As the city prepares to host some of the best paddlers from the country,Mumbai’s first international table tennis tournament in 30 years,national coach and eight-time national champion Kamlesh Mehta goes back in time to explain why the sport has gone down in Mumbai,while also explaining the significance of the forthcoming tournament to Sportsline.
Excerpts from an interview:
Now that an international tournament will be hosted in Mumbai after 30 years,who will benefit from it the most?
The Indian players will be the biggest beneficiaries,particularly the local players from Mumbai and Maharashtra. It’s very expensive for the players to go abroad to play and get exposed to foreign conditions. As a result,lots of talented players don’t get a chance to play much. But now that the tournament is happening here,it has opened the doors to all the local players and it will help them to improve their game and will give them some experience of playing on an international stage. Importantly,since it is a ranking tournament,it’ll help the youngsters here earn ranking points.
Are there any big foreign players coming for the tournament?
The foreign players are relatively unknown,but that does not mean they will be easy to beat. The Chinese are always very competitive but the Indian contingent is not bad either. Since neither has played the other,it’ll be interesting to see how they react since they haven’t played together before.
Will this junior event be followed by a senior one?
There is always a hope for that. We are testing the waters with this one and if all goes well,we can start preparing for a senior one.
While there is a difference between the quality of table tennis between the junior and senior groups,the organisers have to work equally hard for either level. It took us 30 years to bring an international tournament to Mumbai,so maybe if this goes well,we will have a good chance of getting a senior tournament here soon.
Was Mumbai ever considered a hub for table tennis?
Mumbai used to be the home for table tennis in India for a long time. Unfortunately that has gone down due to several reasons. First,the metropolitan status of the city has made the time available for practice to reduce. Kids have to face the pressure of education and so that cuts down on their time. It has become difficult to play at a top level if you can’t get enough time to practice.
Second,the availability of places to play is low. Earlier there used to be places that had a ‘pay and play’ policy which let players play the game at a very economical price. These places were all over so one did not have to travel that much. Now kids have to rely on membership at clubs which have hefty fees. Not everyone can afford it so the players miss out.
Third,the number of tournaments have gone down,and so the awareness of the game has suffered. In fact,the last international tournament held in the city was the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in 1983.
In the good old days when one needed entertainment,we would go out and play. It could have been anything,football or hockey. For me it was table tennis. Now when one is bored they have computer games,or movies.
How has the game changed since you played?
For a start,the scoring pattern has changed. It used to be a 21 point game and now it’s 11. So the game has become slightly faster because there are not many points one can afford to lose. The size of the ball has also changed from 38 mm to 40 mm. But when it comes to the level of commitment from the players in my time and the players now,it is still the same. They are still determined and have the strong will to win.
While coaching,do you sometimes get the urge,or wish to play competitively again?
Not at all. I do get to play the game while coaching so I’m satisfied with that. I know that now I have a different role and I’m happy to shed my experience on the young players today.