A COMBINATIONÂ of young and experienced players form the core of Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas, one of the most promising franchises in the inaugural edition of CEAT Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT). The franchise, co-owned by Oilmax Energy and Stag, has a very strong squad combining youth and experience into a very balanced group of players.
The squad assembles in Chennai on 9 July to meet, interact, and begin training as a group in preparation of the opening leg of the tournament. The opening game of the Yoddhas is against Maharashtra United on 15 July.
The squad will be coached by Sandeep Gupta, the former chief coach of the Junior Indian Team at the World Junior Circuit Finals in 2016. Sandeep had claimed a gold medal in mixed doubles and a silver in menâs doubles at the SAAF Championships in 1989. The Yoddhas are also coached by Vesna Ojstersek, the head coach of Sloveniaâs national women's team, who brings a wealth of international coaching experience that will be tremendously useful for the young group of Indian players in the squad.
Hong Kong's Doo Hoi Kem leads the women's contingent of the franchise and is the squadâs highest ranked player at 13. Â Hoi Kem is best known for having claimed gold at the ITTF World Tour Croatia Open in 2016. The women's section also has Russia's Polina Mikhailova, world number 54, who could be a very useful ally for Hoi Kem. Their contrasting styles of play will aid in Yoddhasâ campaign.
Completing the women's roster will be the highest ranked Indian Manika Batra, who is sure to be a crowd favorite throughout the tournament with her charismatic style of play, and her 17-year-old compatriot Selena Selvakumar, a local hero in Chennai. While Manika has represented India at the Rio Olympics, Selena enters the squad with a rich haul of medals at junior level.
The men's squad will be led by the experienced pair of Nigerian Aruna Quadri and Panagiotis Gionis of Greece. Four-time Olympian Gionis is ranked 33rd in the world, while Quadri is similarly placed very highly at 35th place in the rankings. Both Quadri and Gionis have a different, but similarly resilient and combative style which is why they will definitely live upto the title of a âYoddhaâ.
The Indian contingent in the men's section sees the presence of the 21-year-old Abhishek Yadav and Indian veteran Jubin Kumar, who are both exceptionally talented players as well. Abishek won the Bronze medal at the Asian Youth Games held in China in 2013, while Jubin formerly Indiaâs number 1 ranked male playerÂ
Kapil Garg, one of the co-owners of the Yoddhas, has said:
âIt is really an exciting time for us as we enter unchartered territory with our squad. We have been fortunate to have picked a very balanced squad with all aspects of the game being covered. The inputs of our coaching staff in picking the right squad have been very vital. In the coming days, we are looking forward to the squad linking up together to produce some great results for the franchise. The presence of young players especially will go a long way in our commitment to invest in the long-term growth of the sport in the country."
The Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas, meanwhile, have named Mumbai-based sports marketing and management company, Meraki Sport and Entertainment, to manage the operations of the franchise. Merakiâs role will be to manage and operate the squad, alongside looking after its marketing communications in all aspects.
Meraki Sport and Entertainmentâs Director, Namrata Parekh said:
âIt is really a meeting of two balanced squads. Our experience individually and as a group in delivering initiatives for a team in a league will stand us in good stead in meeting the franchise goals.â