PSPB reigns supreme

Contrary to public perception and despite Doordarshan's indifference — no live telecast of Senior National finals — the sport continues to thrive in every nook and corner of India.

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

TABLE TENNIS is a profitable passion. The 64th senior National table tennis championships at Balewadi, near Pune, reinforced this belief, with Rs. 3,38,000 prize money on offer for performers, starting from the quarterfinal stage onwards. The National men's singles champion S. Raman gained Rs. 1,00,000, remaining unbeaten over three days of competition in the individual events while National women's champion N. R. Indu picked up Rs. 60,000. The absence of an event sponsor did not deter the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) from increasing the prize money to Rs. 4,00,000 for the next edition.

The PSPB team which clinched both the men's and women's titles. Standing (from left): Subhajit Saha, Arjun Dutta, Shivaji Dutta, V. K. Bawa, manager, Soumyadeep Roy and S. Raman. Sitting (from left): N. R. Indu, Montu Ghosh, Mouma Das, Poulomi Ghatak and M. S. Mythili. — Pic: VIVEK BENDRE-

Contrary to public perception and despite Doordarshan's indifference — no live telecast of Senior National finals — the sport continues to thrive in every nook and corner of India. There were 289 participants spread over 26 States and two institutional teams, Petroleum Sports Promotion Board and Railway Sports Promotion Board, as was evident from the players' list prepared for the Pune event, organised by the Maharashtra Table Tennis Association. Table tennis has a major presence in Tamil Nadu and Bengal, whose players comprise the national probables. The two State squads also qualified for the team championship semifinals — TN in both men's and women's categories and Bengal in men's — before bowing out against the combined might of internationals in PSPB and RSPB ranks.

The two institutions harness State talent in the best manner by offering employment in sports quota, apart from training facility. PSPB, the national team champion in both the men's and women's categories, has gone a step further by setting up a table tennis academy for boys at Ajmer (Rajasthan). Entry is restricted to leading juniors who are attached to the academy till 18 years, after which a chosen few are absorbed in jobs with PSPB companies, according to team manager V. Bawa. "The boys are trained by a Chinese coach, Yan Wei and educated at Mayo Schools, where special tuitions are arranged for the trainees attending national camps," he said.

The PSPB academy, established in 1995 to nurture talent for petroleum and oil company teams, is bearing fruit with Soumyadeep Roy playing a major role in his side wresting the men's team championship from RSPB. The Bengal-born youngster, already an international and seeded third in the men's singles draw, overcame an early setback against Sharat Kamal to defeat Sourav Chakravarty in the deciding fourth match and set up a 3-1 victory. Subhajit Saha and S. Raman won their respective matches.

N. R. Indu and S. Raman, who won the women's and men's titles respectively. — Pic: VIVEK BENDRE-

PSPB's success in recruiting and retaining the best of State talent helped them retain the women's team championship. The combined experience of internationals Mouma Das, Poulomi Ghatak and Montu Ghosh overwhelmed RSPB's efforts in the final, neutralising two back-to-back victories by Anandita Chakraborty over Mouma and Poulomi, as PSPB sneaked home 3-2. Anandita could not keep up the momentum in the individual events. But in-form Sharat Kamal, fired up after the team final victory over Soumyadeep, continued in the same vein to defeat top seed Subhajit Saha in the men's singles semifinals before losing to Raman in the title clash. This 20-year-old Southern Railway paddler, blessed with reach and strokes, is best placed to reap a harvest of titles in the tournaments to follow in the domestic circuit, where a consistent performer can pocket upto Rs. 2 lakhs after five zonals and innumerable national-level events.

Coached by father Srinivasa Rao and uncle Muralidhar Rao at YMIA, Chennai, Sharat can emerge as a formidable opponent to PSPB players in the years to come if he can maintain his composure in the heat of competition. The RSPB player confessed that international exposure has changed his outlook and made him more composed in competitions. The meditation sessions undertaken at his father's initiative have also helped. Vishaka Vijay (RSPB) and Anushree Saha (Bengal) were the other creditable performers at the Pune Nationals.

Chief referee A. M. Lele and his team of officials faced a tough task in the individual events where 96 players emerged after three rounds of qualifying matches for the main draw, featuring the top eight men's and women's seeds. The team events were conducted over the first three days at Shiv Chhatrapati complex, Balewadi, where power tripping threw the schedule into disarray. The playing facilities at the venue, a wrestling indoor stadium converted into a floodlit table tennis arena, were excellent. Former internationals S. Ramaswamy, S. Sriram (both PSPB) and Sunil Babras (Bank Sports Board) were among the enthusiastic participants.

Sourav Chakravarthy (left) and Sharat Kamal, the men's doubles winners. — Pic: VIVEK BENDRE-

Ramaswamy, felicitated for playing in his 26th consecutive Senior Nationals, observed how radical changes in equipment and preparation had not altered the basic technical demands on players. "Rule changes and new balls and glue have made the game faster, but Raman and Mouma proved that fitness and ability to play backhands on both flanks are decisive factors in a sport that is now ranked second fastest in the world." Union Sports Minister, Vikram Verma, was the chief guest on the closing day and gave away the prizes.

The results:

Individual events: Men's singles final: 2-S. Raman (PSPB) bt 4-Sharat Kamal (RSPB) 4-2 (11-3, 12-14, 11-9, 3-11, 11-8, 12-10). Semifinals: 2-S. Raman (PSPB) bt 3-Soumyadeep Roy (PSPB) 11-9, 6-11, 11-8, 9-11, 14-12, 4-11, 13-11; 4-Sharat Kamal (RSPB) bt 1-Subhajit Saha (PSPB) 7-11, 9-11, 11-9, 14-12, 11-3, 11-6.

Women's singles final: 1-N. R. Indu (PSPB) bt 2-Mouma Das 4-1 (PSPB) 11-9, 7-11, 11-1, 13-11, 11-8). Semifinals: 2-Mouma Das (PSPB) bt 3-T. Pradeepa (TN) 8-11, 11-7, 9-11, 11-9, 10-12, 11-5; 11-8; 1-N. R. Indu (PSPB) bt 4-Poulomi Ghatak (PSPB) 11-7, 8-11, 11-8, 17-15, 7-11, 8-11, 12-11.

Mouma Das (left) and Sourav Chakravarthy, who won the mixed doubles title. — Pic: VIVEK BENDRE-

Men's doubles final: Sourav Chakravarthy/S. Kamal (RSPB) bt Rajiv Ghai/Anal Kashyap (Delhi) 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 11-5.

Women's doubles final: Anandita Chakravarthy/Montu Ghosh (PSPB) beat N. R. Indu/M. S. Mythili (PSPB) 11-8, 11-8, 11-4.

Mixed doubles final: Sourav Chakravarthy/Mouma Das (PSPB) bt Sharat Kamal (RSPB)/M. S. Mythili (PSPB) 8-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-9.

Team championships:

Men's final: PSPB bt RSPB 3-1 (Soumyadeep Roy lost to Sharat Kamal 9-11, 5-11, 11-7, 8-11; Subhajit Saha bt Sourav Chakravarty 13-11, 8-11, 11-5, 12-10; S. Raman bt Ranbir Das 11-7, 7-11, 9-11, 13-11, 11-6; S. Roy bt S. Chakravarty 11-7, 8-11, 14-12, 8-11, 11-9).

Semifinals: RSPB bt Tamil Nadu 3-0 (Sourav Chakravarty bt R. Rajesh 11-4, 12-14, 11-3, 11-5; Sharat Kamal bt K. Srivatsa 11-5, 11-7, 11-8; Ranbir Das bt G. Vinod 13-11, 11-9, 11-9); PSPB bt Bengal 3-0 (Soumyadeep Roy bt Anirban Nandy 11-9, 13-11, 11-5; S. Raman bt Arup Basak 11-7, 11-5, 3-11, 12-10; Subhajit Saha bt Amit Mukherjee 16-12, 11-6, 11-2).

Women's final: PSPB bt RSPB 3-2 (Mouma Das lost to Anandita Chakraborty 11-9, 10-12, 11-8, 8-11, 9-11; Poulomi Ghatak bt Vishaka Vijay 11-8, 6-11, 11-3, 11-6; Montu Ghosh bt Mousami Paul 9-11, 13-15, 11-6, 13-11, 11-3; Poulomi lost to Anandita 11-7, 9-11, 6-11, 9-11; Mouma bt Vishaka 14-16, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9).

Semifinals: PSPB bt Tamil Nadu 3-0 (Poulomi bt T. Pradeepa 11-5, 11-7, 8-11, 11-8; Mouma bt B. Bhuvaneshwari 12-10, 11-6, 11-3; N. R. Indu bt B. Arul Selvi 11-7, 11-6, 12-10). RSPB bt Assam 3-0 (Sushmita Roy bt Jupa Borthakur 11-13, 11-8, 11-8, 11-8; Anandita bt Sanjukta Gogoi 11-8, 11-9, 12-10; Mousami bt Mrigakhee Bordoloi 11-4, 12-10, 9-11, 11-6).