The Indian contingent, led by experienced Achanta Sharath Kamal, would be gunning for the prestigious Home Association’s Cup in the men’s section when the 21st Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships gets underway at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Cuttack from Wednesday.
Sharath, the most experienced Indian in the squad and ranked world No 32, has always been instrumental in India’s medal hunt since his gold-winning performance in 2006 Commonwealth Games at Melbourne. Add the presence of G Sathiyan, the top-ranked Indian in the world at No 24, the opponents will be in for a challenge.
The two experienced and in-form players will combine with the likes of Anthony Amalraj, Harmeet Desai and the exuberant Manav Thakkar. None of the three is in the top-100 list, they they add depth to India to use against their opponents in the two-stage format of the team championships which will have the group matches—two teams from each group qualify for the second stage—followed by knockouts which culminate with the finals on July 19.
Indian men, who look formidable as compared to other teams, are naturally the favourites to win the men’s team championships. But that cannot be said about the women squad, which is led by Manika Batra, who is the lone Indian in the top-100 of the world. Until recently, the golden girl who turned it around for India at the 2018 CWG in Gold Coast was first Indian to hit the sub-50 mark in world ranking in the beginning of the year but since then she has been hovering in the 50+ marks.
Manika, at world No 56 currently, is expected to shoulder India’s burden along with the likes of Madhurika Patkar, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Archana Kamath and Ayhika Mukherjee. Fortunately, India has one reigning and three former national champions in the squad of five and their combined experience could be the real clincher at the team championships.
But the Indian squad would remember their loss to Singapore in the final last time they played at Surat. In other words, Singapore looks to be the team to beat for women’s title (India Cup).
The individual events begin on the third day after the team finals with group qualifying matches and it is to be seen whether one of the Indians could end up with the Singapore Cup (men singles) and Oceania Cup (women singles). At home last time, Indians clinched the silver medal.
Of the other three cups on offer—Hong Cup (men doubles), Canada Cup (women doubles) and Guernsey Cup (mixed doubles), India could scoop up at least a couple, most notably the men and mixed doubles.
Men: A. Sharath Kamal, G. Sathiyan, A. Amalraj, Manav Thakkar and Harmeet Desai.
Women: Manika Batra, Madhurika Patkar, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Archana Kamath, Ayhika Mukherjee.