On the eve of a big table tennis tournament, the Abhay Prashal indoor facility in Indore is usually buzzing with dozens of paddlers getting used to the conditions in prolonged practice session.

But on Wednesday, a day before the 11Sports Central Zone national ranking table tennis tournament begins, the sprawling facility was occupied by men and women dressed in plain whites for a spiritual lecture.

It was in a way symbolic of the second national ranking tournament having lost its sheen. After all, virtually all of India's male paddlers and the golden girl Manika Batra will be missing from action.

The top five paddlers – A. Sharath Kamal, G. Sathiyan, A. Amalraj, Harmeet Desai and Batra – have cited either fatigue or international commitments for skipping the tournament.

While Sathiya and Desai were missing in action even for the season-opening North Zone ranking tournament in Panchkula last week, the other triumvirate has joined the bandwagon this week.

The top rung's absence will mean a wider race for the coveted men's crown, with teenagers Manav Thakkar and S.F.R. Snehit hoping to build on the last week's success.

The teenagers stole the limelight in Panchkula with the bespectacled Thakkar walking away with the men's and youth boys' titles.

Despite succumbing to his old nemesis in various age-groups in the final, Snehit emerged as the giant-killer, accounting for a handful of stalwarts, including the legendary Sharath, en route to a final appearance in men's.

It will be interesting to see if the duo can withstand pressure in the big league and wither the challenge from the likes of southpaw Sanil Shetty and muscular Arjun Ghosh. 

The field will not be so depleted in the women's section, with Batra being the only major absentee, having decided to rest after winning in Panchkula ahead of the big challenges lying ahead, including the next month's Asian Games.

It remains to be seen if the defending champion Sutirtha Mukherjee cashes in on Batra's absence and pockets her first title of the season.

It will not be an easy task for her with several other contenders, including Madhurika Patkar, Mouma Das, Ayhika Mukherjee and Krittwika Sinha Roy, in action.