Alappuzha: After a day of rest on Thursday, the UTT 84th Inter-State Sub-Junior and Cadet Championships get underway when the Youth Boys Under-15 team events kickstart at the YMCA’s N.C. John Memorial Arena, here from tomorrow.
In the race for the team title, there are quite a few contenders and several pretenders. For instance, Assam finished far ahead of medal contention at the Dharamsala Nationals in 2019. But the top-seeded squad starts as the favourites for the gold medal and the team trophy, purely on the strength of two top-ranked players, Priyanuj Bhattacharyya and Divyaj Rajkhowa Roy. The two, no doubt, will have to share a major burden to take their side to the top of the medal podium.
On the other hand, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, who finished winners and runners-up in 2019, are placed as Group B and Group F toppers, respectively. Though Tamil Nadu has retained its second-seed position, Maharashtra finds itself pushed down the order. Similarly, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh won bronze medals in the last Nationals. Based on the current ranking of their players, UP is relegated to the seventh-seed slot.
These are mere indicators and do not necessarily reflect the true strength of teams and, on match day, they will be tested. However, all these teams can expect to capture one of the two qualification slots available from each group to enter the main draw.
Equally riveting will be the contests among the 227 U-15 boys in the fray to capture the singles title. The passion will be no less in the Under-13 Boys singles as 203 boys will battle it out for the coveted gold. In the under-11 Boys category, the 145 entries point to the growing popularity of the sport and the boys trying to find a place under the sun.
It also means that the competition would see a mixture of team events, the singles group qualifications and the knockout in doubles of Under-15 and Under-13 sections on the first two days. Though a happy situation for the players, the schedule of matches going beyond 10 p.m. would test the stamina of young players.
On a given day, players like Punish Biswas and Rupam Sardar from West Bengal, P.B. Abhinand and Umesh Kumar, with Nikhil Menon of Tamil Nadu, Sudhanshu Maini and Atherva Gupta of Delhi, besides Sarthak Arya and Arya Kataria from PSPBA can spring a surprise or two to unsettle their rival teams. Hosts Kerala, having a good crop in R.S. Jayanth and A. Gourishankar, will look to take their side into the main draw, if not advance further. The Mizoram players, their skills unknown to many, can pose problems to their rivals. UP, drawn in the toughest group, will rely on the up-and-coming Veer Balmiki. But Parth Prabhakar or Aryan Kumar will have to support him considerably.
Group A: Assam, Jharkhand, Daman & Diu.
Group B: Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh.
Group C: West Bengal, Pondicherry, Chhattisgarh.
Group D: Haryana, Punjab, Kerala.
Group E: Delhi, Chandigarh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir.
Group F: Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh.
Group G: Telangana, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand.
Group H: Gujarat, PSPBA, Mizoram, Goa.