Among the 90-odd countries that have some table tennis links, India has been consistent in sending its players for the Olympics ever since its introduction in Seoul in the year 1988.
However, no Indian — male or female — has been able to make a mark. Will the script change in the London Olympics?
Two surprise 19-year-old debutants, Soumyajit Ghosh and Ankita Das, will be eager to put their best foot forward. They would want to prove to their critics and well-wishers that they deserve their places in London ahead of more accomplished senior paddlers.
Soumyajit and Ankita, both hailing from Siliguri, booked their tickets to the Olympics defeating higher ranked players Amalraj and K. Shamini respectively in the qualification tournament held in Hong Kong.
The nation expected Sharath Kamal and Amalraj in the men’s section and Mouma Das, Poulomi Ghatak or Shamini to qualify in the women’s. But it wasn’t to be.
Soumyajit and Ankita are no upstarts having had sufficient international exposures. Last year alone, they travelled to France, Spain, Bahrain and Sweden, among other countries, for training and tournaments.
According to Soumyajit’s friend and competitor, G. Sathiyan, he cannot be taken lightly for he has superb feel for the ball and his reception of service is one of the best in India. “It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he crosses the first hurdle in London,” says Sathiyan.
Mouma Das feels Ankita is a much-improved paddler. “Her backhand counters and top-spins are her strengths. Moreover, her table control is very good,” she adds.
“Even in the Senior World team championship held in Dortmund, Germany in March 2012, I think she played well,” Mouma adds.
A cursory look at the statistics available with the International Table Tennis Federation reveals that India’s performance in singles has not been inspiring.
In the 1988 Olympics, Kamlesh Mehta, Niyati Roy and Sujay Ghorpade played, and no one was able to go past the first stage. Chetan Baboor couldn’t cross the first stage in three successive Olympics from 1992-2000. In the 2004 Athens and the ’08 Beijing Olympics, Sharath lost in the second round.
Will the two youngsters, Soumyajit and Ankita, do what their predecessors couldn’t?