Like dominoes falling one after the other, strange things happened when the defending champions – the Indian women’s table tennis team, albeit with a new-looking squad, lost to lower-ranked Malaysia in the quarter-finals of the women’s team at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
Overloaded with many expectations, the Manika Batra-led team failed to deliver a medal from the Games, but also suffered a series of heartbreaking losses both outside the team event and too, easily putting them at least two miles away. or three more medals.
In the wake of the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games where the entire Indian table tennis contingent has returned with 5 medals – a gold in the men’s team, a gold in the men’s singles, a gold in the mixed doubles, a silver in the men’s doubles and a bronze in the men’s singles, The Bridge caught up with the women’s team coach, Anindita Chakraborty, who stood on the sidelines of the teams during the Games, to find out how things were resolved in the women’s team.
Although it has been a few days, the loss to Malaysia and the prospect of a medal still haunt the women.
“We didn’t know what to expect against Malaysia. It’s not even like they play regularly on the WTT tour, so we didn’t have a chance to know either,” explains Anindita, explaining the unknown factor of their competition. cites as a likely reason for their loss.
“Overall it was a great learning experience for us, we enjoyed it, but there was also an obvious tension in the camp,” Chakraborty says with a nervous laugh.
“It makes no sense in retrospect to say that if someone else had played the game against Malaysia, we might have won it,” she continues.
“The opposition from the Malaysian team was excellent – they had a right-hander, a left-hander, a helicopter and a pen holder. All four rowers were of different types and it wasn’t even like the Malaysian rowers were on the track regularly, so no one was really there.” familiar with their game. They were completely unknown, which made it difficult for us,” Chakraborty breaks out.
With India losing its first women’s doubles to Malaysia in the team event, there was automatically a lot of pressure on four-time Commonwealth Games medalist Manika Batra who knew she had to step up.
“That day didn’t tick the boxes for Manika, it was just another bad day at the office for her when she lost to the southpaw. But then again, even Malaysian Karen Lyne, to whom Manika lost, played really well,” admitted Anindita .
“None of us, neither the players nor the coaches knew what to expect from Malaysia.”
Moreover, with controversies surrounding Indian table tennis where the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) is currently being disbanded, a national coach has been suspended and even more recently, controversial selections for the CWG squad took place, it was not the best mental state for Manika sitting in. one of the two, Anindita believes.
“Manika was not in the best shape that day, she also won the first match (against Ying Ho) in a decider.”
READ | An open letter to Manika Batra – We know you will shine again
“The expectations were too high for Manika and that pressure got her into the clutch moments. In 2018 she was the junior most player on the squad, like the team had Mouma Das and others.
Here the roles were reversed, Manika was the one who is the oldest and in charge of leading a team.”
With the women’s team medal failing and a lackluster outing in her singles and doubles campaigns, Batra’s CWG 2022 campaign was more bitter than sweet, especially as she hit the peak of winning gold at the 2018 Games.
“Of course she tries to deal with it, this will not be easy, because the Games only come once every four years.”
“But even if it hurts, she will learn from it and move on quickly to focus on the next World Cup,” explains Anindita.
A story of near misses
On paper it might seem like the women’s table tennis team underperformed, but it would be a gross understatement as well into the group stage the girls shone brilliantly and when the opportunity arose they stepped up or tried – with the trio of debutants in the squad – Reeth, Diya and especially Sreeja are doing their best.
“Sreeja’s singles bronze medal against Australia’s Yangzi Liu was so heartbreaking, as were the semi-finals she lost to three-time Olympic medalist Tianwei Feng from Singapore after a tough battle.”
If any player has been a revelation and a true performer, it must be the reigning National Singles Champion Sreeja Akula, except for veteran Sharath Kamal of course.
With Manika experiencing some hiccups in her campaign, it was Sreeja Akula who stood up and shone and starred in her first-ever multisport extravaganza of this standard. She was a good match for Sharath and also won gold in mixed doubles and was also dangerously close to a medal in women’s singles and doubles along with partner Reeth.
While the Indian women’s table tennis team may have learned too much to contemplate, the men’s team with Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran leading the pack can pat themselves on the back for a job well done at the Games, and continue the momentum for the World Championships.
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