Jammu: There are more reasons than one that there will hardly be any change in the script of the 84th UTT Inter-State National Table Tennis Championships, getting underway at the Gymnasium Hall of Jammu University with team events from tomorrow.
First and foremost, the teams from the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) not only start as the favourites to retain the men’s and women’s titles but even the singles crown in both sections. Fortunately, or unfortunately, such has been the domination of the outfit and the individuals over the years that it is almost impossible to breach their run.
Their men, having scored a quarter-century of titles, would go for the 26th here, and it would be the same combination that achieved the feat in Shillong last year. The spearhead is the CWG multiple gold medal winner, A. Sharath Kamal, a 10-time singles champion, who will have the company of other CWG medal winners in G. Sathiyan, the former national champion, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty and Manav Thakkar, the youngest of the lot.
Their women’s team, however, has ringed in a minor change with the induction of promising Yashashwini Ghorpade, who is making waves with her consistency as a youth player. Besides the Bengaluru girl, the squad has a familiar look to it and is in the hands of 2018 CWG’s golden girl, Manika Batra, Archana Kamath, Reeth Rishya and Krittwika Sinha Roy. They did the trick last time in the company of Madhurika Patkar, and even with a little tweak in the script this time, the team’s goal remains the same.
Hence, not surprisingly, the PSPB men got the top billing, with the Railways (RSPB), the runners-up, Delhi, Haryana, West Bengal, Telangana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh following suit in the men’s category. The top three players’ rankings in each team became the basis for group seedings.
For instance, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is the top seed in women’s team events, while last year’s winners PSPB, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu have occupied the other top positions of their respective groups.
Having taken a policy decision on the principle of one-state-one-unit as per the Sports Code, Maharashtra and West Bengal’s representation in the Nationals has been reduced to one team as witnessed during the recent Youth and Junior Nationals in Chennai and the Sub-Junior and Cadet Nationals in Alappuzha. But with Rajasthan sending two teams owing to some problems, the Federation has allowed both to participate under its banner as TTFI 1 and TTFI 2.
As for the challenge for PSPB, at least in the women’s section, it could come from RBI, led by reigning national champion Sreeja Akula. Diya Chitale, Ayhika Mukherjee, Shruti Amrute and Harshavardini. The entire burden, however, is on the first two players to take the RBI team to the medal podium. Other than the RBI, some teams can be forceful in given circumstances but do not have the depth to pose any threat to PSPB.
After the first three days, the qualifications in singles will begin, but with entries touching about 900 in both sections, things will reach the crescendo during the main draw. The attraction of the championships, apart from the maximum ranking points, is the prize purse of Rs. 16 lakhs, with the singles winner getting Rs. 2.75 lakh in each section. All three doubles events will also have prize money.
With the Asian Games scheduled this September-October in Hangzhou, the players reeking in points stand a better chance of getting the selectors’ nod. The improved rankings will do a world of good to the players’ confidence when they see their names in the long list of players, if not the actual Games squads.
The eight-day Championships will be played on Stag Americas table, balls and brand-new flooring, said competition manager N. Ganeshan. The referee’s team is headed by A.S. Kler, with his deputy K.R. Manjunath, and 55 Gold/Blue Badge, International National Umpires, assisting the strong technical team.