Bhavnagar: As we approach the last-leg of ranking events, the beginning at the SAG Sports Complex from tomorrow, provide the best opportunity in more senses than one.
With players that have suffered the wear and tear during a cramped season or, for that matter, those with a good collection of ranking points preferring to give a skip to the tournament here to help themselves recover before the three nationals, the Central Zone championships have come as a blessing in disguise to all other in fray to make a mark for themselves.
Of course, they and the spectators at Bhavnagar will be deprived of action from top guns like A. Sharath Kamal, G. Sathiyan, A. Amalraj, Harmeet Desai, Manav Thakkar and Manika Batra as they are preparing to get into the groove for the Olympic qualifiers. But their absence has, in more senses than one, has given a real good chance to the rest to go for the 10 gold across all categories.
Even otherwise, the hosts will have the additional charm of claiming the team championships—reintroduced after four decades this season—as a bonus. But the Gujarat team members in men and women sections will be wary of neighbouring Maharashtra who have the potential to be their bitterest rivals as they have fielded two teams—A and B squads. Otherwise, Gujarat don’t face much of a competition as the remaining states like Madhya Pradesh, Goa and Chhattisgarh do not have the strength to challenge them.
The local crowd that must be eager to watch Gujarat paddlers in action will be disappointed somewhat because of the absence of Harmeet and Manav in singles. However, their appetite will be whetted by Manav’s appearance in the team event. This should serve them as tonic as he, along with Manush Shah, the Youth Boys champion, are good enough to challenge the best in the business.
In women singles, all other top players will be playing here and that gives a real boost to the organisers. Moreover, a tournament like this offers the best conditions to those who have made themselves available here to put their best foot forward.
Apart from the team events, the Central Zone event will also witness the Under-13-Under-15 Boys and Girls events which provide a rare occasion to kids to compete from the region, watch their favourites and rub shoulders with them. The mixed doubles, initiated at the East Zone championships, will be a part of the tournament here, too.
After the inauguration and team events on the opening day, the group matches in men and women sections will keep the players engaged from the second day onwards.
The championships will see veteran referee Anil Dubey taking charge of the proceedings with nearly 50 Blue Badge, international and national umpires to assist him during the duration of the tournament. According to competition manager, N. Ganeshan, 17 Stag Americas tables, flooring and DHS balls will be used in the championships.
The championships, first of its kind at Bhavnagar, have been co-sponsored by the State Bank of India. The event organized by the Gujarat State Table Tennis Association is supported by the Bhavnagar District Association. Incidentally, this will be the second such major event which is being held at the SAG Sports Complex with the best ambiance.