What went wrong for defending champions Indian women's TT team at Commonwealth Games 2022?
Commonwealth Games 2022: After selection controversies and much ado about doubles pairings, India's women's team's table tennis campaign came crashing down after losing to lowly Malaysia in the quarterfinals.
India's hopes to defend their table tennis title in the women's team event came to an end on Saturday when the team led by star paddler Manika Batra lost to Malaysia 3-2 in the quarterfinals of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022.
Having made it to the quarters without dropping a single game (against South Africa, Fiji, Guyana), the defending champions looked in good form and were the heavy favourite to win against a lower-ranked Malaysian side.
However, things took a turn, and the Manika Batra-guided team were handed a major upset by the Malaysians against whom they got an easy 3-0 win in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
With Batra being the most experienced in the team, a lot of pressure was naturally on her shoulders as the rest of the team had CWG debutants in the form of Sreeja Akula, Diya Chitale and Reeth Tennison in the squad. Getting off to a scratchy start in the doubles, things started falling apart soon for the team and Batra's nerves also caught up with her, making the defending champions crash out super early from the event.
How did India lose to Malaysia in the quarterfinals?
In the first match of the game, Malaysia's Karen Lyne/ Li Sian Alice Chang handed India their first loss of the campaign as the duo of Reeth Tennison/Sreeja Akula failed to convert a hard-fought battle losing 3-1.
Although the lead for the Malaysians didn't last long as India's top women's paddler, World No. 41 Manika Batra defeated Ying Ho in a five-match decider (3-2) to level the score (1-1).
This was followed by National Champion Sreeja Akula making up for her doubles loss as she defeated Li Sian Alice Chang in straight sets (3-0) to give India a 2-1 lead.
However, what happened in the next match broke many hearts in India as Malaysia's Karen Lyne got the better of Manika Batra in straight sets 3-0 as India failed to seal the tie.
Taking advantage of the momentum, Malaysia's Ying Ho who was up against India's Tennison for the decider assured Malaysia a semi-finals berth in a nail-biting match, winning 3-2.
What went wrong for the Indian team?
Just before the Games began, there were a few controversies surrounding the CWG-bound table tennis squad for India. The squad that was initially announced, consisted of Manika Batra, Reeth Tennison, Sreeja Akula and Archana Kamath. Diya Chitale was kept as the reserve.
However, three players took to the Delhi High Court against their exclusion from the squad: Diya Chitale, Manush Shah and Swastika Ghosh stating that the Committee of Administrators (CoA) which runs the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) after it was suspended, has selected a player who does not meet the eligibility criteria for the Games.
What is the eligibility criteria for selection to the Indian table tennis squad for the Games?
As per the designed rules, a point-based system is followed for selection into the India table tennis squad with a minimum score of 51 points. The distribution of the same is as follows:
• Existing Criteria: Domestic Ranking 50% + International Ranking 30% + Selectors' Discretion 20%
• Top ranked international Indian player gets 30 points while the 10th ranked international Indian player gets 3 points
• Top ranked player in national rankings gets 50 points while the 10th ranked player in the national ranking gets 5 points
• 20 remaining points are distributed by the national selection committee and the coach
Why was the petition filed?
In accordance with the above rule, a player should get at least 51 points to be able to qualify for India's table tennis squad at the Commonwealth Games. However, taking into consideration Manika Batra and Archana Kamath's international performances, their individual points total goes to 50 and 47 respectively which means neither of the two fulfils the criteria but both of them still found a place in the team due to the pair being world no. 4 in women's doubles ranking.
However, with Batra being a top-level player with extraordinary skills, she continued to remain in the squad but an inconsistent performance from Kamath, losing in the round of 32 of the National Championships raised questions about her inclusion from other players who make the cut-off.
With national ranking being given more weightage as per the existing criteria which is said to be revised in October this year, Diya Chitale had an advantage over both Batra and Kamath with an aggregate of 72 points (40 from national ranking + 12 from international ranking + 20 from selection committee and coach) and thus she along with two others, filed a petition in court for her exclusion from the team despite fulfilling the eligibility criteria.
What was the result?
The controversy led to the exclusion of the experienced Archana Kamath who along with Manika has been one of India's consistent doubles pair in the sport. Chitale replaced Kamath, thus leaving Manika Batra as the only highly experienced player and the only one from the 2018 women's team in the CWG-bound squad.
Thus, lack of experience on international circuit for a couple of players in the team was one of the major reasons for India's quarterfinal defeat and the controversies surrounding it only resulted in downfall of the team shattering India's chance of a well-deserved table tennis women's team medal.
Does that mean Indian women in table tennis would come from CWG 2022 without a medal?
No, individual events are yet to take place from Wednesday, August 3 and we hope that the players will be able to stand up to the expectations of the Indian fans and make up for the loss in the team event.