New Delhi: Not many, including India's top table tennis star Sharath Kamal, expected Anders Johansson to be the national coach.

To everyone's pleasant surprise, the renowned Swede accepted the offer, saying India is 'one of the most interesting countries in the world' and where the sport has a bright future.

Johansson has been touted as one of the best coaches to come to India, considering his association with former World Champion Jorgen Persson, and more recently with Europe's top club Ochsenhausen of Germany.

Johansson, who is most likely to join the team next month, says he is looking forward to working in India, though the country has a long way to go before it is a force to reckon with in world table tennis.

'India is one of the most interesting places today to work in, and frankly it is also causing ripples as a TT nation. These reasons are good enough for me to accept the offer,' Johansson said.

Johansson, 46, knows a couple of Indian players, having seen them play in the German pro league, where Sharath plays for Grafelfing Munich.

'I have seen many of the Indian players playing and I had the pleasure having Sharath in our practice group in Germany this year.'

Most experts at home and overseas agree that India does not have a pool of international players of high standard. Sharath, who was ranked World No 39 before the Commonwealth Games (he is currently 74), is the only player in the top 100 with his India teammates Soumyadeep Roy, Subhajit Saha and Anthony Amalraj hovering around 250.

Johansson feels it is easier for the younger lot to learn from players like Sharath than any coach or player from overseas.

'I think it is crucial that the promising players regularly train with Sharath. He is the best player you have right now and has the experience of playing overseas. Any Indian youngster will always find it easier working with India's top player than a Swede or a Chinese.'

Johansson says his first big assignment will be the Asian Championships in Beirut in September, though his focus will be on the Olympic qualifiers in April.

'It is not easy to prepare a team for a major event in such a short time, I would be happy if I could achieve the short-term goals first. The team should be in shape for the Asian Championships without losing sight of the long-term target.'

Johansson says he will not hesitate to throw the youngsters into the deep end of international tournaments and that is the best way to hone their skills and temperament.

'If the younger players show enough dedication, they should be given the opportunities at the international level without making them wait for long,' he said.

The Swede feels once India can get more players in the bracket of 50-150 rankings they can automatically create a domino effect in the country as more and more youngsters will try to catch up with them.

'India must have more players in the 50-150 world rankings to create a tradition for highly competitive table tennis. More and more players will then try to catch up with higher-ranked players.'

(Agencies)