Pune has everything for table tennis to shine, just no dedicated players
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Pune has everything for table tennis to shine, just no dedicated players

Even with good facilities, the graph of city-based players on the national and international circuit is sliding down. The city stands nowhere in state-level tournaments.

pune Updated: Aug 14, 2017 14:23 IST
Ashish Phadnis
Ashish Phadnis
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,table tennis,players
International player Divya Deshpande, who earlier used to train with Bhushan Thakur, has shifted to Mumbai and is doing well at the state and national level.(HT PHOTO)

In the last two decades, the sport of table tennis in Pune has grown considerably. The sport which was earlier mainly concentrated in the city’s core area has spread into smaller areas like Rahatne and is producing budding table tennis players.

Pune has also shown remarkable progress in infrastructure and several academies are training their kids on international quality tables. However, even after such a favourable condition, the graph of city-based players at the national and international circuit is sliding down. The city stands nowhere in state-level tournaments.

Several players have turned into coaches and have started their own academies in various pockets of the city and a sizable number is seen in every district tournament. This year, the number crossed 550 per tournament, which is far more than other cities in Maharashtra. Even the number of tournaments which the city hosts is more. Every year, the player gets to showcase his/her talent in around 10 tournaments in a season along with 5-6 district ranking tournament, inter-school tournaments and occasionally state ranking tournaments.

Gone are the days, when the city produced quality international players like Sujay Ghorpade, Sunil Babras, Kishor Ghorpade and Jayant Thatte during the 1980s. Then, came the batch of Ashlesha Bodas, Aniket Koparkar, Sanmay Paranjape and Martand Biniwale who did their best at the international level, while Divya Deshpande was among the top 5 in women for a long time. The numbers started fading soon after and except for Shubhankar Renavikar and Sanmay Paranjape, the city failed to make its presence at the international level.

HT contacted the city’s players and coaches to find out the reason behind this decreasing performance and what should be done to improve it.

“It is true that our players can’t do well at the national tournaments. I feel the reason is that we are seriously lacking committed players. To do well at the nationals, a player needs to devote at least 5-6 hours daily, for at least 2-3 years. Then, it will start showing results. But, we don’t have such dedicated players,” said player turned coach Rohit Choudhary.

Rohit who was awarded with the Chattrapati award during his playing days, now runs an academy at Sanmitra Sangh, Kothrud.

“We are better than Thane and Mumbai regarding infrastructure but we need to work on young players. We need to encourage players to play for more number of hours. We need to develop the mentality that one can take up sport as a career. What we have observed is that most of the table tennis players are equally good at academics and they get better opportunities while pursuing the other option. So, even though we have a good crop at the sub-junior level, it gets dropped when these players reach Class 9 or 10. The remaining batch of talented players get dropped when they clear Class 12. We can’t blame them, as currently, the sport doesn’t offer them a lucrative career,” he added.

Few years ago, Pune’s international player Bhushan Thakur started his professional academy in Balewadi and was expecting to produce a batch of talented players. However, he, then, shifted his focus in promoting the sport on a larger level. Currently, he is project head of Stag and Table Tennis Federation of India’s project of ‘One Million players by 2020’.

“Table tennis in Pune is lacking numbers, whether it is quantity of players or prize money. Most importantly we lack coaches in training programmes to upgrade the latest training methods used worldwide. Our players don’t get latest training which can help them perform better at the competitive stage,” he said.

“We are very weak in setting up a strong pyramid structure at the grass roots level when it comes to table tennis awareness - talent hunts and creating a champion. Till the time we do not have at least two ‘High Performance Training Centres’, 50 training academies and 250 nurseries across Pune, we will not be having a road map which will lead us to success,” he added.

International player Divya Deshpande, who earlier used to train with Bhushan Thakur, has shifted to Mumbai and is doing well at the state and national level. The paddler believes that it’s the role of the parents that play a key role.

“Parents are required to take initiative and encourage the talent in their kids and motivate them to play. Secondly, they should have patience and faith. Then it’s also up to the players. Considering the amount of physical and mental hard work required in any sport, nowadays youngsters aren’t keen on taking up a sport professionally,” she said.

“Also the financial point is important. I feel that sponsors can help with small amounts initially and then increase the amount as the player progresses. This way it will encourage kids to take up the sport professionally too,” she added.

Echoing her, international paddler Shubhankar Renavikar, who left his sporting career for academics said, “In foreign countries, they have huge funding for all the sports including table tennis. In India, playing a sport is never considered a profession whereas in countries like China, Japan and Germany, people play table tennis as a profession and they also get good amount of money from it.”

“As far as Pune is concerned, I think the federation should select some young deserving students and start giving them scholarships. And also if possible arrange national and international camps for exposure. This is just a starting step but will definitely be helpful,” he added.

Another Chhatrapati awardee Upendra Muley, who is coaching for the last 25 years, is now training his son Neel, and the 10-year-old has already started winning several district tournaments.

Upendra says, “In Pune, we have immense talent but they should come together. For any player to succeed, they need proper coaching at proper time. Otherwise, its nothing but wasting talent. To avoid this, me and Rohit have decided to work together and are eager to help other kids too. Secondly, our players don’t get quality practice and they move outside. So I feel that the top players in Pune should come together and spend quality practice sessions with each other. This will dramatically improve the standard of Pune’s table tennis.”

Talking about Pune District Table Tennis Association’s role, association treasurer Ashish Bodas said, “As an association we are trying our best to improve the standard of the sport. We have given affiliation to several clubs and academies in different parts of the city. Thus, the number has been increasing every year. We have provided them quality international table and our effort is to bring top tournaments in city, so our players can get inspired.”

First Published: Aug 14, 2017 14:22 IST