One of the iconic figures of Indian table tennis, Kamlesh Mehta, dominated the game for well over two decades. Kamlesh made a record 11 finals in the men’s singles at the Senior National Championship and won eight of them between 1981-1994. He represented the country in two Olympics (1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona), several Asian, Commonwealth and SAF Games championships with distinction. During his reign, he was the highest rated Indian player in the World rankings list. Kamlesh led the Indian TT team in many international meets and has been a National coach and selector with Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) after his retirement from the game. The Mumbaikar was the coach of the Indian team for the Olympics, again in Seoul in 2004. Conferred with the Arjuna Award in 1985, Kamlesh found his life partner in TT; his wife Monalisa Barua of Assam was a champion in her own right and an Arjuna awardee as well. Kamlesh and Monalisa were in the City recently as chief guests of Repton TENVIC tournament and Kamlesh shared his views on Indian TT and his plans to start a premier league in the game with Metro Plus. Excerpts:
A lot of Indian players are playing abroad, especially in Europe. Has the foreign exposure been beneficial?
Yes, with change in TTFI's stance to encourage players to play for clubs and to train abroad, more of Indian players are now venturing to play abroad in various leagues. This is very much required to help them be in touch with the latest in the game and also improve their world rankings. Yes, it has been beneficial as now we have two players (Soumyajit Ghosh and Sharath Kamal) in the top 100 and two more knocking to break into the top 100. If that happens than probably it would be the first time ever that India will have four players ranked in top 100 of the world at the same time; Sharath has been the torch bearer.
What needs to be done to raise the quality of the game in the country further ?
I may not have all the answers to this question but one of the things is long term planning followed up by intensive training of a select group of talented young players for a long duration. Secondly, we need to set up a few fully equipped and dedicated centres for TT only under a set of competent coaches. Thirdly, to encourage and groom our young coaches and to ensure good compensation to attract former players to take up such assignments. We should start a TT league and organise more international TT events which attract top players.
I understand that you are toying with an idea of starting a premier league for the game. Is it true and what are the plans for it?
Yes, we at 11even Sports Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai based company with Vita Dani as its Chairperson have a vision to have a medal in Olympics from TT. We have set up a plan for the next 10 years . With sanction and support from TTFI , we have already started work for the franchise based TT league - ITTL 2017 (named as of now) to be launched in July 2017. ITTF have already given us a window of July 8 to 30, 2017 in their annual calendar for the same. The details are being worked out.
Post retirement, you and Monalisa have been actively involved in the game...
Yes we both are actively involved with TT at all levels -- from District to National level. I am a selector and a national coach of TTFI and Monalisa is also a national coach and an honorary joint secretary of TTFI. We are involved with the game because of our passion, rather than for any post.
You had a glimpse of Karnataka players in action in the ReptonTENVIC tournament. What are your impressions ?
It was a very well organised tournament. I am happy that so many former stars of TT from Karnataka are actively contributing to the growth of the game. I am sure Karnataka will once again produce great players like, K. Nagraj, Usha Sunderraj, Sai Kumar, K. Jayant, Arun Kumar, Ramesh Babu, Laxmi Karanth, Vasanth Bharadwaj to name a few.