Indian men paddlers impress at World Team TT C'ship

However, India frittered away a historic opportunity to enter the knockout (round of 16).

At 35, Sharath was the cornerstone in India finishing 13th in the World Team TT C'ship.   -  Getty Images

India’s coach Massimo Costantini gave a warm hug to Sharath Kamal after the team’s 3-1 win over Romania in the Championship Division match of the World team table tennis championship in Halmstad (Sweden) on Saturday. That affectionate gesture put the Indian veteran’s performance in the Worlds in perspective.

READ: World Team TT C'ships: Indian men finish 13th, women 17th

At 35, Sharath was instrumental in India finishing 13th; a great result considering this is the first time in nearly three decades that the men’s team has come this far in the marquee event.

Sharath was in roaring form in the Group stages, winning six and losing two of his matches. His performance against France and Poland in the Group matches, when his team-mates failed,  showed the team’s dependence on him.

India’s top-ranked paddler G. Sathiyan came into his own in the tie against Croatia. His facile win over a higher-ranked Andrej Gacina in the fourth rubber was a master-class in both attack and defence.

His skills came to the fore again when he defeated India's bugbear Gao Ning in a 3-0 victory over Singapore in the classification matches. A

And against France, in another positional match, Sathiyan clinched the fifth rubber against higher-ranked Emmanuel Lebasson proving just how much the 25-year-old has improved in the last couple of years.

Harmeet Desai played his part in India’s fine display, especially in the victory over Croatia. When India was trailing 0-2 in the crucial tie, it was Harmeet who came to the team's rescue with a win over Frane Kojic.

But India frittered away a historic opportunity to enter the knockout (round of 16), losing to Austria 2-3 in the final Group match after leading 2-0.

The blame should partly be laid on Sharath. He played a sub-par game to lose tamely to Robert Gardos in the fourth match.

However, for a team playing at this level after so many years, it was no mean task to achieve what it has done. “Finishing 13th is definitely good. It the start of bigger things to come,” said Sathiyan. “We have been working hard for a long time and in the last couple of years, it has been a steep improvement for everyone in men and women.”

A. Amalraj and Harmeet said India’s showing in the Worlds proved that it is a team not to be taken lightly at the highest level. “..And the day is not far off when we could be one of the top teams in the world,” said Harmeet.

It was a disappointing show by Indian women as they finished 17th in their debut. They lost all their five group matches. The consolation was the win over Luxembourg in classification matches. The defeat should force soul-searching within the team-management, and corrective measures must be sought.

With the Asian Games scheduled in Jakarta (Indonesia) in September, nothing great can be expected from both the Indian men and women contingent. But if the teams can better their previous record in either team or individual events, that would be an achievement in itself.

But one thing is clear: Unlike last time (2014), [hopefuly] there won't be any talks on whether to send the teams to Jakarta or not!