For the Tamil Nadu team it’s time to introspect, following its disappointing performance in the recent National Table Tennis Championships at Patna

The last time the Tamil Nadu men’s team won a gold medal in the Senior National table tennis championship was in 1981 in Palakkad, while its women’s unit bagged the first place in Bombay in 1991-92. So much water has flowed under the bridge that Tamil Nadu (or any other State for that matter) is no longer considered a formidable force.

The emergence of Petroleum Sports Board (earlier called the Petroleum Sports Control Board, and now, Petroleum Sports Promotion Board) in different disciplines, including table tennis, has a lot to do with it. PSPB changed the face of table tennis in the mid-80s after it started recruiting the best of players and winning team events in the Nationals as a matter of right, though Railways, Bengal and Maharashtra did put up a good fight (mostly, women) quite often, emerging triumphant on occasions.

For the record, the PSPB men’s team hasn’t lost a final since 2002-03. On the other hand, the women’s team hasn’t been as dominant, under-performing twice in Lucknow in 2011-12 (semifinals) and Raipur in 2012-13 (finalist).

It is in this scenario that Tamil Nadu’s recent performance in the 75th National championships at Patliputra Sports Complex in Patna should be viewed. Both the men’s and women’s team lost in the quarterfinals (losing to Haryana 3-1 and West Bengal 3-0), ending up in the five to eight placings.

“The team was fairly good in the men’s section with a senior player G. Vinodh (back in the saddle after a year’s gap) and Sushmit Sriram (the State champion),” began V. M. Ravi Venkatesh, Tamil Nadu team coach “We were expected to reach the semifinals, but we lost to an experienced Haryana team. The fact is we couldn’t convert our chances.”

Young players

Christopher Anas, Tamil Nadu’s coach, felt that the women’s team missed the services of Sumana R. Krishnan (who is in final year of engineering) and A.V. Niveditha (who represented RBI in the singles in Patna).

“This time, we couldn’t do much with young players whose average age was not more than 20. Playing against West Bengal which boasts multiple National champions such as Poulomi Ghatak and Mouma Das was obviously tough,” he said.

In the individual section (singles), barring Nitin Thiruvengadam who reached the pre-quarterfinals, none of the players could go past either the first or second round.

For Sushmit, representing the State in the men’s category for the first time, the championship turned out to be a disappointment. “We had a good chance of reaching the semifinals. I was leading by two games to one against Sourav Chakraborty in the first rubber and lost. Even Nitin was up 2-0 against Sourav in the fourth rubber but he went on to lose the remaining three games. We also couldn’t win any medal in the other events such as men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles,” he said.

Sivananda Seshadri, another team member, concurred with Sushmit that Tamil Nadu’s performance was indeed disappointing. “We had a good chance to enter the semifinals, but we failed to do so.”

S. Prasanna, the fifth player of the team, felt Haryana looked better only on paper. “Actually, it was not very strong. Sourav was not in peak form over the last one-and-a-half years while Zubin Kumar was returning after a wrist injury. With Sushmit (using the funny rubber ‘Gorilla’) as the backbone of our team and a senior player like Vinodh back in the team, we fancied our chances. But we lost a pretty close match,” he said.

Former State champion Vinodh felt this Tamil Nadu team was very strong. “We had Nitin and Sushmit who are ranked in the top 15 in India. We gambled in every match, but didn't capitalise on our chances against Haryana. Next time, if Sathiyan plays for Tamil Nadu, we could, perhaps, win a medal,” he said.

Tamil Nadu can hope to do better in the next edition scheduled to take place in Puducherry in January 2015. Will the players rise to the occasion?