As Madhurika Patkar’s desperate attempt at retrieving a stinging smash from Zhiyu Zhang, her Australian opponent, ended with the Indian nearly colliding with the advertising boards, the Indian women table tennis team collectively buried their heads in their hands.
Having taken home a silver medal in the team’s event at the 2010 games, the paddlers were expected to put up a strong showing at the Scotstoun Sports Centre in Glasgow. However, in a disappointing display, the team bowed out without a medal, conceding the bronze to Australia in a match punctuated with multiple tactical errors.
India did not have the best of starts, with K Shamini losing her opening singles rubber rather tamely. As has been the trend in the tournament, youngster Manika Batra brought India back on level terms, taking apart Jiang Fan Lay in the second singles. However, a patchy display from the doubles pairing of Patkar and Shamini ensured that India conceded the doubles in the last game.
Surprisingly, India were twice ahead in the tie, but with some poor returns they allowed the Australians to claw back. Patkar in the third singles rubber took the match to the last game but could not hold on against the wily Ziyu Zhang, the loss slamming the door shut on India.
While India had London 2012 Olympian, Ankita Das, in their team they surprisingly opted to bench the youngster, handing Patkar the third singles rubber. The senior-most member of the squad, Poulumi Ghatak, was not in the line-up for the bronze medal clash.
An international commentator thought coach Bhawani Mukherjee was tactically weak and indecisive. “He never called for time-outs when his players actually needed some tactical input. Also, I don’t think he has the respect of the players,” he said, wishing not be named.
The commentator further said that India had perhaps blundered by not having Peter Engel in the team’s corner for the match. “Peter has vast experience of international table-tennis and that could have helped them get over the line,” he said.
In one of the very few positives, the performance of Manika Batra is sure to raise the 19-year-old’s profile. Batra lost only one match over the course of the tournament, repeatedly salvaging India’s floundering ship.
Batra, the youngest member of the team, put up a confident, aggressive performance but was often left fighting a lonely battle as the rest of the squad failed to match up to her performance. Shamini in particular seemed the weakest link. However, what was more surprising was the
Indian team’s persistence with her, even though the beleaguered Mukherjee had multiple options to throw into the mix.