National coach Kamlesh Mehta calls it “bonding of players at the table” while Chinese sensation Yang Yangmei appreciated the move to form ‘mixed squads’ featuring individual players from different nations at the ongoing Reliance India junior & cadet Open table tennis.

Sign language emerged as the medium of communication as five such ‘mixed squads’ — China-Iran in junior boys, India-China in junior girls, India-Nigeria and India-UAE in cadet boys, India-Hong Kong in cadet girls — competed in the team championships.

The situation arose due to Hong Kong, Nigeria and Iran sending one player each for the individual event, to be conducted after the team championships at the NSCI indoor complex. Surplus players from China and UAE were also roped in, resulting in India’s Senhora D’Souza and China’s Xiaotong Sun winning bronze in the junior girls Group II team event.

Mehta, who is also the Tournament Director, said, “Junior table tennis is about player development, which would not happen if kids on the ITTF junior ranking list were sitting idle for want of partners at the team championship. We got permission from ITTF (world body) and national federations. I call it players bonding at the table.”

Yanmei, whose endurance and aggression stood out in a 3-1 title win over India A in junior girls decider, remarked, “Sport is about friendship. I am happy table tennis showed the way. “Players from two countries combining is a positive thing and will help table tennis when these juniors reach senior ranks,” said the 18-year-old, referring to the Xiaotong-Senhora pair.

Senhora pointed that apart from difference in language and playing style, she had to quickly adapt to a new partner. “We used sign language and just went with the flow. It was a new, exciting experience.”

Yanmei was asked about her mindset facing up to a fellow Chinese as her opponent. “Anyone facing me is a rival, defeating her becomes my focus. I don’t bother about nationality. Once the match is over, we are friends again,” she replied.

The mixed teams: India & China (Senhora D’Souza & Xiaotong Sun) in junior girls; India & Hong Kong (Aishwarya Pathank & Desiree Hung) in cadet girls; China & Iran (Huabing He & Nia Amiri) in junior boys; India & UAE (Shaurya Tushar & Saif Alfalasi) and India & Nigeria (Siddhesh Pande & Hammed Osibanjo) in cadet boys.

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