Without Sharath, Ghosh, Petroleum men face stiffer challenge

For the first time in nearly two decades of National table tennis championship, Petroleum men’s squad looks less-than-invincible after its decision to keep the country’s top-ranked Sharath Kamal out of team event that begins here on Tuesday.

Achanta Sharath Kamal will not take part in the team event for Petroleum men's team.   -  G.Ramakrishna

For the first time in nearly two decades of National table tennis championship, Petroleum men’s squad looks less-than-invincible after its decision to keep the country’s top-ranked Sharath Kamal out of team event that begins here on Tuesday.

Besides Sharath,Petroleum will also be without the services of the other Rio Olympic-qualifier Soumyajit Ghosh, whom it gave a no-objection certificate to represent Haryana in these championships.

Explaining the reasons behind the decision, Petroleum Sports Promotion Board joint-secretary K. L. Tejwani said, “I think the absence of these players from our team is being blown out of proportion. Firstly, I have it in writing from these players that they would like to be considered only in the individual events. Also, in a departure from the past practices, we decided to select the players based on their National rankings.”

In contrast, the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) in its Annual General Meeting this afternoon at Gurugram, took a decision aimed at respecting the world rankings of the individuals, ahead of the National rankings. It decided to allow direct entry into the main draw of the National championship, inter-institutional championship and all zonals to all men and women ranked in top-100 of the world.

As a result, Sharath, Ghosh and Manika Batra now the ‘cut’ without their low National rankings coming in the way of their eligibility to directly play the main draw of the ranking domestic events.

A factor that made this possible was Sharath playing the South Zone ranking event at Vizag this season, from the qualifiers, and walking away with the singles title. “That episode made the TTFI to consider exempting our players, ranked in the top-100, from going through the qualifiers. This is the least that we could do for our players for their tireless work. After all, it is not easy being a top-100 player,” explained Mr. Dhanraj Choudhary, who stepped down as the TTFI secretary general earlier in the day.

Coming back to the team events, Petroleum men will rely on the combined might of G. Sathiyan, A. Amalraj, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty and youngster Manav Thakkar to retain the title.

But Petroleum will be wary of three other its employees – Ghosh, Zubin Kumar and Sourav Saha – representing Haryana. Ghosh had played the state championship and sought the No-Objection Certificate, from Petroleum, in time. In fact, Sharath, too, wanted to represent Haryana, as an after-thought, but he neither played the state championship nor asked for an NOC in time.

With Tamil Nadu also cold-shouldering Sharath and Haryana’s duo of Dushyant Chautala and M. P. Singh taking over as the President and Secretary-General on this day, it should not come as a surprise if, at a later date, Sharath is lured to join Ghosh in representing the Northern state.

Meanwhile, Airports Authority of India (AAI)’s Sushmit Sriram, Vivek Bhargava, Sarthak Gandhi and Anirban Ghosh will be hoping for an honourable finish. Bengal will be the other team that can advance deep into the championship.

Among the ladies, Petroleum should retain the title with ease. The team comprising Madhurika Patkar, Mousumi Paul, Mouma Das, Manika Batra and Reeth Rishya looks unbeatable. West Bengal, Maharashtra ‘A’, AAI and North Bengal will be in the hunt for the runner-up spot.

In all, a record 35 teams in men and 32 teams in women are in the fray. The teams are divided into eight groups in each section. After the league, two teams from each group will move into the pre-quarterfinals for the knockout phase. The final will be held on February 2.