Chinese model wows Indian paddlers

On a visit to a district centre outside Shanghai, Soumyajit Ghosh was left wide-eyed with wonder. A five-floor complex designated for table tennis alone had 48 tables on each level!

Soumyadeep Roy is being assisted by Soumyajit Ghosh at the Marri Laxman Reddy (MLR) Sports Complex in Dundigal in Secunderabad’s suburbs.   -  Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

“There are more ping pong tables in China than there are paddlers in India,” observed Soumyajit Ghosh.

The double Olympian was here recently to assist his ‘big brother’ Soumyadeep Roy at the Marri Laxman Reddy (MLR) Sports Complex in Dundigal in Secunderabad’s suburbs.

On a visit to a district centre outside Shanghai, Ghosh was left wide-eyed with wonder. A five-floor complex designated for table tennis alone had 48 tables on each level! “Even for the world’s top five, almost always invariably from China, mobile phones are banned for the month-long preparatory camps preceding the World Championships, Olympics or Asian championships,” Ghosh added.

Roy revealed a similar approach had paid rich dividends for India. The national squad had attended a month-long scheme in Zhengding in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games. “We had so much fun,” recalled Roy.

Sure enough, Achanta Sharath Kamal and Subhajit Saha clinched the doubles gold. The Arjuna award receipient, who has been in the sport for over a decade and a half, has his reasons to support the Chinese model. “The champion nation has prevailed against the rest of the world, except for a decade when Sweden held sway. Even rules were revised to stop the TT giant in its tracks.

“At first the ball size was increased from 38 to 40 mm. Speed glue was then banned. The point of contact for service could not be concealed anymore according to another modification. Most recently, the ball’s material has been changed from celluloid, used for decades, to plastic,” noted Roy, who wears a table tennis racquet pendant around his neck.

India may not be able to match the support the state itself gives its players in China.

“For example, a good player needs to change the rubber on his racquet twice a week. Each time, the surface imported mostly from Japan costs Rs. 4500. A three-star rating ball (which may last about half a dozen intense games) costs not less than Rs. 100. In China, the local variants are available easily and more importantly, cheap,” observed Roy.

He picked up the basics of mentoring from Yin Wei who was coach at the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board Academy in Ajmer, Rajasthan. For about a decade after, he came under the influence of coaches from across the world. “My aim is to effectively combine basics with the latest tactics,” said Roy, who also runs a scheme in Kolkata, attended by the who’s who of Indian table tennis.

Roy believes the lack of a clearly defined role for paddlers post retirement is detrimental to the sport. “Since we have so much to offer from our varied experiences, the authorities should make use of us. Instead, players past their prime are pushed into regular roles in their offices. Since they have no earnings from the game like cricketers, they cannot afford to take it easy as it becomes a question of their very livelihood,” Roy adds.

The game is on an unprecedented high in the country. Three Indians figure in the International Table Tennis Federation’s men’s singles top 100 rankings. Kamal is at 54, Ghosh at 83 and Harmeet Desai at 95.