Hall of Fame table tennis coach Richard McAfee opined that India now has the infrastructure and the talent pool to become one of the top five teams in the world.
Speaking on the sidelines of a table tennis clinic at the Champions Table Tennis Centre in Bengaluru on Wednesday, the 69-year-old American, who was in charge of table tennis competition during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, reiterated that catching up with China would be next to impossible because of their work ethic, but maintained that India are the closest when it comes to table tennis facility and interest.
"I think you're right," he said when reminded of China's rise in the sport since the 1996 Games. "I think it's because a huge portion of their sports funds are directed towards the sport. It's a bit like cricket in India. Players know that they can become celebrities, millionaires in China if they focus on the sport.
"Also, they have regional camps where children at a very young age are put in boarding and the only thing they focus on is table tennis. That's not something that can happen in the United States or in India."
He continued: "That said, I think India come a close second in interest and infrastructure for table tennis. They are really not far away from becoming a top-five side on the world circuit."
The likes of Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra have made headlines in recent times with a string of impressive performances on the international level, and McAfee credited their success to the Table Tennis Federation of India's improved vision.
"I have seen Kamal play for a long time," said McAfee, who has travelled to India for camps and coaching clinics over the last eight years. "I haven't seen many others play live, but I can tell you that Indian players are to reckon with. They have what it takes to play among the best, and there is a plenty of talent coming through. One of the reasons for their success is TTFI's willingness to send them out on exposure programmes.
"Playing against counterparts from other countries is great, especially when the process starts at a young age. It is something that has been happening over the last few years and I think it is great for the sport," said the certified national coach.
The centre, opened by former India ranked junior Anjana Rao, conducted the clinic over eight days with 16 bright prospects from all over the country in attendance. Speaking about the clinic, McAfee said: "These kids are very good. They have everything it takes to go to the next level. What we're doing is putting everything in place to ensure they get there."