Petroleum team in dock for dropping Sharath Kamal

The shocking omission of six-time National champion Sharath Kamal from the Petroleum men’s team in the on-going National table tennis championship seriously hurt its claim of selecting the team purely on merit.

The IOC and the players, both have backed Sharath Kamal after he was dropped by the Petroleum team.   -  G.Ramakrishna

The shocking omission of six-time National champion Sharath Kamal from the Petroleum men’s team in the on-going National table tennis championship seriously hurt its claim of selecting the team purely on merit.

On Thursday evening, the move almost backfired with Haryana pushing a Sharath-less Petroleum to brink in the team final. But National champion A. Amalraj saved Petroleum severe embarrassment by completing a tense 3-2 victory.

“I hope, better sense prevails and we select the best team like we have always done in the past,” said a Petroleum player after watching the final from the stands. Another PSPB’s seasoned campaigner asked, “Why weaken the team and then huff-and-puff to the title? After Petroleum ladies were shocked in the semifinal, I dread to think what would have happened had the men lost the final?”

Privately, lots of players and officials felt Sharath was a victim of a larger conspiracy since the reason for his ouster, given by Petroleum Sports Promotion Board joint secretary K. L. Tejwani, appeared trivial.

Sharath’s non-inclusion was attributed to the player neither informing the PSPB about his “whereabouts” nor of his availability for selection. Tejwani explained, “We tried to contact him repeatedly but there was no communication from him regarding his participation in the National championship. That’s not done. And this time, we went by the National ranking and (the 11th-ranked) Sharath could not make it.”

Ironically, Sharath has been seeded No. 1 in the men singles.

Unlike PSPB, the Table Tennis Federation of India went by the World rankings and Sharath, currently 62nd, topped the list by virtue of being the highest-placed Indian in the sport.

What baffled the players and the officials here is PSPB’s total disregard to Sharath’s contribution, achievements, world ranking and stature. Sharath, a former Commonwealth champion, was a key member of the triumphant Petroleum team on numerous occasions. Moreover, Sharath attained a career-high world ranking of 39, which remains the highest for an Indian.

Even as Sharath, quite understandably, maintained a dignified silence on the sequence of events, one of the officials of Indian Oil Corporation unequivocally countered Tejwani’s claim.

“Firstly, PSPB discourages players from communicating directly with it and insists that all written communication be routed through the player’s Member Organisation (IOC, in case of Sharath). Secondly, Sharath has always informed IOC of his whereabouts, training/tournament schedules and sought all necessary approvals. Finally, neither Sharath nor the IOC received any communication from the PSPB regarding the player’s availability for the PSPB team.”

Another senior Petroleum official asked, “Did the PSPB try to ascertain the whereabouts of all its leading players, not only in table tennis, but also in other disciplines before selecting the teams? I am sure it did not. If they can attack Sharath so shabbily, imagine the plight of the lesser mortals?

This season, leading chess and badminton players, employed with the Petroleum sector have stayed away from their National championship. These include P. V. Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, K. Srikanth, P. Kashyap, K, Sasikiran, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Abhijeet Gupta, to name a few. Apparently, the PSPB had no issues with it. Unlike these players, Sharath has played every Nationals, except in 2015, and performed the part expected of him.

This unsavoury episode brought wide-scale empathy for Sharath and exposed PSPB’s total lack of respect for a true sportsman and a worthy champion.