indian table tennis, she is doing really good. So there are a lot of players."
Sharath Kamal signed off by stating that Indian table tennis has a bright future, with a lot of junior players challenging the more recognised national level paddlers.
"This is the national team who is currently playing. And even when you look down the age categories, under-18 or under-15, there are players who are able to match up to a Manav Thakkar or the players who are playing at the national level. So I am pretty much sure that the future of Indian table tennis is in very good hands."
India had an outstanding run in table tennis at the 2018 Commonwealth Games with the country bagging a total of 8 medals including 3 golds. Sharath Kamal led the men's team to the gold in the team event, and the women's team with Manika Batra in the singles also finished at the top of the podium.
The icing on the cake was the unprecedented 2 bronze medals that India won at the 2018 Asian Games, with Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra winning a medal in mixed doubles apart from one in the men's team event.
Published 13 Aug 2020, 11:04 IST