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In August 2018, the Indian men's table tennis contingent won bronze at the Asian Games in Jakarta, thus ending a 60-year wait for a medal in the sport. India went on to win another bronze in the mixed doubles event when Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra beat Hong Kong's Ho Kwan Kit and Lee ho Chang.
It was part of a recent upturn in fortunes that the country has enjoyed in the sport. "Things changed since 2016 when four players from India qualified for the Rio Olympic games," Kamal told IANS.
"That was the time when the senior players like myself and Mouma Das were playing well and the young players like Manika, Sathiyan (Gnanasekaran), Harmeet (Desai) and (Soumyajit) Ghosh came off age," said the 36-year-old veteran.
According to Kamal, the level of competition one finds at the Asian Games is not too different from the Olympics. The success in Jakarta thus gives him the confidence that India have a chance of winning an Olympic medal at Tokyo 2020. However, he feels that for the gap between and India and the top countries to bridged further, there needs to be improvement in the infrastructure for the sport in the country.
"India is catching up but one thing where we need to improve is infrastructure. I think that's where the top countries are ahead and with good infrastructure we can narrow the gap," Kamal said.
Gone are the days when he would often be the lone torchbearer for India in major international events. Manika Batra became a household name in the country after her medal haul at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (2 golds, 1 silver and 1 bronze) and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran became the first Indian to break into the top 25 of the world rankings in April 2019.
Kamal is happy that he has been able to keep up with the changes the sport has gone through over the years and the renewed interest for it in the country. "I am really happy that I could adapt constantly to the new eras which has kept me on top of the sport in the country and also in the world. And most importantly the popularity the game has gained over the years is what any player would want. Really happy to see the improvements in table tennis," he said.