The Man With His Skills And Technique Ruled Indian Table Tennis For More Than a Decade
A wise man once said, "Table Tennis is like an atom. To the ignorant it is merely microscopic and insignificant in existanse, but to the dedicated, it is intricate in design and the building block to everything we know." As a game it's very difficult to not to fall in love with Table Tennis at least the protagonist of this news story would agree with this.
Meet Kamlesh Mehta, an Indian retired table tennis player. He is not a small name in the table tennis world, his winning numbers will attest to it. During the time when Indian athletes had almost zero exposure Kamlesh was the captain of the Indian table tennis team from 1982 to 1989 and was the highest ranked Indian player in Asia, the Commonwealth and the world.
The love for the game started on his 10th birthday which also happens to be Maharashtra day i.e. May 1, 1970, as it was a holiday his father took him to Matunga Gymkhana. It was then he got hooked to table tennis." We would play it all the time and it helped that the Gymkhana, at that point, was the hub for table tennis in Mumbai. So we had the opportunity to watch the really good players and learn from them." Kamlesh said in his interview with Scroll.
His mentor was Kaity Chargeman who was the reigning national champion, having first won the title in 1969 (she went on to win the title in 1970 and 1971 too). Kamlesh would wait along with many others, just to watch her play. She too was always willing to help Kamlesh. One of her advice has stuck to him to this day, " You need to watch as much table tennis as possible. Watch and then try things out until you find the game that suits you."
With time Kamlesh kept getting better at the game. As expected in 1975, at a very young age of 15, Kamlesh was chosen as the fifth member of the Maharashtra team.He was supposed to just watch the champions play but as luck would have it, he was pitted against Manjit Dua, who was a big name in Indian table tennis at that point. To everyone's surprise he managed to beat him. After that there was no looking back for Kamlesh.
He played in the final of the national championships on eleven occasions between 1981 and 1994, winning the title eight times. He was runner-up on three occasions.
Kamlesh even represented India in seven world championships, eight Asian championships, two Asian Games, four South Asian Federation games, two Olympic Games and many other official and friendly competitions in India and abroad. His best performance came in the SAF Games in 1991 at Colombo where he won seven gold and four silver medals. He won the World Bank Championship at the Isle of Man (UK) in 1989. He won all four gold medals at the Pentangular International Championships in 1983.
In his interview with Scroll he proudly remembers his finest moment and that was beating Lu Lin, a chinese table tennis player. It has always been his dream to beat a Chinese player before he retired. They being exceptionally good at this game making it impossible to beat them.
In 1992, In the qualifying round of Barcelona Olympics Kamlesh came face to face against a Chinese player, Lu Lin and he found himself a no match to his opponent's prowess. He lost that match badly. At the Olympics, Kamlesh once again ran into Lu Lin, but this time he was not ready to let the opportunity go. To everybody's surprise he managed to win the game comfortably.
During a nearly twenty year career, Kamlesh Mehta has received numerous recognitions. The Maharashtra Government's Shiv Chhatrapati Award was the first, received in 1979 followed in 1984 by The Friendship Trophy for being the best player from India at the Asian Championship in Islamabad. He was twice named the Best Sportsman by the Sports Journalists' Association of Bombay. He was awarded the Arjuna Award, in 1985. He was the first Indian to receive the Fair Play Trophy at the Commonwealth Championships, in 1989.
You can take the player out of the game but you can't take the game out of the player. Along with working in a bank, he also coaches the young players. Mehta has coached the Indian table tennis team on multiple occasions. His was first appointed in 1998 to coach the national team at the Osaka Asian Games. Later, he assisted the chief coach Massimo Constantini at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. In March 2017, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India, appointed him as the national observer for table tennis.
Kamlesh was always considered as a smart player with superb technical skills. He had no visible weakness and had a good understanding of every single tactic employed but the thing that stood out was his mental strength which he owes it to meditation and breathing techniques.
Picture Source: Scroll.in; Papabears blog; Mid day; Sportsstarlive; Timescontent
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