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Sport - Table Tennis Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

SCRSA's bid to improve quality of competition

By A. Joseph Antony

HYDERABAD, JUNE 4 Around the time of the 2002 National Games in Hyderabad, South Central Railway recruited eight men's table tennis players, in what was seen as its biggest investment in a single game. Among these were two of the nation's top 20 men's players, viz; Jayant Chandra, ranked No. 13 and Somnath Ghosh, No. 19.

To supplement these two, another pair Jitendra Kumar and Birupakhya Saha_perhaps of the same calibre but unable to make a mark at the national level due to lack of adequate exposure, was also roped in. The line-up was completed with the inclusion of T. Arundhar, Samar Ghory, Naveen and Mallikarjunudu.

Subsequently, four women were enrolled too. These acquisitions, apart from providing full-time jobs to unemployed players, were made not without reason. A close to the table, fast third ball attacker, Jayant Chandra has defeated some of the game's big names including Bhushan Thakur, Nilesh Vaid and Sourav Chakravarthy. Siliguiri-born Saha is reputed to have the best backhand in the country and his double flank top spin game in the European mould generates considerable counter-driving.

Saha by far is best in his understanding of the spinning ball and regardless of the variation, has the capability to read the turn right and remedy it accordingly. Ghosh has subdued Ranbir Das and sticks close to the table. A classical away from the table paddler, Arundhar uses feint long II rubber for his backhand to bolster his essentially defensive game.

Most of these players were spotted by the South Central Railway Sports Association (SCRSA) trio of S.S. Natarajan, Dr. K. Prahlad and Uppuluri Krishnamurthy, who watched these players from the galleries, unnoticed. A handful of talented paddlers were shortlisted and called for trials repeatedly. After enrolment, the results didn't take long to register.

South Central Railway clinched the all India inter-railway championship in 2002. In the year after, it emerged runner up, after Saha was afflicted with jaundice. Chandra and Jitendra Kumar went on to become regulars in the Indian Railways squad.

While the players of Bengal origin train mostly at the Centre of Excellence in Kolkata, the others hone their skills at the St. Paul's Academy in Hyderabad. Not to however fall behind in providing facilities, an indoor stadium with wooden flooring was constructed at an estimated cost of Rs. 7 lakhs. The 24 x 10 metre facility was illuminated with lighting that conformed to International Table Tennis Federation standards.

Seriousness of the project can be gauged from the fact that only three tables are in place with no provision for galleries or spectator amenities. This is used only for practice and players have near complete privacy, when training. The SCRSA plans to introduce practice robots to help players improve service returns in particular.

The women's squad comprises Prasanna, Revathi, Naganalini and Srilaxmi, the first two, members of Madras University's title-winning squad in the national varsity championships. Prasanna was also involved in Tamil Nadu claiming bronze in the nationals. Revathi's approach is as unorthodox as her affinity to attack, regardless of who the opponent is. Her resolve steels up especially in extended matches.

In addition to its players taking pride of place in the State men's and women's squads, the SCRSA's bid to improve quality of competition, is worthy of mention. A `top 10 tournament' for men and women in October will be hosted by the SCRSA. The line-up will comprise of players who perform best in the six ranking tournaments that precede it. Provision for two wildcard entries in men and women is aimed at pepping up the competition.

Followers of the game should soon see an SCRSA sweep of the top four or five men's and women's places and in the process a revival of table tennis in the State.

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