It was one of the most sought-after tournaments on the table tennis calendar till about two decades ago. But with the ever-increasing opportunities on the global circuit, the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship lost its sheen in the last few years.
While India makes an effort to revive the tournament - staging it for the third time in succession with the tournament finding no host for its last edition in 2017 - the host contingent will enter as firm favourites to sweep a majority of titles.
The 21st edition - seventh in India - of the tournament will see 12 teams, despite five pull-outs for a variety of reasons, vying for glory at the Jawaharla Nehru Indoor Stadium on the banks of the Mahanadi.
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In the last four years - when India tallied three gold, four silver and seven bronze medals in Surat - the Indian table tennis has reached greater heights. Add to that the fact that some of the other contenders, including England and Nigeria, have rested top players and instead fielded second-string teams to plan for the future and it makes India’s job easier to better the medal haul.
While England - the top seeds in men’s - have travelled without its top two players, World No. 15 Liam Pitchford and veteran Paul Drinkhall - Nigeria have travelled without star paddlers Aruna Quadri (World No. 21) and Segun Toriola. India’s men, on the other hand, have stuck with the tried and tested formula with G. Sathiyan (World No. 24) and A. Sharath Kamal (World No. 32) leading the charge.
That would mean the Indian men will be the team to beat in the team championship, which will start with the preliminary group, despite seeded second based on world rankings. However, Sathiyan and Sharath will hope that their fate doesn’t end up being similar to their cricket counterparts who failed to live up to the favourite’s tag last week in England.
Even in the women’s section, with Singapore not fielding its top four players and Australia travelling without their highest-ranked paddler, Manika Batra-led India will be in contention for the yellow metal. It will be in teresting to see if Batra (World No. 56) can lead Indian women’s charge to a second glory at the Commonwealth stage in as many years, after the surprise laurel at the last year’s Commonwealth Games.