India’s top singles players Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi will have to punch above their weight in the battle to qualify for the Fed Cup World Group II begins in Astana on Wednesday.

India have been placed in Pool A where they will first play Thailand on Thursday but the real challenge would be to upset hosts Kazakhstan on Friday.

The hosts have two top-100 singles players and world No 43 Yulia Putintseva and world No 96 Zarina Diyas, ranked 96 won’t be easy opponents for the Indian players in their quest to top Pool A. Due to sub-zero temperatures, the matches will be played indoors.

Last year at home in New Delhi, Raina had shocked Putintseva in her unbeaten singles campaign but the Kazakh will be favourite in home conditions this time. Thandi had lost to Diyas last year.

Even if India manage to upset Kazakhstan, the job gets only tougher in the Promotion Play-off. The winners of Pool A and B, which has four teams, will clash to determine the nation which will qualify for World Group II.

Pool B has China, featuring world number 40 Shuai Zhang and world number 42 Saisai Zheng, along with Korea, Indonesia, and Pacific Oceania. In all likelihood, China will top Pool B and it will be toss up between India and Kazakhstan in Pool A.

A lot would depend on how India No 1 fares and in the past, she has shown the will to fight it out even against higher-ranked players. She recently won a $25K title in Singapore after reaching the second round of the Australian Open qualifiers and is at her career-best rank of 165. Thandi looks a better player this year as well, having won her first International Tennis Federation title and broken into the Top 200.

The two singles players also won a WTA doubles title together and it won’t be a surprise if captain Vishal Uppal decides to field them together as a pair in Astana as well.

“We are taking one step at a time. Our first challenge is to beat Thailand. While Kazakhstan has a strong team, our girls are hungry to cause an upset,” Uppal told PTI. “We came early to get used to the indoor conditions. The ball is travelling slow through the air but the courts are a little fast. The players are getting familiar with the conditions with each practice session.”

When asked about Raina’s win over Putintseva last year, Uppal said, “It’s new year and different conditions. Having said that Ankita is looking forward to playing her again and fancies her chances.”

Prarthna Thombare is the lone doubles specialist in the Indian squad, which also has two-time national champion Mahak Jain and former champion Riya Bhatia.

With inputs from PTI