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Asian Games 2018

Ultimate Table Tennis: The talent pool of young Indian paddlers

Ultimate Table Tennis: The talent pool of young Indian paddlers
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By

Sounak Mullick

Published: 19 Jun 2018 12:09 PM GMT
After a memorable show at the 2014 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, the Indian paddlers are making it a point that their success was not a fluke. But it’s the youngsters who are making the headlines at the ongoing Ultimate Table Tennis League. Ayhika Mukherjee and Manav Thakkar are two such players who are promising much more in the future, and guess what? Both of them have earned a ticket to the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games which begins in August. Representing the RP-SG Mavericks, Ayhika Mukherjee did the unthinkable during their clash against the Empowerji Challengers. The youngster won her respective match against Chinese star Lee ho Ching 2-1.

The Indian is ranked 104 places below, lost the first game 4-11. Unexpectedly, Ayhika came back strongly to clinch the remaining two games 11-2 and 11-5, giving her team a 2-1 lead.

If this was upset, there was more to follow. 1-2 down, the Challengers’ sent Manav Thakkar against Ukrainian Kou Lei who is ranked 213 places above the Indian. Against the belief of everyone present at the ShiChhatrapatiti Complex in Pune, Manav blanked his opponent 11-4, 11-7 to inflict a famous victory over the European. Mavericks won the match with an overall superiority of 13-8 over Empowerji Challengers.

Opportunities for budding talents

Image source: News18 The franchise based leagues are in fashion these days, and Table Tennis is no such exception. The Ultimate Table Tennis League is providing the ultimate platform for youngsters in India to gauge their standard in comparison with top-ranked players from around the globe. A few years back, it would have been an impossible thought that a young girl from a Kolkata sub-urban area will get an opportunity to play against a ranked player, but the UTT has made the possibility a reality for Ayhika. Another paddler, Sutirtha Mukherjee also comes from Ayhika’s locality, Naihati, which is a town in West Bengal’s North 24 Paragana District. A hotbed of Table Tennis in the State; the local clubs have contributed a lot to the West Bengal and the national team.
Arjun Ghosh who is also a part of the UTT league is also from the same area. Not only that, Arjun’s father, Mihir Ghosh is a well-renowned coach in the Naihati region. Certainly, the league is providing a lot of exposure to the youngsters which will help them loads in the years to come. On the other hand, Manav Thakkar had already impressed with his performance becoming the first top-ranked U-18 player in the world in February earlier this year. The Surat-born has been steadily moving up the ladder and the upcoming Asian Games will be the biggest stage for him till now. Hailing from Gujarat, Manav started playing Table Tennis when he was just five years old. He was so short that he could hardly see the net or the ball, yet he managed to push the ball to the other side. After getting a grip on the game, Manav got an opportunity to join the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB), moving to Ajmer. By 2010, he became an accomplished player winning the State cadet, sub-junior and junior level tournaments. Since then, he has been claiming domestic and International titles on a regular basis, for him the journey has just started!

Passing on the legacy

India is definitely not a country with a rich Table Tennis history, but it is taking long strides to becoming one. Previously, Sharath Kamal was the poster boy of the nation for more than a decade. Needless to say, he was a champion in its true sense. With numerous domestic and international titles, there was a brief spell where Indian Table Tennis revolved only around the man from Tamil Nadu. The 2006 Commonwealth Games Gold in the Men’s singles event is the highlight of his career. In the post-Sharath era, India produced players like Harmeet Desai, Soumyajit Ghosh and Manika Batra who were ready to shoulder the burden of Indian Table Tennis in the future. It was during the 2018 Commonwealth Games that these players really marked their entry amongst the best in the business. Winning the Gold medals in the Women’s and Men’s Team events in Gold Coast was a special triumph. Manika Batra added another feather in her cap by claiming a top podium finish in the Women’s singles event. It is now time for the next generation to rise up to the occasion!
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