It's Petroleum all the way

Sharath Kamal... in a class of his own.-R. V. MOORTHY

The manner in which Sharath Kamal went about decimating the field, it appeared as if there was nobody capable of challenging him. Amitabha Das Sharma reports.

It requires grit, gumption and, of course, an element of good luck to rise above of mediocrity. A few sportspersons in the country have actually been able to achieve it, and Achanta Sharath Kamal is one of them. The Chennai-based player has emerged as the ambassador of India’s true sporting possibilities, moving overseas to make a call in Europe, the real address of professional table tennis.

It was only natural that a player of his proficiency — whetted by years of practice and two seasons of top class training and competition in the Spanish Tenis de Mesa Liga — emerged winner in the National Table Tennis Championship in Siliguri recently.

The tournament, with entries from 31 states and two institutions, was more about challenging the class of Sharath, who arrived to defend his title after taking a sabbatical from his Madrid-based club San Sebastian. While the rest of the field, comprising arguably the best practitioners of the sport from across the country, tried to match the grade, Sharath went about in a workmanlike fashion, knocking his opponents out of his way. In the end, the final looked like a routine exercise for Sharath who, in the absence of any worthwhile opposition, appeared to be competing more against himself.

The Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB), with Sharath, Subhajit Saha and Poulami Ghatak in its ranks, swept all the seven titles on offer — the team events, the singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles.

Though the number of participants was huge — around 350 according to the chief referee N. Ganesan — there was not much of talent on show. With PSPB and the Railways giving employment to sportsmen in the country, the two teams boasted the best collection of available talent in the country. The state teams, which in fact are the feeders to these institutional sides, had to be content with reaching the semifinals, for the territory beyond virtually seemed to be reserved for teams such as PSPB and the Railways.

Still, the performances of a few youngsters lent a refreshing change to the championship. Host North Bengal, which promotes a clutch of junior players, provided relief in this respect. Though its players did not progress a long way, they showed that they were great prospects.

Junior boys’ champion Raj Mondal, Soumyajit Ghosh and junior girls champion Ankita Das drew tremendous applause with their style and approach. Raj and Ankita reached the pre-quarterfinals.

Aman Balgu created a flutter by blowing away the fifth seed, Pathik Mehta, in the second round. Mehta, a member of the Indian team for the World Championship, was all at sea against Balgu’s remarkably attacking game. The 18-year-old Maharashtra ‘A’ player won a lot of admirers with his performance and the most notable among them was the newly-appointed National coach, Aleksey Yefremov from Belarus.

Yefremov was very vocal about Balgu’s remarkably quick game that took him to the quarterfinals. But Balgu’s march was halted here by A. Amal Raj of the Railways.

Poulami Ghatak bagged her fifth National singles title, defeating Anindita Chakraborty in the final.-SANDEEP SAXENA

The singles quarterfinals

Southpaw Sourav showed his skill, tact and staying power to defeat favourite Amal Raj and move into the title round. However, in the final, Sharath proved to be in a different class and Sourav’s best efforts failed to dent the defending champion.

Anindita threw open the prospects in the women’s singles with a vintage performance. The Railways player, whose best performance in the Nationals was reaching the final 12 years ago, even surpassed her own estimation by beating Mouma in the quarters. “I succeeded in breaking her rhythm and she made too many errors under pressure,” said Anindita.

For Anindita, her opponent in the semifinals, Divya Deshpande of Maharashtra ‘A’, was an easy prey. Anindita’s ability to read her opponent’s game came good yet again as Divya, who had pulled off a big upset beating fourth-seeded Mantu Ghosh (she performed three roles at a time — that of a player, coach and the organising secretary of the event) in the quarters, was blown away in straight games.

The final again brought the focus back on Petroleum. It was Mouma’s childhood friend and colleague, Poulami, who turned the tables on Anindita. Poulami cruised to her fifth National title, riding brilliantly on her attacking game that gave little scope to her opponent.

“Last year I lost from being a championship point up against Mouma. It feels nice that I could regain the crown,” said Poulami, who had to take the help of a sports psychologist to overcome her bad patch early in the season.

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles final: A. Sharath Kamal (PSPB) bt Sourav Chakraborty (RSPB) 11-7, 11-7, 11-5, 6-11, 11-4.

Semifinals: Sourav bt A. Amal Raj (RSPB) 11-5, 11-3, 11-4, 11-4; Sharath bt Sayan Paul Roy (RSPB) 11-8, 11-5, 11-6, 11-3.

Doubles final: Sharath & Subhajit (PSPB) bt & Sourav & Anirban Nandi (RSPB) 9-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-7, 11-9.

Men’s team final: PSPB bt Railways 3-1 (Sharath bt Sourav 11-9, 11-2, 3-11, 11-9; Soumyadeep lost to Amal Raj 18-16, 11-5, 3-11, 11-13, 8-11; Subhajit bt Anirban 3-11, 6-11, 11-5, 11-9, 11-9; Sharath bt Amal Raj 11-5, 11-5, 7-11, 11-8). Semifinals: PSPB bt North Bengal 3-1; Railways bt Gujarat 3-0.

Women’s singles final: Poulami Ghatak (PSPB) bt Anindita Chakraborty (RSPB) 11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 11-5, 11-5. Semifinals: Anindita bt Divya Dehspande (Maharashtra ‘A’) 11-7, 11-9, 13-11, 11-9; Poulami bt Neha Aggarwal (PSPB) 7-11, 6-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-4, 11-6.

Doubles final: Poulami & Mouma (PSPB) bt Susmita Roy & Mousumi Paul (W. Bengal) 11-8, 5-11, 11-5, 11-6, 14-16, 10-12, 11-4.

Women’s team final: PSPB bt North Bengal 3-0 (Neha bt Kasturi Chakraborty 11-9, 11-5, 11-8; K. Shamini bt Nandita Saha 5-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-7; Poulami bt Ankita Das 11-5, 11-6, 7-11, 11-8). Semifinals: PSPB bt West Bengal 3-0; North Bengal bt Banks Sports Board 3-0.

Mixed doubles final: Sharath & Poulami (PSPB) bt Subhajit (PSPB) & Nandita Saha (N. Bengal) 11-9, 3-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-6.