The 27th place finish at the World team table tennis championships in Dortmund (Germany) recently, wasn't a great performance by any yardstick.
But Sharath Kamal, India's top paddler, regards it as a good performance. “The men's team narrowly missed qualifying for the championship division,” he argues. Sharath says, with good young players like Amalraj, Soumyajit Ghosh and Harmeet Desai (men), and Ankita Das among the women, India's future looks bright.
In the last edition held in Moscow in 2010, the Indian men reached 29th, while the women finished 37th.Truth to say, the men's team in the past has done far better.
In the 1983 World championship in Tokyo, India jumped from Category II to Category I and in the next edition in 1985 in Gothenburg, India finished 12th.
The 2012 World championship finals at Westfalenhallen, recalls Sharath, was watched by around 10,000 people. “It was a great experience,” he says. “There were quite a few big screens at the stadium for spectators who were seated behind.”
According to Sharath, the Chinese are a different breed and watching them play at such high speeds was a delight. “They are technically and physically very strong, with sound basics,” he asserts.
By losing to Romania 3-2 in the men's semifinals, India missed a golden chance to enter the championship division — the top two teams from the second division enters the first division for the next edition.
“We were very close to getting there,” he says. Recalling the match against Romania, Sharath says that “it was probably a wrong move on our part to have fielded Soumyajit Ghosh as the second player.” But he quickly adds that the team didn't have much of a choice then. Going into the match, India had an outside chance of beating Romania.
Sharath gave a head start, drubbing Cioti Constantin in the first tie. Ghosh lost to Crisan in the second rubber. Amalraj defeated Hunor Szocs to brighten India's chances. However, Sharath lost tamely to Crisan in the fourth. Under pressure to win the vital fifth rubber, Ghosh lost to Constantin. India, without Sharath, defeated Brazil 3-2 to finish 27th.
For Sharath, winning the quarterfinal tie against England 3-1 was the highpoint. “After losing to England in the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, it was a revenge of sorts for us,” he says.
Soumyajit Ghosh, the youngest member of the team at 19 years (World ranking 206) and the third highest ranking Indian, was the find of the championship. “He is a true team player. He does his best and seldom complains,” says Sharath.
According to Amalraj, all the players had improved their rankings after the World championships. Sharath says the next generation of paddlers are determined, committed and goal-oriented. “They should be able to compete with the best sooner rather than later,” he says.