Asian Games: Sharath's Swansong, youngsters hope to inspire India
India's 10-member table tennis squad, led by veteran Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Manika Batra, is set to better their results from the previous edition.
CHENNAI: A lot has changed since the historic result in the 2018 Asian Games, where India bagged two bronze medals. India had one of their best results in the Commonwealth Games, winning four gold medals, Ultimate Table Tennis, the professional table tennis league, strengthened its presence and the country discovered a few talented players like Sreeja Akula and Manush Shah. Now, the 10-member squad, led by veteran Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Manika Batra, is set to better their results from the previous edition.
"We are fortunate to have some star players who have performed exceedingly well in the international arena and brought a lot of glory to India in Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra," Kamlesh Mehta, secretary general of the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI), told this daily after the team's departure for the continental event on Monday. "Having such performing players on the team is a motivating factor for the team as other players aspire to be like them. Their presence and guidance as senior players help the team. And the best part is, since they know each other well, their interactions are easy. That ease of communication has a positive impact on the team," the Arjuna awardee added.
And that guidance has helped the upcoming players over the years. "In any sport, it's important that seniors help the juniors and guide them. And I'm very fortunate that in table tennis, all the seniors are very helpful. Whenever we want any help, he is always ready to help," Akula, one of the youngest members of the squad had told this daily.
After the gruelling schedule of the UTT, where they were part of the various franchises, the squad got the best opportunity to play as a team at the recently concluded Asian Table Tennis Championships, where the men's team won bronze. Even though it was India's only medal at the event, the paddlers got a taste of what to expect in the Asian Games. Along with Sharath, Sathiyan made the Round of 32 in the men's singles event, while Manav Thakkar and Ayhika Mukherjee fought well in their singles event. Mehta believes despite the results, the squad got the most out of the event in South Korea.
"The entire team went (to South Korea for the Asian Championship). It was planned more than six months ago and after discussion with the players and the coaches, we planned it in such a fashion that they will have a camp and will participate in select international tournaments to get the match practice and at the same time some valuable points."
"There was a camp before they left for the Asian Championship. After the Asian Championship, they had a camp before the Asian Games. The team has been together for quite some time now. Not only the coaches but we also had the same support staff with the team. Their bonding is strong and understanding is better," Mehta mentioned.
All 10 members of the squad got the opportunity to hone their skills against some of the best international players in the fourth edition of the UTT in July. Mehta believes the league has helped Indian players in more than one way. "From a federation's point of view, we are happy with the UTT. They are not just organizing the world-class league but they are also supporting the federation in all of our activities. Players have benefited from this. It had been a great learning experience and helped to improve their belief. They have trained with international players, and play alongside them, and as a result, they have learned a lot and it will help them perform well," he added.
With the potential swansong of one of the most decorated Indian paddlers, Sharath Kamal, in sight, the Indian team would like to give a fitting farewell to the legend with another best-ever result at the Games.
Asian Games 2023 table tennis: Indian team
Men: Sharath Kamal, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Manav Thakkar, Manush Shah, Harmeet Desai
Women singles: Manika Batra, Sreeja Akula, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Ayhika Mukherjee, Diya Chitale
Schedule: September 25 to October 2