India will become table tennis superpower, predicts junior coach Clarke

Brett Clarke, the junior national coach, admits India will become a table tennis superpower if it continues to receive the same level of support from the government and fans flock to the stadiums.

With senior head coach Dejan Papic’s arrival continually prolonging due to administrative hassles, Brett Clarke (in picture) has been thrust with looking after the senior teams as well.   -  BISWARANJAN ROUT

Besides his expert advice on table tennis skills, Brett Clarke’s YouTube channel also lists his wild and whacky videos. In one such video, he has a snake around his neck and the connection he draws between the serpent and the reverse side-spin serve.

But barring Monday - where a majority of matches were all-India affairs - for most of the last week, Clarke has been immersed in egging his new set of wards and strategising against their overseas opponents towards succeeding in the 21st Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship.

It may have been barely a month since the 47-year-old Australian has taken over as the junior national coach. But with senior head coach Dejan Papic’s arrival continually prolonging due to administrative hassles, Clarke has been thrust with looking after the senior teams as well.

Having seen the Indian table tennis system from the periphery during his playing days and been an integral part of it for a month, Clarke - the 2002 Commonwealth Games mixed doubles silver medallist - has no qualms in admitting India is cruising towards becoming a “major superpower” on the table tennis map.

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“In 20 years from now, with the same level of government support and with people flocking to table tennis, India will become a major superpower. If things continue they can challenge China, why not? Everything is possible,” says Clarke.

With G. Sathiyan having overtaken veteran A. Sharath Kamal in men’s rankings and Manika Batra creating ripples in the women’s arena for a year, Indian table tennis is finally aiming for glory beyond Commonwealth nations. With promising youngsters like Manav Thakkar, Archana Kamath, Manush Shah, Swastika Ghosh and Diya Chitale performing consistently on the world junior circuit, Clarke believes the blend of senior and juniors is leading India in the right direction.

“Many academies with experienced coaches are there around the country and it's a great environment to learn. So when juniors finally come to me, I can just add to their game or fine-tune it. With seniors, they need support,” Clarke says. “Sharath playing amazing right now, all he needs is someone who is there for him, motivating him. That's the role with the seniors. Just show interest in them. Tactical knowledge is important but support most important with seniors.”

Clarke admits that qualification for Tokyo is the top-most priority for the leading Indian paddlers but despite being handed a year-long contract for starters, he has set long-term goals.

“The most important thing while coaching high-level players is trust. If the player trusts you, he can achieve so many things. My personal focus is to build those relationships and show to them that I have the expertise that can be valuable for them,” he says. “With the juniors, you have to work on technical aspects a bit more. Modern table tennis is so much about service and I can help these. It is more of a long-term process after which the player can maybe have the service of a Chinese, spin of a Chinese rather than just keeping the ball on the table.”