India may have got the toughest group opponents on paper among the teams participating in the 21st Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships, but captain and ace paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal is more than confident that India will retain the Host Association’s Cup on Friday.
The tournament begins with the team events at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Cuttack from Wednesday.
India are clubbed with Singapore and Scotland in group B, while England, the top-ranked team placed in group A, have Sri Lanka and Cyprus for company.
With the format allowing two teams from each group to qualify for the second stage, Sharath and Co are not losing any sleep. In fact, he said India would be aiming to sweep the gold medals.
“Indeed, we are in the toughest group but since England, Nigeria and Singapore have not fielded their best players, Indian men should win the team and open events,” said the winner of 10 medals, including the 2004 singles and team championship gold medals.
With the Commonwealth Games getting all the attention in recent times, the focus has moved away from the Commonwealth Championship.
The 37-year-old veteran said that the way G Sathiyan, ranked No 24 in the world, has been playing of late, India would always fancy their chance against even the toughest. “He is in the form of his life. Besides, two seasoned campaigners in Liam Pitchford and Paul Drinkhall (England) and Aruna Quadri and Segun Toriola (Nigeria) are not here. Singapore, too, have fielded a young side while other teams are not that strong. It makes our job easier,” he said.
In comparison, the women team draw looks far easier than one would have expected. Again, on the basis of team ranking, Singapore is the top-seeded squad but India, at No 2, form a part of group B with South Africa and Sri Lanka. Group A has Singapore, Wales and Scotland.
The Indian women, on their strength, should be able to cross the first-stage hurdle. However, they could face some stiff competition from Singapore as the hosts approach the final. Manika Batra, on whose shoulder the burden is placed, may not be in the kind of form she ran into in 2018 CWG and Asian Games, but she is capable of pulling it off in a team event like this, particularly with the home crowd backing her.
In their first group match, Indian women take on Scotland, followed by Singapore.