India's best paddlers have not qualified for the London Olympics, says chief table tennis coach Leszek Kucharski who also feels that top star Sharath Kamal had paid a heavy price for his erratic play.
Young Soumyajit Ghosh will play in the men's singles and Ankita Das in the women's at the London Games, having upstaged the more reputed Sharath, reigning national champion Anthony Amalraj and Poulomi Ghatak at the Olympics qualifiers in Hong Kong and Doha, Qatar.
"Our best did not make the cut. Sharath is easily India's lone world class player but could not raise his level of play while Ankita and Ghosh played beyond expectations," Kucharski, from Poland, told IANS in an interview.
Ankita and Ghosh topped the South Asian section in Hong Kong while Sharath lost to countryman Amalraj to bow out of the competition. India's highest-ranked player at 83 got another opportunity in Doha where he finished first in his group but lost in the opening match of the knock-out stage.
"It was very tough for him (Sharath) in Hong Kong. In Doha, he played fantastically in the group matches but lack of power in the later stages (of the event) did him in. He is India's only player playing competitive circuit in Europe and it was disappointing to see him miss out," said Kucharski of the 2008 Commonwealth Games singles gold medallist, who would have played in his third straight Olympics had he qualified.
Kucharski took charge of the national team in November and has been part of the contingent that went to Asian Championships, Worlds and Olympic Qualifiers. He says the India experience has been challenging so far.
"We are still getting to know each other. The playing culture is a lot different from what it is in Europe. Europeans play throughout the year while players here only get high-quality training camps (mostly in Patiala)," he said.
In his view, the main issue with Indians continued to be fitness and lack of competition at the international level.
"If you look at Ankita and Ghosh, they have exceptional talent, but they need to work a lot on their fitness. They need to be training right through the year. As of now, the team members train for two weeks in Patiala ahead of a major tournament and when they return for the another camp, they are back to square one."
The former world No. 11 underscores the importance of playing abroad for long durations.
"Sharath is based in Germany unlike the other top players. Taking part in big events is fine, but playing in smaller tournaments overseas and winning there would give them a lot of confidence."