After being confined to a small room for years, almost cut off from public view in what appeared to be an unwanted corner of the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium here, table tennis has a nice new setting at the Regional Sports Centre (RSC).
A part of the gallery has been converted into a long hall and some of the State’s leading table tennis players have been offered a stage on the stadium’s fourth floor which also gives a wonderful view of the action all around.
“This offers us a lot more space, we had very little of it behind the tables in our old room,” said former State champion Manoj Varghese of the Cochin Port Trust (CPT) who also serves as a coach for the advanced batch of trainees at the RSC. “This setting also gives us a tournament feel.”
Manoj was one of the inspiring forces behind the Ernakulam men’s team’s triumph in the State championship in Alappuzha last year, ending nearly a decade-long wait. “I was part of the Ernakulam side which won the men’s team title in 2003. I also won the State men’s singles title that year,” said Manoj, an accountant with the CPT.
“Back then, Ernakulam had a bunch of seniors like Arun Raj, Ajo Joseph, D. Biju and V. Suraj and almost all of them were from the Cochin Port. But the team that won the men’s title last year at Alappuzha had a couple of sub-juniors like Mishal Dilawar and Nithin Narayanan and a junior in Ahalad…Vysakh Ravi was the only senior in the team. And a good many of them train here.”
While Ernakulam took the men’s title, it was Alappuzha which dominated the show in the women’s and junior boys’ and girls’ sections where Ernakulam could only finish second best.
Quality and quantity
“Alappuzha has the numbers…they have so many players coming in especially in the girls’ section and it’s easy to pick quality from quantity. The fine effort of coaches Bobby Joseph and Rajeev (at the YMCA Table Tennis Academy) there is also a big reason behind Alappuzha’s stunning results,” said Manoj. “Here, there are very few players coming in…for example, a State player like Gayatri Girish does not have girls to spar against. Players here don’t last long, they leave after some time. We need more players at the entry level.”
Gayatri played in the State senior, junior and youth sections and finished runner-up in all three team events. She fought hard too.
But she realises that Alappuzha is getting stronger.
Now, she just needs to look down for inspiration. Four floors below, there is a buzz of badminton activity in the stadium’s huge hall.
And in top action on the shining wooden courts are some of the country’s top stars like Daya Elsa Jacob and Arathi Sara Sunil, who were India No. 1 in junior girls’ singles a few months ago.