Sharath and Manika overcome the administrative crisis to lighten up the table tennis scene

The age-defying Achanta Sharath Kamal bustled on and off the pitch as Manika Batra achieved another first for Indian table tennis despite the administrative crisis the sport has endured over the past 12 months.

With three gold medals, including a singles title after 16 years, at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, 40-year-old Sharath showed that age is just a number.

He plans to hang up his boots only after the Olympic Games in Paris, but in 2022 he also ended up in the sports administration.

He was elected as the Vice Chairman of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Athletes Committee before becoming the first Indian to be elected as the Joint Chairman of the Players’ Body in the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

His role in the IOA may be limited, but a seat on the ITTF’s Executive Council gives him the power to make changes to the way the game is played.

Sharath finally gets his due
Some said it was probably 10 years too late, but Sharath finally got his due from the government when he became the first table tennis player to receive the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting honour.

Even the usually divided judges found it hard to disagree and he was the unanimous choice for the sporting honour.

The coveted accolade came after his sensational effort in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where he overcame sleepless nights and a battered body to take home three gold medals – singles, team and mixed with 24-year-old Sreeja Akula.

Manika overcomes CWG disappointment with Asia Cup bronze
After taking an unprecedented four medals in the 2018 CWG, expectations were high for Manika in Birmingham. Unable to bear the weight of expectations, she returned home empty-handed.

Three months later, however, a performance of his life followed in the Asia Cup in Bangkok. The Delhi-based paddler upped her game to stun two top-10 players in the span of three days to secure bronze, becoming the first Indian to medal in the rich history of the tournament.

Legal battles galore
The start of the year was rather grim as the Delhi High Court suspended the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) after observing a “sorry” turn of events in the governing body.

There was fear among players about the suspension affecting their preparation for international events, including the Commonwealth Games scheduled for July-August.

However, the court-appointed Committee of Trustees that ran the TTFI ensured that the training of elite athletes remained largely unaffected.

A newly elected set of office bearers took charge of the federation earlier this month and their first job will be to run the national events.

While the day-to-day functioning of the federation was being looked after, the CoA also ran into numerous legal obstacles.

As many as four players – Manush Shah, Swastika Ghosh, Archana Kamath and Diya Chitale – contested their exclusion from the CWG squad, leaving the CoA more than busy.

Only Chitale emerged victorious from those battles and was included in the Birmingham-bound women’s team.

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