As has been the case for nearly two decades, and notwithstanding the change in format — mixed team event made its debut last season replacing the team championship for men and women — it will be difficult to look beyond Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB) when the 72nd inter-state and inter-zonal badminton championship begin at the Patliputra Sports Complex here on Wednesday.

As expected, P. V. Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Ajay Jayaram and Srikanth Kidambi, have chosen to give the event a miss. Nevertheless, in players of with calibre such as H.S. Prannoy, Sai Praneeth, defending champion Sameer Verma, who recently won his first Grand Prix gold title in the Syed Modi International tournament, his elder brother Sourabh Verma in men, and Tanvi Lad, former champion Ruthvika Shivani and Rituparna Das in women, there will, definitely, be no dearth of high-octane action.

One team that is expected to provide some sort of a challenge to Petroleum will be Airport Authority of India. Comprising of Pratul Joshi, India no.3 (singles men), Anura Prabhudesai, India no.8 (singles women) and Chirag Shetty and M.R. Arjun (both men's doubles), AAI will be keen to pose a stiff challenge to the defending champion.

PSPB, on the other hand, looks formidable. It has Prannoy, Sai Praneeth, Aditya Joshi (all singles), V. Diju (doubles), Rituparna Das (singles) and K. Tarun (men's doubles) and Aparna Balan (women's doubles). With the current set-up, Petroleum would be the hands-on favourite.

The eight teams that are eligible to play in the mixed team event are the winners of each of the six zones, inter-institutional title-winner and the host, Bihar.

As per the draw released on Tuesday, PSPB will take on Andhra Pradesh, the South Zone winners, while in another interesting last eight clash, Airport Authority of India, the inter-institutional winner, will clash with Haryana, the winner of the North Zone. Each tie will have a match each of men and women’s singles, men and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. Each match will be best of three games 21 points each.

The mixed event will be followed by the individual championships spread over five categories.

Speaking to Sportstar , Prannoy, seeded one in the men's singles, said the absence of Srikanth and Ajay Jayaram will make no difference in the way he approaches the match. "I am looking forward to win the title. It will not be easy as lot of junior players are playing well. The conditions will be difficult. Pressure will be there. It is how you handle it. The first few rounds will be tricky," he said.

Sai Praneeth will be brimming with confidence after having upset Srikanth in the semifinals of the Syed Modi International tournament, and he will be fancying his chances for the championship. Sameer Verma, who will not be playing in the team event for PSPB, will be the man to beat after having won the singles title in the Syed Modi tournament. In the women's category, Tanvi Lad has been the top billing while former champion Ruthvika Shivani is seeded second, and Rituparna Das third. Defending champion P.C. Thulasi could not take part as she is suffering from a groin injury.

Mixed team championship: Quarterfinal-pairings:

PSPB (Central) vs AP (South); Assam (N-E) vs UP (East); Maharashtra (West) vs Bihar (host); Haryana (North) vs AAI (Inter-institutional).