Panaji: It’s a rarity that the National Games, a biennial event, are held within a year of each other. Goa, which bid to conduct the Games in 2016, is finally hosting the 37th edition. In between, Gujarat last year did the honours after a gap of seven years.
Though the formal inauguration of the Games that see competitions in 43 disciplines happened a couple of days ago, the table tennis events get underway at the Campal Indoor Stadium tomorrow as the team championships kickstart the programmes.
Unfortunately, Gujarat, which won the team championships men’s gold, failed to qualify for this edition of the Games. It has thrown open the doors for other teams. However, what is heartening to note is that five of the eight teams–Delhi, Goa, Haryana, Maharashtra and West Bengal–have qualified in both sections. The top seven teams that made it to the quarterfinals of last year’s Senior Nationals in Jammu are the automatic qualifiers for the Games, and Goa joins them as the hosts.
The team seedings at the draw revealed this evening are based on individual rankings of the top three players of each squad, with West Bengal men and Maharashtra women getting the top billing. If a cursory look at Team West Bengal suggests that it is the team to beat in the men section, it is Maharashtra in women.
Bengal has the likes of Sourav Saha, Ankur Bhattacharya, Anirban Ghosh, Jeet Chanda and Ronit Bhanja, who have the skills to outdo any opponent on a given day. Anannya Basak, Shruti Amrute, Swastika Ghosh, Reeth Rishya and Diya Chitale, who won the women’s singles title at the National Ranking Championships in Thiruvananthapuram are there to do the job for Maharashtra.
It leaves the other teams in the two groups—A and B—to target the lesser medals. But the individual players get their chances in the singles and the three doubles to make up for the losses in team events. A medal at the Games is what young players always crave, and they should grab the opportunity that has come to them due to the withdrawal of senior players, including the women’s doubles duo of Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika Mukherjee, who made waves at the Asian Games in Hangzhou recently.
The Draw: Men:
Group A: West Bengal, Maharashtra, Haryana and Goa; Group B: Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Assam.
Women: Group A: Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana and Karnataka; Group B: West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Goa.