Kamlesh Mehta: 'Former players should start coaching'

Former National champion Kamlesh Mehta spoke about the development of table tennis in India, a need for an icon player, the importance of sports science among other things.

"Taking a wrong step and learning lessons is better than taking no step at all. Let us try to make table tennis a lucrative career option," said Kamlesh Mehta.   -  Shanker Chakravarty

The excitement is palpable on his face. “Don’t miss the players’ entry,” Kamlesh Mehta literally pushes you into the arena.

At the far end, the two competitors are ushered in with a regal touch, their profiles flashing overhead, announcing their arrival for the first match of the evening at the Seamaster 2017 World Tour India Open at the Thyagaraj Nagar Sports Complex here.

Mehta is the man behind this venture, in association with 11Even Sports. “We have offered world class facilities to the participants,” Mehta says with pride. It is a pleasant departure from the times when he would have to play the National championship final in a stuffy auditorium and undergo taxing train journeys to reach the venue, often in unreserved compartments.

Times have changed. Table tennis is among the few disciplines with a mass participation in India. The infrastructure has improved and so has the profile of the game. “I can honestly say that table tennis is looking up as a game with a future in India,” says Mehta.

An eight-time National champion, Mehta is delighted with the fact that Sharath Kamal, Soumyajit Ghosh and Manika Batra are figuring among the top 100 players of the world. Earlier, Monalisa Barua (90) and Indu Puri (63) had this privilege but Monika, ranked 91, is making news now. “There was a big gap for some time but I am happy that we have three players in the top 100.”

Mehta points out the excellent platform that the current players enjoy in terms of infrastructure. “The conduct of all the National-level events has improved. What I like is that junior players are now willing to invest on their own. They are looking to participate in tournaments overseas to improve their rankings. This is good for the game.”

He emphasised the importance of sports science in creating champions. “I know the government is making efforts to bring in professionalism in this department. Sports science can make players give improved performances. We have to develop our players with support of sports science. Let us begin at least. Taking a wrong step and learning lessons is better than taking no step at all. Let us try to make table tennis a lucrative career option. It can be done but will need time.”

Icon player factor

What more could be good for the game? “I think an icon player. Someone like (P.V.) Sindhu in badminton. Sania (Mirza)and Leander (Paes) in tennis. We could do with someone like Dipa (Karmakar) from Tripura. I know what kind of effort a sportsperson needs to make in north-east where the infrastructure for sport needs a huge boost. More and more intensive training camps are needed.”

Mehta appealed for former players to take to coaching. “We have to find means to attract former players to start coaching talented players. Look at cricket here past players are involved with the game in a big way. When you have former players as coaches they bring added value to the job.

“Coaching standards have to improve in India. I am sure we can have champions because there is no parameter to assess talent. I played for India at the age of 20 after critics had written me off. They write I didn’t possess the talent to play in the international circuit. Four years after they wrote the critics had to revise their opinion,” Mehta smiles and returns to attend to a few minor details for the evening’s schedule.