Indore: The boys from the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board Academy (PSPB-A) were nowhere in the picture in the last season. But just before the team draw for the Under-15 Boys in the 85th UTT Cadet and Sub-Junior National Table Tennis Championships, one finds PSPBA pitchforked to the top position of Group A.
The team events, beginning at the Abhay Prashal Indoor Stadium tomorrow, the PSPBA boys start as the favourites for the team title. But the top seed slot and the points they collected this season cannot alone be the reason for such a tag. PSPBA, ever since it relocated itself from Ajmer, has grown in stature, and their boys have shown improvements to hit the headlines. The onus is on Arya Sarthak, Rushikesh Jagtap, Sahil Rawat and Ronald Sarkar to justify the top billing.
However, West Bengal, the top team in the second group, is equally a tough nut to crack. Soham Mukherjee, Debraj Bhattacharjee, Rupam Sardar and Aditya Das will go all out to prove their mettle. Incidentally, they will have a tough time against another team, the National Centre of Excellence, Kolkata, whose boys did a fantastic job to be among the medals in the Junior and Youth Nationals team event in Kolkata.
And Karnataka has a good young crop of Dinesh Teshub, Naveen Aamav, Atharva Nawarange and Arya Jain. They can challenge the best attack on a given day. But what is surprising is that Tamil Nadu, who won the title in Alappuzha last season on the strength of P.B. Abhinand are relegated to the fifth group, based on the rankings of two of their top players. Maharashtra has a mix-match of newcomers, and they could also pose threats to the top contenders.
In other words, of the 31 teams vying for top honours and the coveted team trophy, a host of the squads in the fray will rely on the newest entrants who have graduated from Under-13 to make it to their respective squads.
With the boys who helped the team ascend the podium in the previous edition having moved to a higher age category, it is always foolhardy to predict the winners. But the individuals will have a say when the singles get underway, along with the Under-13 and Under-11 Boys. The next four days may spring up a surprise or two, making the nationals worthy for many.
Competition Manager N. Ganeshan said T.G. Upadhaya, as referee for the championships, will have support from his deputies, Mangesh Mopker and K.R. Manjunatha. But they all will rely on 50 other technical officials, including Blue Badge and International umpires.
Additionally, Ganeshan stated that the Madhya Pradesh Table Tennis Association will be using Stag equipment, such as flooring, tables, and balls, during the two-leg championships.