Achanta Sharath Kamal has been the undisputed king of Indian table tennis for over a decade and the veteran paddler maintained his numero uno status when he led the national men's team to a Commonwealth Games gold after 12 long years in Gold Coast on Monday.
Sharath, who was part of the 2006 Melbourne CWG gold medal winning squad, feels that the 2018 gold is in a way a redemption for failing in the 2014 edition at Glasgow.
"It's a great feeling to win the gold for our country especially when you see the tricolour going up while our National Anthem is playing is the best feeling one can ever watch," Sharath told IANS from Gold Coast in an email interview.
"We came in as the favourites in this edition of the CWG as we were seeded No.1 and finished as the No.1. So everything went according to plan and all of us delivered what was expected from us.
"We have won the gold in the team event after 12 years, so this was the redemption for not winning it in 2014," he added.
"There was a lot of pressure as last time in 2014 we had only one silver in men's doubles where I was partnering Amalraj Anthony, so we have won back the medals we won in 2010."
"So with that pressure more on me as the captain of the team, I had to focus on my performance along with motivating the team to do well," he said.
"It was a bit hard but when I stood strong against Singapore in the semis by winning both my singles 3-0, the team gained a lot of confidence and with this confidence we blanked out Nigeria 3-0 in the final," he added.
Commenting on the team combination which comprises youngsters like Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Harmeet Desai and Salil Shankar Shetty, Sharath said: "We have had a great side with old and young players, Amalraj and myself being the elder players and with Sathiyan, Harmeet and Sanil being the younger players who have been doing very well currently on the world circuit."
"Sathiyan especially has had a great year in 2017 and doing extremely well with being the highest ranked among us at No.47 in the world.
"His partnership with Harmeet in the doubles was commendable and they won the important double match against Singapore while I won my two singles. We work very well as a team and since the last two years we have been rising the benchmark to a very high level," he added.
Asked about the reason for the gradual rise of Indian paddlers at the international stage, Sharath said: "The reason of all this improvement with six men players in top-100 in the world and 2 women players also there is due to the administrative and organisation of Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) and Sports Authority of India (SAI)."
"They hired a a foreign coach, Massimo Costantini, in 2016 when we won the second division of the world championships and there has been a steady and consequent program of training and tournaments for over two years which has helped us win this gold medal.
"We have had sufficient funding from SAI which was utilised in the right manner by TTFI to help the players," he added.
Sharath also appeared confident of boosting India's medal tally in individual events, which started on Wednesday.
"From tomorrow (Thursday) singles, doubles and mixed doubles start off where in men's doubles I am partnering Sathiyan and we are the top seeds, we could win if not a gold medal, another medal for sure in that event and singles is always open and I hope to win one medal in the singles too," he said.
Asked if the CWG team gold will act as a booster for the Asian Games, where the level of competition is comparatively higher with the power-houses like Japan, China and South Korea, taking part, he said: "Asian Games is a much more competitive tournament as Asia is the power house for table tennis," he acknowledged.
"We have always played the quarter-finals there but this time if we have a good draw there is small outside chance to win a medal in the team championships. And also the confidence from the CWG will be a major contribution for our team at the Asians," he added.
(Tridib Baparnash can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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