Format needs to be reviewed

RAKESH RAO

NOT so long ago, the inter-instititutional table tennis championship was one of the most sought after events in the Table Tennis Federation of India's calendar. Well organised, well attended and well appreciated. Not any more.

The 32nd edition of the championship, hosted by the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board in New Delhi, brought to the fore the futility of the whole exercise. Predictability has killed the charm of the championship. The format needs to be reviewed, and with it, the benefits of holding such an event.

The Petroleum men (left) and the Railways women (below) won the team titles.-SANDEEP SAXENA

For a few years now, Railways and Petroleum have been emerging as the finalists in both team events and progressing to the Nationals as 'seeded' teams. Since the two teams are served by some of the best available players, no other institute comes even remotely close to challenging them. Needless to say, even the best among the rest hope to make it only to the semifinals, which again carries not much meaning to these teams.

The second most prestigious championship after the Nationals, in the domestic circuit, this event produced predictable results in the team championships, the usual sequence of the higher ranked players losing to the lesser ones. These results cannot be described as 'upsets' because they were made possible by the now familiar inconsistency of the seeds.

Otherwise, how does one explain Railways' triumph over Petroleum in the women's final? A combination comprising Susmita Ray, Anindita Chakraborty and Mausumi Paul - ranked 11th, seventh and 16th in the National list - posted a 3-2 victory over the trio of Mouma Das, N. R. Indu and Poulomi Ghatak, seeded one, two and four, in that order.

SANDEEP SAXENA

At one stage, Anindita held a 'championship-point' against Mouma but the latter fought brilliantly to make the tie-score 2-2. In the last match, Susmita scripted a dream comeback from being two games down to beat Indu in the best-of-five game battle.

In the men's team final, however, Petroleum deservedly emerged better with a 3-1 margin. Ironically, the only match Petroleum lost was the one involving their spearhead Soumyadeep Roy. The National champion and top ranked player went down in five games to Ranbir Das in five games. Subhajit Saha won both his matches, after Arup Basak had triumphed in his first, to give Petroleum a highly satisfying victory. After all, winning this grudge-battle meant more for Petroleum since it had lost the two previous clashes to Railways.

Former National champion S. Raman, who was not fielded in the team final, went on to prove his worth by winning the singles title. He subdued Roy easily in the best of seven-game final.

S. Raman and T. Pradeepa bagged the men's and women's singles titles respectively.-SANDEEP SAXENA

If Raman showed that he was still good enough to conquer younger, fitter players, unseeded T. Pradeepa showed that nothing is too difficult to imagine in the country's women's table tennis scenario.

LIC's Pradeepa, who had defeated the top-ranked Mouma Das in the team championship, made a mockery of the seedings in the singles. She took care of sixth seed Anindita Chakraborty and fourth seed Poulomi Ghatak to reach the semifinals. She then stopped the dream run of Susmita Ray in this battle of unseeded players before defeating former National champion Mantu Ghosh in the final.

This brought Pradeepa her biggest title. In several tournaments, Pradeepa had some good victories but she could not string them together for a grand finish. This time, everything went to her liking. At the same time, she emerged as yet another player capable of beating the more fancied names in domestic competitions.

Susmita, the cynosure of all eyes after she bounced back from a two-game deficit to beat N. R. Indu in the decisive fifth 'rubber' of the team championship final, had knocked out M. S. Mythili, another former National champion, and dethroned Mouma to reach the last-four stage.

Mamta Prabhu was the other unseeded player in the semifinals. She had put an end to a highly forgettable championship for the second seed and former champion Indu. One expected Indu to make amends for not contributing enough in the team finals. After adding to Indu's woes, Mamta went ahead and scalped seventh seed and Railway teammate Nandita Saha in the quarterfinals. However, Mamta could not get past Mantu.

Among the men, Raman gained more than just another title. On the way, the experienced Raman overcame another left-hander Sourav Chakraborty. It may be recalled that Raman had lost to the Railway youngster in their crucial battle in the National team championship final at the same venue in February.

After getting the better of Railway champion A. Sarat Kamal with ease in the semifinals, Raman carried on the good work against Roy for the title.

On the organisational front, things could have been much better. The humid conditions inside the NDMC Indoor Stadium could have been beaten by availing of the air-conditioning facilities. But surprisingly, Petroleum had not given it much thought. Truly, in such sultry conditions, it did take much for a player to perspire even before the ball was tossed.

As Dinesh Khanna, the organising secretary, admitted, "while making our budget, we did not make any provision for the use of air-conditioners. Since air-conditioning costs about Rs. 40,000 for about eight hours of use, it would have jacked up our budget." Mercifully, owing to the presence of the PSPB big-wigs, the air-conditioner was switched on, on the final day.

Come to think of it, if a well-meaning patron like PSPB begins to count pennies, less resourceful sponsors cannot be blamed for ignoring players' interest. One hopes PSPB sets a better example in future.

The results:

Men's singles: Final: S. Raman (Petroleum) bt Soumyadeep Roy (Petroleum) 11-7, 10-12, 12-10, 11-8, 14-12; Semifinals: Roy bt Subhajit Saha (Petroleum) 11-8, 9-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-7; Raman bt A. Sarat Kamal (Rlys) 11-7, 11-7, 11-9, 11-8.

Women's singles: Final: T. Pradeepa (LIC) bt Mantu Ghosh (Petroleum) 14-12, 12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 11-9; Semifinals: Pradeepa bt Susmita Ray (Rlys) 11-5, 5-11, 11-7, 13-11, 11-6; Mantu bt Mamta Prabhu (Rlys) 11-6, 11-5, 11-9, 3-11, 11-9.

Men's doubles: Final: Bhushan Thakur and A. Sarat Kamal (Rlys) bt Deepak Thakur and Vineet Chopra (BSB) 12-10, 11-7, 11-8.

Women's doubles: Final: Mouma Das and Poulomi Ghatak (Petroleum) bt N. R. Indu and M. S. Mythili (Petroleum) 11-7, 11-4, 11-4.

Mixed doubles: Arup Basak and Mouma Das (Petroleum) bt Bhushan Thakur and Susmita Ray (Rlys) 11-8, 9-11, 11-7, 11-9.

Team championships:

Men: Final: Petroleum beat Railways 3-1 (Arup Basak bt Sourav Chakraborty 8-11, 10-12, 11-9, 11-6, 11-9; Subhajit Saha (Sr.) bt Sarat Kamal 13-15, 11-6, 11-7, 9-11, 11-6; Soumyadeep Roy lost to Ranbir Das 5-11, 11-8, 13-11, 6-11, 9-11; Saha bt Chakraborty 8-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-8).

Semifinals: Railways beat Life Insurance Corporation 3-0 (Ranbir Das bt R. Rajesh 9-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-5, 12-10; Saurav Chakraborty bt Vinay Baiswade 11-7, 11-5, 11-4; Sarat Kamal bt Ranjan Chakraborty 11-13, 9-11, 13-11, 11-9, 11-8).

Petroleum beat Banks Sports Board 3-0 (Arup Basak bt Jignesh Jaiswal 11-5, 5-11, 8-11, 11-7, 12-10; Soumyadeep Roy bt Deepak Thukral 11-6, 11-8, 11-5; Subhajit Saha (Sr.) bt Vineet Chopra 10-12, 11-5, 11-7, 11-5).

Women: Railways bt Petroleum 3-2 (Susmita Ray lost to Mouma Das 13-15, 0-11, 14-12, 10-12; Anindita Chakraborty bt N. R. Indu 8-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-5; Mousumi Paul bt Poulomi Ghatak 15-13, 10-12, 11-8, 12-10; Anindita lost to Mouma Das 11-3, 11-9, 12-14, 7-11, 6-11; Susmita bt Indu 9-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-5).