Can India finish No.2?

World wrestling champion Sushil Kumar is burdened by a world of expectations.-PTI

There is no race for the No.1 spot as Australia is a sporting superpower and should clinch that. Yet, hope springs eternal. The question is, can India be No. 2, ahead of England and Canada, asks Kamesh Srinivasan.

It is not easy to be the host and also be the best. China did this brilliantly at the Beijing Olympics, two years ago. The Commonwealth Games is no Olympics. And India is no China, when it comes to sports.

There is no race for the No.1 spot as Australia is a sporting superpower and should clinch that. Yet, hope springs eternal. The question is, can India be No. 2, ahead of England and Canada?

Will England, preparing to host the next Olympics in London, in 2012, allow that to happen? Or for that matter will Canada, the regular No. 3 in the Commonwealth Games, let the host get past it?

For sure, Indian sports is looking up, but does that justify the money being spent on it? The Union sports ministry has claimed to have spent more than Rs. 800 crore in the preparation of the Indian athletes for the Games in the last two years or so. Will that money bring enough gold medals to make the nation proud?

Can India win at least 50 gold medals? It had won 52 in the last two editions of the Games put together. Indian sports had made a quantum jump, after having bagged only 50 gold medals in the 12 previous editions. It is time again to break free.

The shooters were primarily responsible for India ending up as the host. Their rich haul of 14 gold medals in the 2002 edition, followed by 16 in 2006, was the backbone of the Indian performance. The double gold in double trap, in the 2002 edition, was the foundation for Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore to win the world championship bronze and the Olympic silver. He has not gained selection for these Games, but a clutch of talented shooters led by Gagan Narang have vowed to reap a rich harvest.

India had won 23 gold, 17 silver and 9 bronze medals while beating England, Wales, Australia and Scotland hollow in the Commonwealth shooting championship in February at the Dr. Karni Singh Range in Tughlakabad. If that is any hint of what to expect, then the shooters are all set to facilitate India's leap to the No. 2 rank in the medals table.

World champion Sushil Kumar provides a strong case for Indian wrestling, a sport which has a rich history. There has been a great interest in the sport ever since Sushil won the Olympic bronze medal in Beijing. He has marched ahead, with a World Championship gold to boot, and the rest promise to follow. With women's wrestling also on the agenda, the host aspires for a rich haul.

Vijender Singh has been a hero of Indian sports ever since he won a boxing bronze medal in the Olympics. He followed this up by bagging a world championship bronze, and has triggered a mass movement in the sport. Though India has won only two gold medals in boxing over the years, through Md. Ali Qamar in Manchester and Akhil Kumar in Melbourne, there is promise of a handful of gold this time.

Badminton superstar Saina Nehwal is revved up for the Games.-RITU RAJ KONWAR

Indian weightlifting has been mired in dope. It was no big deal to pay a fine of $500,000 to the international body which had suspended India following a string of positive dope cases. Again, with both the men and women combining to enrich the medal collection, there is hope of India pocketing more than half-a-dozen golds. But then, there is also the fear of a dope fiasco that could blacken the face of the host.

In tennis, it will be a thin field with the absence of stars like Andy Murray, Lleyton Hewitt, Samantha Stosur or even the aging doubles stars. The elite Indian tennis players — Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna, Somdev Devvarman and Sania Mirza — for whom a total fund of about Rs.1 crore was promised by the Union Government for two years of preparation, should make every rupee count by winning half a dozen medals, half of them gold!

There is a lot of faith in world No. 2 Saina Nehwal, though she is yet to win an Olympic or world championship medal. Indian badminton has won only two gold medals — through Prakash Padukone and Syed Modi. Saina could be a worthy successor to the list. Indian badminton, overall, is also looking up.

India's ace shooter Gagan Narang holds the Queen's Baton for Commonwealth Games 2010 during its relay in Hyderabad in August. Narang will lead a formidable pack of shooters at the Games.-K. RAMESH BABU

Same is the case with the Indian archers, as these are good times for the sport in the country. Hopefully, the wind would be in India's favour this time, as the archers promise to hog a lot of attention with plenty of medals. Sharath Kamal had won two gold medals in table tennis in Melbourne, and promises to emulate his feat.

Can an Indian win the country its second athletics gold in the Commonwealth Games, after the one by Milkha Singh in the quarter-mile in Cardiff in 1958? Perhaps, yes. Well, Indian athletics has at least something to show. In contrast, India has never won a medal in swimming, or for that matter in gymnastics, diving, cycling, lawn bowls and squash.

For the money that was at its disposal, Indian sports could have worked wonders. Instead, there were problems everywhere, from the lack of a coach, lack of ammunition, lack of equipment to a hundred other things. In short, Indian sports lacks proper planning and professional execution. There are too many masters, quite autocratic, happy to play spoilsport.

In such a scenario, do we have path-breakers? Or young achievers ready to explode onto the international arena, drawing inspiration from Abhinav Bindra's gold-winning performance at the Beijing Olympics? Only time will tell.