The men’s unit looks all set to bag its 12th successive title

Petroleum Sports Promotion Board men’s and women’s table tennis teams are still considered the best in the business as they almost always recruit the top paddlers. While its men’s unit is the best by a huge distance, the same cannot be said about the women’s, the reason being its recent defeats giving its rivals a huge confidence boost.

When the 75th Senior National and inter-State championships begin at the Patliputra Sports Complex here on Tuesday, PSPB will look to make amends for its underperformance in the last two editions.

In Lucknow (2012) and in Raipur (’13), PSPB women lost to Maharashtra ‘A’ (in the semifinals) and to Delhi (in the final). Coincidentally, PSPB’s 12-year reign at the top started in Lucknow and ended in the same city. 

This time, the side has the country’s top five players — Madhurika Patkar, Pooja Sahasrabudde, K. Shamini, Neha Aggarwal and Ankita Das — in its ranks.

The men’s team, with Sharath Kamal, Soumyajit Ghosh, Harmeet Desai, Amalraj and Sanil Shetty, will, in all likelihood, bag its 12th successive title. The West Bengal team, which finished runner-up in Raipur, is expected to reach the final. With veteran Soumyadeep Roy, Sourav Saha, Sougata Sarkar, Anirban Ghosh and Arjun Ghosh, that is the least it will expect of itself, and, with PSPB looming, the best it can hope for.

Incidentally, Neha who helped Delhi win the women’s team title for the first time in Raipur last year, will represent PSPB this time, and that is a big advantage for the title aspirant.

However, it does put Delhi, the defending champion, in a vulnerable position. In Neha’s absence it has to make do with a lone star performer in Manika Batra.

The ’12 champion in Lucknow, Maharashtra ‘A’ looks depleted with only Divya Deshpande from the victorious team left over.

West Bengal, with two former National champions in Mouma Das and Poulomi Ghatak in its ranks, and not to mention a seasoned Mousmi Paul and a promising Sutirtha Mukherjee, will be the dark horse.

World No.50 Sharath Kamal will be given the top billing when the singles event begins on January 9. Though Sharath has not played in any of the domestic tournaments, it was decided that he will be given the No.1 seeding considering his International ranking. 

“This is not the first time we have done it. Earlier, we did the same for Chetan (Baboor) also,” said Dhanraj Choudhary, Secretary, Table Tennis Federation of India.

Defending champion Soumyajit Ghosh, who put the brakes on Sharath last year, Amalraj and Harmeet Desai, will fancy their chances.

The focus will also be on who all emerge among the top five in both sections, to book their tickets for Glasgow (Scotland) for the Commonwealth Games, and the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

The TTFI has also invited all of the Arjuna Awardees, and former National champions for its platinum jubilee celebrations. 

The TTFI Board meeting, to be held here on January 12, will arrive at some important decisions — including the quantum of punishment to be meted out to the over-age players caught during the cadet and sub-Junior nationals a couple of weeks ago at Ajmer.

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