Asian Games: A bronze will boost our confidence, says Sharath Kamal – Times of India

Low expectations, heavy odds spur veteran paddler
BENGALURU: Two bronze medals – the first ever of any hue – at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games suggested table tennis in India was on the upswing, but five years on the state of the game has plunged. Infighting in the federation led to the constitution of a Committee of Administrators (CoA), while foreign coach Massimo Constantini made an exit in 2018. A new federation is now in place, but players have suffered.
The team departed for Hangzhou for another edition of the Games and the odds are stacked heavily against them. Yet, there is a sense of confidence. Sharath Kamal believes medals in Hangzhou will mean more than just glory for the sport.
“In the last edition, we won our first medals (men’s team and mixed doubles events), and I was lucky to get two. Personally, this time if we manage to get a team bronze, it will ease the path and bring in confidence. Of course, it will be tough, but we have done it and we know the process,” the veteran said.
At the Asian Table Tennis Championships in Pyeongchang, Korea, recently, India won a men’s team bronze while the women counterparts finished sixth. The recent dip in rankings and performances saw the players being panned, but Sharath is unperturbed. “Expectations are low, but that only spurs me,” Sharath said. “At 41, I need that fuel, someone to say, ‘you cannot do it’. As a senior player, when somebody tells me you cannot do it, it pushes boundaries. I am looking at it as a positive challenge.”
The challenge will come from traditional powerhouses of the sport led by hosts China, but the seasoned campaigner is confident fellow men’s player Sathiyan Gnanasekaran will rise to the occasion and the women’s pair of Manika Batra and Sreeja Akula will also come good. On the team’s mindset, he said, “We are not defending something. We are going to attack. In defending and attacking, the mindset is different. That is what we will have to look forward to in this Asian Games. We have been preparing that way. I feel we are coming together well as a team and there is good bonding. We should be able to raise our game.”
On the rough ride over the past few years, Sharath admitted it was a setback. “Things have not been normal over the past 4-5 years,” he said. “As a result, we lost the momentum that we had in 2018 into 2020. The new federation must shrug off the shackles.”
Sourav Chakraborty, S Raman, Aman Balgu and Mamata Prabhu have been named coaches. On the team’s prospects, Chakraborty said, “There is a good chance of a medal in the team events. Last time, we won bronze and hope we can change the colour in China. The only thing is we should not meet China in the quarterfinals (laughs). Other teams are also good.”

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