Institutional TT Championships: Sathiyan-less PSPB still good for another title

ttAjmer: The Institutional Table Tennis Championships, getting underway from tomorrow at the MCC Indoor Stadium and the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) team will miss the services of G. Sathiyan.

This is the first time in many years that the top-ranked Indian has skipped an event of such importance, the second highest in terms of ranking points. Not that the world at No. 30 needs to prove anything to anybody, but the spectators will certainly miss the enjoyment of watching him play.

Sathiyan, competing in the only domestic event—the Public Sector tournament at Thiruvananthapuram last week—had helped his team ONGC to title before taking a flight to Chengdu where he had lined-up a week-long training session with Taipei’s Shen Yaohuan, prior to the commencement of the World Cup Championships from November 29 to December 1.

His exploits in recent times, particularly his sixth position at the Asian Championships in Yogyakarta (Indonesia), is too well known. He had narrowly missed his maiden men singles title in a hotly-contested final at Cuttack early this January. This did pave the way for A. Sharath Kamal to enter the Hall of Fame with nine singles title and subsequently the Padma Shri, the first ever paddler to achieve the feat. And we all will miss another riveting contest.

Of course, the world No. 36 will be there to lead the PSPB team in men with the likes of Indonesia Open gold medallist Harmeet Desai, silver medal-winner Anthony Amalraj, Manav Thakkar and Sudhanshu Grover who are adequate enough to help them get yet another title in the long history of Inter-Institutional championships, which will enter the golden jubilee year in 2020. But an intense singles final between two stalwarts will be missed.

The same cannot be said about their women’s squad which will be spearheaded by Manika Batra in the company of old warhorses Madhurika Patkar, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Krittwika Sinha Roy and Archana Kamath. Manika, the golden girl in 2018, has not played a domestic tournament this year and her performance abroad, too, has not made any big ripples. The other members, including Archana, have been inconsistent and that is a concern for PSPB. 

They will essentially face a tough time against the RBI paddlers who, in recent times, have made a mark for themselves, the Railways, AAI, Audit and other banking institutions represented by players drawn from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal—all of whom on their day can bring down the current PSPB squad from its high pedestal.

In other words, there is ample opportunity for the 13 women teams to qualify for the Senior Nationals as the top two teams in each category make the cut. Similarly, among the 18 men squads one can anticipate a fierce fight among all contenders to book their Hyderabad Nationals berth along with the PSPB, the favourites for team title.

The men’s teams will be divided into six groups of three each and women squads will be split into four groups of three and four teams.

There are two spots at stake—one each for Youth Boys and Youth Girls—which the five Youth Boys and four Youth Girls squads will try to grab to be eligible to participate in the Junior and Youth Nationals, to be held at Jammu from December 2.

All their matches will be played in the league format and whoever tops the league chart qualify for the nationals.

Other than these attractions, there are gold medals to be won in all three doubles—men, women and mixed—with the additional incentive of prize money for the pairs that do well.

Overall, the total prize purse of round Rs. 6.25 lakh to be won with the men singles winner taking home Rs. 88,000 and Rs. 77,000 for the women singles gold medallist.

“The first three days of the championships will witness matches in team events, with the singles and doubles starting from Day 4. The matches will be played on Stag Americas tables with the flooring provided by the manufacturers and DHS balls will be used during the championships,” said competition manager Ganeshan Neelakanta Iyer.

He also said that veteran Anil Dubey will be the referee for the event and his deputy will be Mangesh Mopker. They will be leading a technical team of 35, comprising Blue Badge, international and national umpires.

The championships, organized by PSPB, will be inaugurated at 10 a.m. tomorrow.