India's men's table tennis team decode how they secured the country's highest-ever world ranking

Updated: Dec 10, 2019, 07:47 IST | Ashwin Ferro | Mumbai

India's men's table tennis team—G Sathiyan, Sharath Kamal and Harmeet Desai—put the country's highest world ranking in perspective; augurs well for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

World No. 30 G Sathiyan
World No. 30 G Sathiyan

The Indian men's table tennis team have been bringing their A-game to the table across the last couple of years.

From a gold in the men's team event at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games to a historic bronze at the Jakarta Asian Games in the same year, G Sathiyan, 26, Achanta Sharath Kamal, 37, and Harmeet Desai, 26, have helped India achieve its highest ever ITTF world team ranking of eight.

It's unprecedented but not unexpected, insist the trio.

"To be ranked eighth in the world in a sport played by over 200 countries is incredible. It's all thanks to our federation's [TTFI] support. We have a good domestic set-up, besides the introduction of the franchise-based Ultimate Table Tennis [UTT] has provided us the invaluable experience of playing alongside the world's best and thereby boosted our confidence to perform on the international stage. Earlier, it was one player doing well abroad but now we are excelling as a team and the main reason for this is moving to Europe to play on the pro circuit for longer periods," said Sharath Kamal (World No. 36).

India's top-ranked player, G Sathiyan (No. 30) believes the country has the potential to become a TT powerhouse. "This success hasn't happened overnight. Besides our personal coaches, we must also hail the services of people like Massimo [former India coach Constantine] and Kamlesh [Mehta] sir, who have given their all to Indian TT. Thanks to Massimo training and planning, Team India excelled at the 2010 and 2018 CWG besides winning back to back Asian Games medals. And Kamlesh sir is doing a great job as director of UTT. He's always available for advice. It is due to these selfless people that Indian TT has ascended to a position where we are not just known to spring up upsets but also considered a threat to top teams like China and Japan," said Sathiyan, who reached the pre-quarters of the ITTF World Cup in China, last week, beating the higher-ranked Simon Gauzy (No. 22) of France and Denmark's Jonathan Groth (No. 24) en route.

World No. 36 Achanta Sharath KamalWorld No. 36 Achanta Sharath Kamal

So what does India need to get closer to teams like China (No. 1), Japan (No. 2) or Germany (No. 3)?

Harmeet (World No. 85), who won the ITTF Challenge Indonesia Open championship this year and leapfrogged 19 places to break into the top-100, felt there's a gap in the Indian system that needs to be bridged. "We have some promising world-ranked juniors and a good support system till the age of 17 or 18. But thereafter, as the player heads towards the senior bunch, there's a lack of proper coaching and guidance. We must cater to these young players in this transition phase so that we don't lose them and groom them for that giant leap," said Harmeet.

Sharath Kamal called for better infrastructure. "Infrastructure is a major setback but now some government initiatives like Khelo India, focussing on grassroot development is a good beginning," he said. Sathiyan added: "In China, there are more TT tables than players. They have an effective three-tier coaching system there—beginner, intermediate and advanced—after which comes the national team. So every kid is good."

The Tokyo Olympics is the next big thing and Team India can't wait to get there.

No. 85 Harmeet DesaiNo. 85 Harmeet Desai

"At the qualifiers, our No. 8 ranking should get us a favourable draw to make it to Tokyo. This is the best team in the history of Indian TT, so it's our best shot at an Olympic medal," said Sathiyan.

"Last year, we beat World No. 4 France and also Japan. So, anything's possible," said Harmeet. "It took us 60 years to win our first Asian Games medal but it won't take us too long to win an Olympic medal," felt Sharath Kamal.

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