India’s paddlers retained their men’s team championship title with a convincing 3-1 win over Singapore in the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham on Tuesday.
Despite Sharath Kamal’s shock loss to southpaw Clarence Chew, Harmeet Desai fought back for India with a stunning show against Chew to seal the deal in his team’s favour.
The final was a repeat of the group stage affair between the two CWG table tennis powerhouses. With India having trumped Singapore 3-0, Singapore changed its combination.
The reliable doubles combination of Harmeet and G. Sathiyan got India off to an ideal start, with a 3-0 win in the lone doubles rubber against Koen Pang and Izaac Quek. While Sathiyan was solid with his forehand top-spins, Harmeet stole the show with his backhand blocks to give India the lead.
Instead of Pang, Singapore head coach Gao Ning pitted Clarence against Sharath. And the move worked wonders as the southpaw caught Sharath off guard in the duo’s first meeting in eight years. Clarence used his angles effectively to race to a win in four games.
Sharath appeared to not have recovered from his win against World No. 15 Aruna Quadri the previous night. Despite lacking power in his winners, he resorted to defensive tactics, but Clarence was near-flawless to level the rubber.
It was India’s first loss of a rubber in the team championship. But Sathiyan put India in the ascendancy with a sublime show against Peng in the crucial rubber. With Sharath set to play the fifth match and the tie level at one-all, Sathiyan had to win. And he showed all his skills by staying close to the table to find Peng wanting.
Harmeet then put the cherry on top with a heroic show against an in-form Clarence. The Surat paddler started on an aggressive note in the first game to set Clarence on the backfoot. And the Singaporean could never recover thereafter as Harmeet raced to a 3-0 win to set off deserving celebrations.
The retention of the men’s team gold came as a soothing balm after the women’s disappointing exit in the quarterfinal. It was India’s seventh table tennis gold at the Commonwealth Games since the sport was included in the quadrennial extravaganza in 2002. Sharath, the 40-year-old veteran, has been involved in each of the five men’s gold medals.
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