Olympian and Indian TT great Kamlesh Mehta termed the Achanta Sharath Kamal-led team’s gold medal win in the ongoing Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2022, as inspiring and the victory augurs well for upcoming events.
A clinical India beat Singapore 3-1 in the final of the men’s team table tennis event to top the podium on Tuesday.
With this victory, the Indian team defended its title as it had also won the gold in 2018 at Gold Coast CWG with a 3-1 win over Nigeria in the final.
And the eight-time national table tennis champion reckoned that playing the same team that clinched the crown in Australia, worked in India’s favour.
“It was an inspiring win. It is the first time in CWG that we have retained a title. And the best part is that despite the pressure of being the defending champs, we won it convincingly,” Mehta, 62, told the Free Press Journal.
India fielded the tried and tested line-up for the summit tie as its top-ranked singles player G Sathiyan teamed up with Harmeet Desai in the opening doubles match to beat Singapore’s Izaac Quek Yong and Pang Yew En Koen 3-0 (13-11, 11-7, 11-5).
Thereafter, India’s national champion Sharath Kamal, who beat Nigeria’s World No.15 Quadri Aruna in the semis, was flattened by Singapore’s World No.133 Zhe Yu Clarence Chew 3-1 (11-7, 12-14, 11-3, 11-9) in a big upset.
With India under pressure for the first time in the competition, Sathiyan responded with a 3-1 (10-12, 11-7, 7-11, 4-11) win over 20-year-old Pang Yew En Koen.
Harmeet Desai, playing his only second singles match at Birmingham 2022, faced an uphill task against free-flowing Zhe Yu Clarence Chew, who beat Sharath Kamal in the second match.
The Indian, ranked 121st, was up for it and beat the energy-sapped Pang Yew En Koen 3-0 (11-8, 11-5, 11-6) with precise returns and helped India win back-to-back golds.
Earlier in the competition, the Indian women’s team, led by their top table tennis player Manika Batra, suffered a major upset against Malaysia after going down 3-2 in the quarter-finals.
When asked how significant this win is compared to their 2018 glory, the Arjuna awardee (1985) stressed that the men’s victory will help the whole Indian contingent after the women’s team’s early exit.
Indian TT great Kamlesh Mehta
Pressure on Indian contingent
“Considering the women’s team’s exit, the pressure was on the entire Indian team. It was a motivating win as it was a team effort. All the players played a crucial role. Sathiyan played consistently throughout, be it doubles or singles. Harmeet Singh played fantastically in the last match. Sharath played a crucial role by winning the most important match against Aruna Kadri to make it possible for us to reach the finals. It will serve as a confidence booster for the women’s players going into the open events,” said Mehta, who represented India in seven world championships, eight Asian championships, two Asian Games, four South Asian Federation games, and two Olympics.
Mehta, who participated in two Olympics (1988, 1992) heaped praise on Sharath for sealing a crucial win over Quadri Aruna in the semis, despite the veteran paddler losing in the final.
“The match against Aruna Qadri was very crucial as he is a high-quality player. His record against the Indians has been good. That match actually changed the balance of the tie. It is like if we break the main player, it makes it easy. And regarding Sharath’s unexpected loss in the final, it will only motivate him for the open events,” the former India captain explained.
The Indian contingent will now focus on the singles, doubles and mixed matches and said the ex-paddler sounded confident of the paddlers winning more medals.
“We are the team winners, so obviously it will help the confidence going into the open events. I can’t predict how many golds we will win, but for sure we will get more medals in TT,” said Mehta, who is the Director of Ultimate Table Tennis.