Event Section
Manav-led PSPBA, Archana-led Karnataka fancied for sub-junior titles


Rajahmundry, December 21: The Petroleum Sports Promotion Board Academy (PSPBA) boys, led by Manav Thakkar, looks to be the hot favourite team to retain the sub-junior crown in the 76th Cadet and Sub-Junior National Table Tennis Championships, beginning at the Cherukuri Convention Centre here from tomorrow.


Understandably, the PSPBA team members have been given the top billing in the seeding list with West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, North Bengal, Maharashtra B and A, followed by Haryana and Rajasthan to make the top eight teams in the sub-junior boys’ section.


But the real problem is with the West Bengal girls who, despite finishing on top of the podium in the last nationals held at Ajmer, find themselves relegated and pushed outside the top-16 bracket. This misery had befallen on them after some of the players were found to be overage and the gold medal was withdrawn.


In fact, West Bengal lost the Cadet Boys title and the runners-up position in Cadet Girls too for the same reasons. North Bengal was another culprit that lost the Cadet Girls crown when their players too were suspended along with Assam and all of them are now out of the to-16 ranking.


Their loss of face has come as a shot in the arm for Tamil Nadu girls, who finished runners-up at Ajmer, as they have been given the pride of place in sub-junior and Cadet events. As for Cadet Boys, PSPBA continue to rule the roost and are deservingly seeded as the top team in the section.


However, the groupings are only a reflection of where the teams stood last year and what they are capable of doing. But, at no stretch of imagination, can it safely be said that performance of a team this year will be on the expected lines except in the case of PSPBA, thanks to its strong assembly line.


Nevertheless, this presents an ideal situation and platform for other teams to showcase themselves with good performance and go up the ladder because both West and North Bengal have put up a scratch teams with most players having been suspended for age-related issues. West Bengal will solely bank on Prapti Sen for good fortunes.


For instance, Tamil Nadu with Selenadeepthi and Yashini Shivakuamr can hope to win the sub-junior title and the real tough fight for them can come from both Maharashtra and Delhi, who have a good crop of players in their ranks. Similarly, Telangana have a condition ready-made for them, having taken the creamy players from the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh after the new state came into being earlier this year.


But the real loss will be for the hosts whose players will have to put their best foot forward and make amends. But their girls will have to be wary of Karnataka’s Archana Girish Kamath, who is a one-girl army for the state to turn its fortunes around.


As for the boys, both sub-junior and cadet, it will be PSPB Academy that is expected to annex the two titles, leaving the minor medals for the others teams in fray. In other words, the rest will have to just fight for the silver and bronze medals and this makes their job that much easier. No doubt, they will try their best to upstage PSPBA boys, but it is easier said than done.


Since the format in these age-group events is such that it gives a great opportunity to each and every player, representing different states, to have a go at their rivals. With four singles and one doubles rubber to play, every team, barring a few, can think about having a real shot at the titles.


The actual fight for top honours will be when the singles events begin on the third day evening after the team finals. But the battle for the title will be limited to a few like Manav Thakkar who is in red-hot form in sub-junior boys, Archana Kamath Mansi, Vanshika Bhargav, Payal Bohra, Srushti Halengadi, Selenadeepthi and Prapt Sei in sub-junior girls, to name a few. In the Cadet sections, it will be a touch-and-go affair because of the fresh bunch and new faces that have thrown their hats in the ring.


In all there will be 31 teams in the sub-junior boys section, 30 in sub-junior girls and 30 each in the Cadet sections with a total of 602 players participating in the championships. Incidentally, this city is conducting the first national championships, after having played host to a national-ranking tournament two years ago.


The six-day championships, beginning Monday, will see 15 Stag tables, flooring and Nittaku balls being used. Ganeshan Neelakanta Iyer will be the competition manager while T.G. Upadhya from Karnataka will be the chief referee for the championships. They will be assisted by three deputies, Atul Dubey (Rajasthan) and M.P. Subramaniyam (TN) and V.R. Mukkamala from Andhra Pradesh. They will have the support of 60 technical officials from different parts of the country.