PSPB TT team firm favourite despite Sharath’s absence

New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) Despite India’s numero uno paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal’s absence due to injury, Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) will start favourites when the All-India Inter-Institutional Table Tennis Championships begin at the Thyagraj Stadium here from Tuesday.

World No.40 Sharath suffered a hip injury during the third round of the World Championships at Suzhou (China) in April, resulting in his pullout midway. He is slowly but surely recovering and would take some time before joining the action.

Yet, his absence from the championships will not make any dent to the PSPB men’s team’s chances as they are fully entrenched with paddlers like Soumyajit Ghosh, G. Sathiyan, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty and the promising Abhishek Yadav taking charge.

Incidentally, Sathiyan is coming out of a leave of absence after a hernia operation. The PSPB’s women squad, consisting of national champion Mouma Das, Ankita Das, K. Shamini, Pooja Sahasrabuddhe and Manika Batra, too, is very competent to retain the title.

With the PSPB men and women having almost sealed the fate of the rest in fray with invincible squads, hosts Railway Sports Promotion Board (RSPB) or, for that matter, teams like Airports Authority of India (AAI), Central Revenue Sports Board, FCI, Air India, LIC or others will have to fight it among themselves for the runners-up position in order to qualify as second teams in the two sections for the senior nationals.

Teams like AAI and LIC have invested in youth for success while the Railways will largely depend on the experience of Anirban Nandi, K. Prabhakaran and Noel Pinto besides the young and exciting Ravindra Kotiyan. The last named will have to carry the Railways burden mainly in the Youth section.

Since losing their reign to PSPB, AAI has a fresh lot in Sreeja Akula, Archana Kamath, Maria Rony and Harsha Vardhini to take care of the youth girls team while the youth boys squad has promising players in Sabhay Virmani, Vivek Bhargava, Anand Raj and Snehit Suravajjula.

Similarly, Air India has Nishaad Shah, Devdatta Fadnavis and Siddhesh Pande. However, it will be an uphill task for all of them with PSPB pitting a strong composition in Abhishek Yadav, Utkarsh Gupta, Lalrin Puia and Sudhanshu Grover.

Though it will be business as usual for the PSPB paddlers in the youth sections, the hosts and others will keep their eyes glued to league chart and qualification spots for the Junior and Youth Nationals. One team from each section will go through.

The team championships finals in the men and women’s categories will be played on Thursday and it will be followed by even more interesting battle among paddlers during individual events. A good outing here will pitchfork them in rankings and help devise plans for the season ahead.

Anil Dubey will be the chief referee and he will be assisted by deputy referee A.S. Kler and 35 technical officials from all around the country.

The championships will be inaugurated by the Railways Minister Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, at 10.45 a.m. with Minister of State Manoj Sinha as the guest of honour.

The matches on the opening day will start at 12.30 p.m.

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