'The Europeans are jealous of the Indian system'

Peter Engel…attempting to give Indian table tennis a new direction.-RANJEET KUMAR

“The Indian players are a little too shy. They have to play more aggressively. Some players have the capacity to play powerfully, but are not consistent,” says the Indian table tennis coach, Peter Engel. By K. Keerthivasan.

Peter Engel knows that Indian table tennis is a work in progress and a lot needs to be done to make the nation a world-beater. He says his immediate priority is to help raise the level of the Indian players.

According to the German, who took over as the coach of the Indian team last October, there are quite a few young players coming up and it is a bit of a “luxury problem” when it comes to selecting the Indian team.

On the sidelines of the 75th National and Inter-State Championships in Patna recently, Engel, 60, spoke to Sportstar on what he intends to do as the coach of the Indian team.

Excerpts:

Question: As the coach of the Indian team, what will be your priority?

Answer: I will work in consultation with Mr. Bhawani Mukherjee, the National coach. We will follow the National team. We want to conduct continuous camps in preparation for the World Championships (Tokyo, April 28 to May 5), the Commonwealth Games (Glasgow, July 23 to August 3) and the Asian Games (Incheon, September 19 to October 4) and try to improve the level of the Indian players. This is a good chance for me to see the younger players and try to involve them in the national camps. When we have the national camps, we will have coaches from different states. We will try to form a coaches’ team working in different places but moving in the same direction.

What is your assessment of the Indian players?

I have spent a lot of time watching the Indian players; it is very positive. Quite a lot of them, both men and women, are at the same level. You have (Sharath) Kamal and (Soumyajit) Ghosh, who are a little bit above the others. But six to seven players are almost at the same level and are not far away from Sharath. They’ll improve. It’s the same with women. Perhaps their level is not so high at the moment. They will also improve.

The men have better practice conditions than the women. The men are playing in Germany, Sweden and Poland. Shamini is the only woman playing abroad. As long as we cannot afford tours abroad, we will have permanent national camps. If we have them (camps) together, women will also improve.

What are your expectations for the Commonwealth Games beginning in Glasgow (Scotland) on July 23?

It is quite a short time for the Commonwealth Games. We have to work with the players we have now, improve on their weak points and try to make their strong points stronger. We can’t teach them new things. Time is short. When you look at the last Commonwealth Games, we won five medals, which was quite good. We will try to repeat this or even improve upon it. I mean, it is not only the results. You have to see the progress. If you play in your home country, it is to your advantage. It will be more difficult this time.

What do you think of the huge gap in world rankings between Sharath (50) and the rest? Ghosh is 139, A. Amalraj is 183 and Harmeet Desai is 278…

Sharath has been playing abroad for many years, while the others don’t have that much experience. They are improving though. Other players are a little bit nervous when they play outside. It will get better with experience. We have to be patient.

What are your expectations for the 2014 Asian Games?

We will have the national camps and competitions apart from training in Europe and Asia. We hope we can do something. The Asian Games is very difficult. You have the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese and players from Singapore. They are all very good. It is very hard to compete with them. But I think, step by step we can get there.

Under your tenure, what do you think is possible for the Indian team?

With the men’s team, there is quite a huge potential. We have a big pool of players to choose from. They will improve quickly. It is up to us to choose the right players. It is a luxury problem, but we will handle it.

At the Commonwealth Games, we will be going for medals. The colour (of the medal) is not so important. We will try to do our best. But as I said before, the home advantage will not be there this time. So, we have to see what is possible.

What kind of system are you trying to implement with the Indian team?

To create a system, you have to be there for a longer time. In short time, you will not get the structure. You have to work continuously. I will try to work with the Indian team until the 2016 Rio Olympics. My contract is only until the Asian Games, but I will try to stay on until the Olympics and do something better. But first, we need to qualify, both in the individual and team events.

What is your view on the Indian system where National zonals in different States culminate in the National Championships?

It is a fair system. With the results of the National zonal tournaments and the National Championship, you can make the right selection of players. And there is the option of looking at performances in the international events. This, in combination with the performances in the Nationals, is good. However, what could be better is organising Pro Tours for women. We are working on that. Hopefully, woman players will get to play more.

What do you think is the biggest drawback of the Indian team?

Perhaps, they are a little too shy. When they play, they are the ones who should be able to beat their opponents. They have to play more aggressively. Some players have the capacity to play powerfully — players like Sharath Kamal and Sanil Shetty, who has an amazing forehand. But they are not consistent.

Can India ever hope to become a top team in the world or will it remain just a dream?

It is possible to reach the top. India is good in cricket and other sports too. So why not in table tennis? We are trying to create a way by providing them with chances, securing their future with jobs. They have good conditions to play in. They just need to play. In Europe, players have to think about their future. The European countries are very jealous of the Indian system. In Germany, where the sport has a very high standard, players don’t have jobs. They lead a good life for a few years and then they have no job security as it is here.