Panchkula: The Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) hegemony in the Senior Nationals has been a worrying aspect for most teams. If their men had dominated the scene for a couple of decades, their women controlled it to an extent, posing challenges. But, of late, a question mark hangs over their consistency. The elimination of their women’s squad in the Institutional Championships at Vizag was a pleasant surprise.
Hence, the 85th UTT Senior Nationals, starting at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium tomorrow and hosted by the Haryana Table Tennis Association, will have a different tone and tenor from the previous editions for more reasons than one. The PSPB women became ineligible after failing to qualify as a team. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) invested adequately to build a team that has done wonders. As a revamped side, the Railways Promotion Board (RSPB) has brought consistency to their medal-winning percentage. All these are good signs. But the larger question is: Who among the 30-odd states participating in the Inter-State championships will be able to occupy the throne?
An answer to this question has not been easy to find. Again, the PSPB men and RBI women look primed to lift the trophies in this edition. None of the states is in a position to unseat the institutional teams, and that is the bottom line as far as the team championships go.
A cursory look at the team points, based on the best three players of each squad, gives PSPB men a distinct advantage. They lead the pack with 980, followed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) 405. In the third spot is Delhi with 370 and West Bengal 265. In other words, the four are the likely semi-finalists here, subject to keeping up the focus right.
A. Sharath Kamal, the veteran, is not a part of the PSPB squad. Yet, with Harmeet Desai, Manav Thakkar, G. Sathiyan and Sanil Shetty, the team is good enough to lift the 27th silverware. But AAI can give headaches with a good crop—SFR Snehit, Jeet Chandra, Akash Pal—of young and experienced players.
Coming to the women’s chances, the RBI is leading the table with a whopping 990 points, ten more than PSPB men! That also speaks volumes about the squad, which derives its strength from defending national champion Sreeja Akula, Ayhika Mukherjee, and young Diya Chitale. The last named missed two national ranking tournaments to recover from an ankle sprain she suffered at Vadodara, and her return to the squad bodes well for them.
The next best in line is the Railways, with 585 points, followed by Tamil Nadu (252) and in joint fourth spots are Maharashtra and Karnataka, having 251.5 points. It provides a glimpse of the players’ form in each squad, besides being a pointer to the imbalance of teams.
All the top teams with better ranking points will occupy the first positions in the eight groups in the two sections. The rest follow the leaders in each group as per the open draw scheduled later this evening. The team finals will be on the fourth day in the afternoon, but before that, the men’s and women’s singles qualifiers will begin.
As for the equipment, tables and flooring from Stag Global will be used during the championships with DHS balls, said competition manager N. Ganeshan. A.S. Kler will be the referee for the championships, with T.G. Upadhyay as his deputy, and 60 Blue Badge, international, and National umpires will assist them.
HTTA has made elaborate arrangements with the board and lodging for the 34/33 (men and women) teams, including a seven-seater car for each team, in addition to the pool cars.