Jeho Himanakulh Puingheta of Mizoram

Mizoram’s Jeho Puingheta tumbled to the ground, Nadal style, after beating West Bengal’s Ankur Bhattacharjee in the table tennis boys’ final of the Khelo India Youth Games 2021 on June 13.

He remained sprawled on the floor for a couple of minutes before rising to acknowledge the cheers of an enthralled audience.

Jeho was exhausted, not physically but mentally after a gruelling 9-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9 contest. It was a sweet tactical victory, though, with his defensive play effectively countering Ankur’s flourishing attacking game.

He patiently kept the ball in play till he got an opening, completing the kill with his forehand top-spins.

Ankur simply ran out of steam after the first three sets, losing the fight in his mind first and then at the table.

“The reaction was more of relief as the points were long and hard,” Jeho conceded, after bagging the state’s second gold, following their boys’ triumph in football.

Like any other Mizo kid, Jeho also was a football fan and wanted to take it up, in the footsteps of his father who played at the local club level. But the father, who works as a male nurse in a hospital, was keen on him taking up an individual sport. The baby-faced youngster opted for table tennis after trying his hand at badminton first.

As a young boy, Jeho was an attacking paddler but it was Chinese coach Liu Zheng Fang at the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board Academy who converted him into a defensive player.

“My backhand was very weak and that affected my overall results. So, a year after joining the academy in 2013, the Chinese coach asked me to focus on a more defensive style.”

He then took the help of another defensive-minded senior table tennis player from Mizoram, Lalrimpuia, to understand the nuances of this style and what he needed to do to succeed. “Playing defensive is all about being patient. It helps that I can quickly launch into an attack when the opportunity comes. But that is also very demanding physically and I have to work a lot harder on that aspect during my training,” Jeho, who has now moved his base to the Pinnacle Table Tennis Academy in Gurugram after leaving the PSPB academy, said.

The fan of South Korean Joo Sae-Hyuk, a two-time Asian Games bronze medallist in men’s singles, Jeho is keen on breaking into the senior men’s team in the next few years and will be focusing on the national ranking meets organised by the Table Tennis Federation of India in the second half of the year.

But for now, the diminutive youngster was happy soaking in all the adulation from the sizeable supporters from the state who had come to cheer him at the Tau Devi Lal stadium.

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