TTFI's positive response to media suggestion

RAKESH RAO

PADDLE SWEEP: Petroleum overpowered Railways to take the men's title.-R.V. MOORTHY

OVER the years, the team events of the All India inter-institutional table tennis championship had lost their relevance. After the National championship, the institutional meet remains the most prestigious one in the Table Tennis Federation of India's calendar. Even then, the federation had not felt the need to address the predictable nature of the exercise leading to the qualification of two teams for the National inter-state championship.

Since 1986, when Petroleum entered the fray and began recruiting the cream of the country's table tennis players, more often than not, its nearest challenger Railways rarely emerged victorious.

Of late, former men's champion Banks' Sports Board and Indian Airlines have ceased to be the force they once were. In fact, Airlines did not care to field a team this year. As a result of the lack of resources and firepower with other institutional teams, Petroleum and Railways are always expected to grab the two qualifying berths for the Nationals with monotonous regularity. This is more predictable in the men's section than in the women's category.

When the 35th edition of the institutional championship was due to start in New Delhi, a similar end was expected. But on the eve of the event, when a section of the media managed to turn the attention of the TTFI authorities to the lack of motivation of the majority of institutional teams in the given regulations, there was a positive and instantaneous response from the apex body. The TTFI secretary Mool Chand Chowhan, along with Petroleum's V. K. Bawa and host Railways' Rakesh Yadav unanimously agreed to bring about a change soon.

The following morning, Chowhan announced that instead of the finalists, the teams reaching the semifinals of the championship would qualify for the National championship. It was decided to introduce this proposal in the next AGM of the TTFI for approval. "I anticipate some protests from the States but I think it is important to keep in mind the interests of institutional teams and the employment prospects of budding talents in future," said Chowhan.

The decision to allow the top four teams in the National championships went down very well with the teams, especially those who were good enough to hope for a place in the semifinals. Later, BSB and LIC went on to qualify along with `traditional qualifiers' Petroleum and Railways in both sections.

Once the action commenced, the inspired women from BSB, including former singles champion N. Arul Selvi, A. V. Nivedita and M. Aparna played brilliantly to embarrass Railways' Sumana Bose, Mamta Prabhu and S. Prasanna for a stunning 3-0 victory in the league match and topped the group. This meant a semifinal clash between holder Petroleum and Railways.

In what was a virtual `final', before the title-match, Petroleum overpowered Railways 3-2. In the final, the Petroleum's winning margin was 3-1 against BSB. Earlier, in the semifinals, BSB had ended LIC's run by inflicting a 3-0 defeat.

EMULATING THE MEN: Petroleum made it a grand double by winning the women's title as well.-R.V. MOORTHY

Looking back, the TTFI decision to increase the number of qualifiers benefited Railways and also reduced the awkwardness of its women's team. BSB and LIC also had reasons to stay motivated not only for the Nationals but also when they return to retain their places in the next edition of this championship. The results came, more or less, on expected lines with Petroleum sweeping the team titles. In the men's section, the squad comprising former National champions A. Sharath Kamal, Soumyadeep and Arup Basak along with the current holder S. Raman and youngster Subhajit Saha did not drop a match during the title-defence.

Even Railways posted 3-0 victories enroute to the final before being decimated by Petroleum. The LIC men had to fight all the way to down Indian Bank 3-2 in the quarterfinals. In contrast, BSB made it with ease against Reserve Bank of India. In the women's section, Petroleum's trio of Poulomi Ghatak, Mouma Das and Nandita Saha rose to the occasion when it really mattered. Though each of these girls lost once, they did enough to make sure that the team eventually won.

For instance, in the big match against Railways, Mouma and Poulomi lost their singles to Mamta Prabhu but beat S. Prasanna, in turns, in straight games. In between, Nandita bounced back from 6-9 in the fourth game against Pallavi Kundu to win the crucial third singles in five games.

In the final, it was Nandita who failed to get going against the seasoned Arul Selvi but Poulomi and Mouma did not allow BSB any liberties. This was Petroleum's 13th title-triumph in each section and an eighth sweep of team championships.

The results

Men: Final: Petroleum beat Railways 3-0 (Soumyadeep Roy bt Sourav Chakraborty 11-9, 11-8, 8-11, 11-13, 12-10; A. Sharath Kamal bt Anirban Nandy 10-12, 8-11, 9-11, 11-5; Subhajit Saha bt Amit Das 12-10, 10-12, 11-8, 16-14).

Semifinals: Petroleum beat Banks' Sports Board 3-1 (A. Sharath Kamal bt A. Rajath Kamal 11-8, 10-12, 13-11, 11-8; S. Raman bt Pathik Mehta 11-9, 12-10, 9-11, 11-8; Soumyadeep Roy bt Jignesh Jaiwsal 9-11, 8-11, 11-6, 13-11, 11-4); Railways beat LIC 3-0 (Sourav Chakraborty bt Vinay Aggarwal 11-5, 11-7, 11-5; Anriban Nandy bt R. Rajesh 8-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-9; Amit Das bt Parag Agarwal 11-4, 11-9, 11-2). Quarterfinals: Petroleum bt Air-India 3-0; BSB bt RBI 3-0; LIC bt Indian Bank 3-2; Railways bt Central Revenue 3-0.

Women: Final: Petroleum beat Banks' Sports Board 3-1 (Mouma Das bt M. Aparna 13-11, 11-7, 11-7; Poulomi Ghatak bt A. V. Nivedita 11-5, 11-5, 11-4; Nandita Saha lost to N. Arul Selvi 8-11, 9-11, 11-8, 7-11; Poulomi bt Aparna 11-6, 11-8, 11-2).

Semifinals: Petroleum beat Railways 3-2 (Poulomi Ghatak bt S. Prasanna 11-5, 11-5, 11-5; Mouma Das lost to Mamta Prabhu 5-11, 11-8, 9-11, 6-11; Nandita Saha bt Pallavi Kundu 9-11, 11-8, 11-5, 10-12, 11-9; Poulomi lost to Mamta 11-7, 14-16, 4-11, 5-11; Mouma bt Prasanna 11-4, 11-5, 11-8); BSB beat LIC 3-0 (N. Arul Selvi bt Deepali Rangshai 11-1, 9-11, 11-7, 11-2; M. Aparna bt Avanti Sinha 8-11, 11-0, 11-8, 11-5; A. V. Nivedita bt Deepali Chakradev 11-8, 11-4, 11-5).