On the eve of a big table tennis tournament, the Abhay Prashal indoor facility is usually buzzing with dozens of paddlers getting used to the conditions in prolonged practice session. But on Wednesday, a day before the 11Sports Central Zone National-ranking table tennis tournament, the sprawling facility was occupied by men and women dressed in plain whites for a spiritual lecture.
It was in a way symbolic of the second National-ranking tournament having lost its sheen. Virtually all of India’s male paddlers and golden girl Manika Batra will be missing from action.
The top five paddlers — A. Sharath Kamal, G. Sathiyan, A. Amalraj, Harmeet Desai and Manika — have cited either fatigue or international commitments for skipping the tournament.
Sathiyan and Harmeet had also missed the action in the season-opening North Zone-ranking tournament in Panchkula last week.
The top rung’s absence will mean a wider race for the coveted men’s crown, with teenagers Manav Thakkar and S.F.R. Snehit hoping to build on last week’s success.
The two stole the limelight in Panchkula with the bespectacled Manav walking away with the men’s and youth boys’ titles. Despite succumbing to his old nemesis in various age-groups in the final, Snehit emerged as the giant-killer, accounting for a handful of stalwarts, including the legendary Sharath, en route to a final appearance in the men’s summit clash.
It will be interesting to see if the duo can thwart the challenge from the likes of Sanil Shetty and Arjun Ghosh.
The field will not be so depleted in the women’s section, with Manika being the only major absentee, having decided to rest after winning at Panchkula ahead of the big challenges ahead.
It remains to be seen if defending champion Sutirtha Mukherjee cashes in on Manika’s absence and pockets her first title of the season.