An angst-ridden build-up to the Commonwealth Games followed by a dismal performance, the Indian women’s table tennis squad failed to live up to the expectations in Birmingham.
Four years ago in Gold Coast, Australia, women paddlers rode Manika Batra’s brilliant show and had returned with four medals.
This time, only the 24-year-old Sreeja Akula had a mixed doubles gold with Sharath Kamal but others, Manika in particular, flattered to deceive.
Manika is a superstar in her own right but the burden of expectations proved too much for her. India’s women’s team coach Anindita Chakraborty though feels Manika will come back stronger and it will be very fast.
“She is a great player and I am sure she will forget this setback and make a comeback,” Anindita said on Thursday.
Table tennis star Sharath Kamal, who won three gold and a silver at the Commonwealth Games, with wife Sripoorni, daughter Suyasha and son Tejas at the Chennai airport on Thursday. PTI
Manika herself has promised to learn from the CWG debacle. “This commonwealth I only could make till quarterfinals and yes I am very upset. I am in my tears (sic) every morning. But I promise, I will come out of this stronger and I will work hard each and every day with the same hunger. Like they say — ‘you win some, you lose some.’ But in my case it’s always — ‘You win some, you learn some’,” the world No. 44 posted on her Instagram account on Thursday.
The controversy over team selection which saw some players moving court had an effect on the players. With Diya Chitale playing with Manika in the doubles — regular partner Archana Kamath was excluded following a court order — the new combination failed to fire.
“True the controversy did disturb the preparations. But it will be wrong to say the players failed. We all knew it would be impossible to repeat the Gold Coast performance. Also our opponents were very strong. For example, Malaysia (India lost in the team event quarter finals) named four different types of players. An attacker, a left-hander, a defensive player and a penholder! It was so difficult to read them,” Anindita, 44, said.
The Malaysia match had its share of controversy when men’s coach Subramanain Raman sat in the box instead of Anindita.
The decision had taken the players by surprise.
Debutant Sreeja, a paddler from Hyderabad, got her maiden CWG medal and it was a saving grace for the women’s squad.
“Sreeja was unlucky to lose in the bronze medal play-off. In the semi-finals, she ran world No. 4 (Tianwei) Feng (eventual gold medal winner from Singapore) close. This will give her confidence.”
Like most in the squad, this was Anindita’s first major assignment. “It was a learning experience for me. I think I have done well.”