Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lessons from Table Tennis - Watch the Ball On to the Bat

Table tennis is one of those things that I knew you would get better as you play more and more. The movement of the bat, the forehand, the backhand - they all get better as we practice more. There was a time when I used to practice with the big boys at LB stadium but then I became more of class champion etc and slowly faded off. At school Sanjay Gabriel and I would sneak in before school and after, by devising a way to keep the window ajar, and play for hours on end. We really enjoyed those games, just the two of us. Then off to paani puri at Stanley, which he ate with great relish while I stood a healthy distance away. The game was in its best shape then.

Don't Let the Opponent Get a Foot in the Door
My award-winning moment came when I won the TT championship on board the ship Nacowrie in 1986 when we sailed to Port Blair for a vacation with Ali, who lived there. Subbu, who is always a tough contender, was the other finalist and I had mentally given up. Then I realised Subbu was not playing his usual game - he kind of expected to win easily I suppose. A couple of loose points, an increased confidence for me, a decreased confidence for him and I won. Never let the opponent into the game I realised.

Never Give Up When Down
One more award-winning moment was when I won the doubles against a tough Electronics team in the Inter-faculty final - Meherji and Subbu played the singles and lost both the straight games. We won the doubles (who did I play with?) and then Meherji won a grand reverse game and then Subbu beat the champ in a fantastic game and we won. Woohoo!

You Will Lose Skill if You Play With Lesser Players
Over the years, however, I made many changes to the original game because I started playing with non-players. I'd twist shots and find angles and slowly but surely lost the original game. I developed a new style though which was good enough to beat players at this level.

Watch the Ball On to the Bat
One important lesson I heard which held good for all and bat games was this advise Bapat (of IDBI fame) was giving to another player. 'Watch Hari,' he said. 'He is so good because he watches the ball comes on to the bat.'. I never realised that. After the game, I asked him what he meant. Bapat, who was a very good cricketer with excellent knowledge of the game, told me that he had learned during a stint with Frank Tyson that the key to ball and bat games was to watch the ball on to the bat as closely as one could. I was thrilled to hear that. I tried to implement that at cricket and realised it worked very well. In fact its the only difference between a good player and an ordinary one.

Remember the Principles and Self-Coach Yourself Back into Form
Anyway, the other day while playing TT with Anjali, Shobhs and Rajesh at Bangalore, I tried a couple of smashes and they did not land. I wondered what happened to my game of yore and thought about what I could do to correct that. I remembered Bapat's advise and for the next couple of balls, I watched the ball on to the bat. Voila!
The forehand and backhand were back. Suddenly I was closer to the ball, the posture was better and the result right.

Thank the Gurus
Thanks Bapat. Might be a good time to reach out to him - a guru. Now to see where I need to watch the ball on to the bat to get the desired result.

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