| Samresh Jung
Melbourne: Ace shooter Samresh Jung was adjudged the “Best Athlete of the 18th Commonwealth Games”, even as Achanta Sharath Kamal provided a fitting finale to India’s impressive run with a gold in men’s singles table tennis on Sunday, the closing day of the mega-event.
Third seed Sharath, favourite to win the title, fought a 1-2 deficit to prevail 4-3 against William Henzell of Australia in an engrossing thriller.
With a capacity crowd at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre rooting for Henzell, the Indian had almost made a mess of it but kept his nerves in the decider to outlast the dogfight 11-5, 8-11, 5-11, 11-8, 11-8, 7-11, 11-8.
After the scores were level 7-7 in the decider, Sharath opened out with a series of forehand and backhand down the line shots to rattle the Australian and earn three match points at 10-7.
The Indian lost one match point, but then unleashed a fine forehand that sealed the tie.
India thus got their second gold from the event, having earlier won the top honours in the men’s team competition apart from a bronze in women’s team category.
Meanwhile Jung, who won five gold, a silver and a bronze in pistol shooting competitions, becomes the first Indian ever to bag the Best Athlete honour in Commonwealth Games history.
The 35-year old CISF inspector from Delhi had set a target of winning an unprecedented seven gold in a single edition of the games at the start of the event.
But a wandering mind in a shoot-out forced him to settle for bronze in the 25m centre fire pistol individual event before a malfunctioning gun in the standard fire pistol individual competition saw him end up ninth.
Jung has already left for China where he will be competing in the ISSF shooting World Cup.
An elated Sharath later said that he had played Henzell in a Swedish tournament two years ago and that he had a different style of grip.
“I had planned my match according to the Aussie’s grip but he had now changed his grip. He is a strong player with lot of experience and was effective playing close to the net. Then on I decided to play my natural game,” Sharath said after the match.
“I was rattled a bit when the umpire called my serve wrong (6th game) and I was worried and tension also mounted. But I regained myself well in the decider”, he said.
It was a clash of contrasting styles. The 151st ranked Sharath had his fiery attacking game as his signature tune while Henzell had a game of placements with a tinge of spin to counter the Indian.
And it turned out to be a classic encounter in the end. Sharath was quick off the blocks and took the first game with his powerful forehand smashes.
But with a roaring crowd backing him up, Henzell, ranked 52 spots lower than the Indian, capitalised on Sharath’s unforced errors to take a 4-1 lead before pocketing the second game 11-8.
Sharath lost his cool at this stage and his forehand smashes started going all wrong as Henzell’s deft placements tucked him into a corner of the table and forced him into error.
Sharath regained his composure and overcame a 1-3 deficit to bag the fourth game 11-8. Sharath was 6-3 up in the next game but showed urgency in his early finishes, and Henzell caught up with him at 7-7 before the Indian managed to pull it around.
The match being 3-2 in Sharath’s favour, the sixth game saw intense battle.
Meanwhile, Bollywood beauties, singers and sporting heroes joined hands as India’s diverse culture, magnificent landscape and rich heritage were on display during a brief presentation at the closing ceremony here on Sunday.
‘Shera’, the mascot of Delhi Games, was brought into the stadium accompanied by Indian global icons ' former Miss World Priyanka Chopra and former Miss Universe Lara Dutta.
A host of sporting icons including Sunil Gavaskar, Milkha Singh, Kapil Dev, Prakash Padukone, P.T. Usha, Anju Bobby George, Michael Ferreira, Ajit Pal Singh, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Karan Singh and Satpal took part in a parade, bringing the message of friendship, love and peace from India.
The music-loving Australians were also enthralled by the presence of Bollywood stars Aishwarya Rai, Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee.
Overall wrap-up on Page 11