Despite CoA's overview, Indian Table Tennis squad for CWG likely to follow 2018 trend

All eyes are on the panel of table tennis selectors to announce the Indian squad for the Commonwealth Games at Birmingham this year.

Commonwealth Games 2018 gold medallists Manika Batra and Sharath Kamal are likely to be part of the squad for the 2022 edition.   -  PTI

With the conclusion of the week-long National training camp at Bengaluru’s Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence on Monday, all eyes are on the panel of table tennis selectors to announce the Indian squad for the Commonwealth Games at Birmingham in July-August this year.

The four selectors - S. Ramaswamy, Rajat Kathuria, N. R. Indu and local resident Archana Vishwanath - arrived at the venue on the penultimate day of the camp, on Sunday. This indicates, they did not deem it necessary to watch these players closely in action before making up their minds. The formal team announcement is likely on Tuesday.

To select a four-man team, eight players - Sharath Kamal (National rank 1), G. Sathiyan (8), Sanil Shetty (2), Harmeet Desai (3), Manush Shah (4), Manav Thakkar (5) Anirban Ghosh (6) and Fidel R. Snehit (11) - were called for the camp.

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Similarly, for the four-player women squad, Manika Batra (National rank 33), Archana Kamath (37), Sreeja Akula (1), Reeth Rishya (2), Diya Chitale (3), Swastika Ghosh (4), Ayhika Mukherjee (8) and Sutirtha Mukherjee (9) were invited.

Going by the recent show of intent of the selectors, Sharath, Sathiyan, Harmeet, Sanil, Manika, Archana, Sreeja  and Reeth could make the cut. Among these, only Sanil could face a remote threat from fellow left-hander Manush.

For starters, in the Commonwealth Games, a maximum of three entries each in men singles, women singles and mixed doubles, plus two each in men doubles and women doubles are permitted from a country.

In the last edition, India exceeded expectations by returning with three gold, two silver and three bronze medals - including a sweep of the team titles.

In all likelihood, as in 2018, India is set to field Sharath, Sathiyan and Harmeet in singles and the combinations of Sharath-Sathiyan and Harmeet-Sanil. The only change could come if Manush replaces Sanil.

Similarly, in 2018 India opted for Manika, Madhurika Patkar and Mouma Das in singles besides Manika-Mouma and Sutirtha-Pooja Sahasrabudhe. This time, it could well be Manika, Sreeja and Reeth in singles. In doubles, Manika-Archana and Sreeja-Reeth pairs appear as obvious choices.

In mixed doubles, too, Sathiyan-Manika, Sharath-Sreeja and another make-shift combination will turn up.

Recently, the Committee of Administrators (CoA) highlighted TTFI’s selection-related wrong-doings on its website and elaborated on how some deserving players were left out.

Sadly, a similar example is likely to follow.

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This time, Manika and Archana are among the probables, despite insufficient points in singles to meet the laid-down eligibility criteria. But the selectors, much like their predecessors, conveniently considered the world ranking - Manika-Archana’s fourth spot in the doubles - to justify their choices.

With this, the door appears firmly shut for performing youngsters Diya, Swastika, and more-experienced Ayhika and Sutirtha.

Unfortunately, these players will pay the price for not funding themselves enough to play doubles in international competitions.

Only the other day in the Delhi High Court, during the course of the hearing of the Manika-TTFI case, a counsel representing the government categorically stated that attending the SAI-funded National camps was not mandatory for the players. This statement helped Manika’s cause who had questioned the TTFI’s decision to drop her from the team for the Asian championship because she decided to stay away from the National camp at Sonepat. In any case, this was not the first time Manika missed or made a token appearance in the National camps.

This being the background, it was interesting when the CoA, in a letter dated May 9, 2022, informed the probables that “following the camp, the panel of national selectors will announce the National team for the Commonwealth Games,” there was not a murmur. All, including Manika, were in attendance throughout the camp, except the selectors who arrived in time to watch a session or two.

In addition, there was no chosen and announced criteria in place for selection during the camp. No selection matches were played. Indications were that the focus was mainly on doubles. It appears, for the selectors, coach S. Raman remains the go-to man before announcing what seems pretty obvious.

Coaches Raman, Anandita Chakraborty and Anirban Nandi were around. It may be recalled that Raman and Anandita were provisionally named as ‘managers’ of the team for the CWG, as per the undated Long list of CWG probables on the TTFI website.

Since Arup Basak and Subhajit Saha, named as the men's coach and the women's coach in the Long list of probables for CWG, did not attend the camp, there could be change.

Raman, whose core competence is coaching, seems an obvious choice as a coach. However, this could lead to a blatant violation of a recent Delhi High Court directive that discourages National Sports Federations from sending coaches who own/run training Academies, with the travelling National teams.

Whether the selectors retain Raman as “manager” and let him do in Birmingham what he does best - that’s coaching - remains to be seen.

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