CHENNAI, MAY 08,
India coach Massimo Costantini gave a warm hug to Sharath Kamal after the team’s 3-1 win over Romania in the Championship Division match at the World team table tennis championship in Halmstad (Sweden) on Saturday. This affectionate gesture put the Indian veteran’s performance in perspective. At 35 years, Sharath was the lead star in India finishing 13th — a great result — given that the men’s team has reached this level after nearly three decades. India had finished 12th in the 1985 World championship. Sharath was in roaring form in the group stages, winning six and losing two matches. His performance against France and Poland when others failed, showed the team’s dependence on him. India’s top-ranked paddler G. Sathiyan came into his own against Croatia. His facile win over a higher-ranked Andrej Gacina was a masterclass in both attack and defence.
His skills came to the fore again when he defeated India’s bugbear Gao Ning in the 3-0 victory over Singapore in the classification matches. And against France in another positional match, Sathiyan clinched the fifth rubber against higher-ranked Emmanuel Lebasson with a great display that showed how much the 25-year-old has improved. Harmeet Desai played no mean part in India’s fine display, especially in the victory over Croatia. When India was trailing 0-2, it was Harmeet who came to the team’s rescue with a win over Frane Kojic. But India frittered away a historic opportunity to enter the knock-outs (round of 16), losing to Austria 2-3 in the final group match after leading 2-0. However, for a team playing at this level (Championship Division) after so many years, it was no mean task. “The World championship has concluded on a high note for me personally and for the team. We have improved by leaps and bounds. A quarterfinal finish in the next edition (2020) can be expected,” said Sharath to The Hindu. “We have been working hard for a long time and in the last couple of years there has been a steep improvement for both men and women,” said Sathiyan. A. Amalraj and Harmeet said India’s showing in the Worlds proved that it is a team not to be taken lightly at the highest level. “..and the day is not far off when we could be one of the top teams in the world,” said Harmeet.
It was a disappointing show by the Indian women as they finished 17th on their debut. They lost all their five group matches and the consolation was the win over Luxembourg in classification matches.
The defeat should force some soul-searching within the team-management, and corrective measures must be sought.
With the Asian Games scheduled in Jakarta (Indonesia) in September, nothing great can be expected from both the contingents. But if the teams can better their previous record in either team or individual events, that would be an achievement in itself.
But one thing is clear. Unlike the last time, hopefully there won’t be any talks on whether to send the teams to Jakarta or not!