Cuttack, July 17:
Indian men’s team, led by skipper A Sharath Kamal, will start as favourites when the 21st Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships begins at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium here Wednesday.
India are clubbed with Singapore and Scotland in group B, while England, the top-ranked team here and 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 confident of sweeping the gold medals.
Sharath’s calculations are based on the weakest England, Nigeria and Singapore teams that have come here.
“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.
Sharath said 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, while group A has Singapore, Wales and Scotland.
The other groups have lesser teams in terms of ranking.
The Indian women, on its strength, should be able to cross the first-stage hurdle without dropping a sweat.
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 had in 2018 CWG and Asian Games, but she is capable of pulling it off in a team event like this, particularly when the home crowd would be rooting for her and Team India.
In their first group match, Indian women take on Scotland, followed by Singapore.
The championships open with group matches in women section for the team championships.
Men: Group A: England, Sri Lanka, Cyprus Group B: India, Singapore, Scotland Group C: Nigeria, Malaysia, Bangladesh Group D: Australia, South Africa, Wales Women: Group A: Singapore, Wales, Scotland Group B: India, South Africa, Sri Lanka Group C: Australia, Malaysia, Cyprus Group D: Nigeria, England, Bangladesh.