Manu in focus, Heena and Kumars also in fray

Manu in focus, Heena and Kumars also in fray

The focus is firmly trained on teen sensation Manu Bhaker as the fancied Indian shooting team eyes a head start at the 21st Commonwealth Games and continuation of its recent dominance of the discipline in the quadrennial extravaganza.

The 16-year-old Manu will be lining up alongside the experienced Heena Sidhu in the women's 10m air pistol event at the Belmont Shooting Range.

Also in action on the first day of shooting competition will be the impressive Ravi Kumar and Deepak Kumar in men's 10m air rifle.

Saniya Sheikh and Maheshwari Chauhan will represent India, a powerhouse in these Games, in the women's skeet, finals of which will also be held on Sunday followed by the qualifications.

The maximum buzz is certainly around Manu, who has won an unprecedented double gold in her maiden senior ISSF World Cup in Mexico last month. The versatile girl from Jhajjar, Haryana, then grabbed two more gold in the junior World Cup in Sydney.

Smit Singh and Sheeraj Sheikh will also compete in men's skeet qualification day 1.

With shooters like Chain Singh, Jitu Rai, Omprakash Mitharwal, Anjum Moudgil, Tejaswini Sawant, Heena and Shreyasi Singh competing in more than one event, the selectors were able to constructively utilise the quota of 15 men and 12 women to make a strong squad.

It may be noted that the organisers of the CWG had cut the quota of participants for all countries recently, and thus Indian shooting got a reduced quota of 27 from an earlier allocation of 30.

A total of nine men's and eight women's events will be held in rifle, pistol and shotgun categories.

Then there is Olympic bronze medallist Gagan Narang, a veteran of many a battle and one who has been sharing his knowledge with the young shooters.

Having already stamped their class on the big stage, the youngest shooters in the national team will again jostle for space with the big players, vying for top honours.

The abundance of talent is complemented by a confident approach which the likes of Manu, Mehuli Ghosh, Anish Bhanwala and Anjum Moudgil are expected to display.

The squad has a good mix of experience and youth with the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) picking four junior shooters and a few who are under the age of 25.

The likes of Rai, Narang and Apurvi Chandela along with other experienced shooters like Heena, Tejaswini Sawant, Sanjeev Rajput, Manavjit Singh Sandhu and double trap World Cup gold medallist Ankur Mittal can be a handful for the other competing nations, including the shooters from hosts Australia and England.

Some of the Indian shooters have the experience of shooting at this range, which also hosted the Commonwealth Shooting Championship last November, and that could be of some help.

India has been a dominant force in the event at CWG with the shooters winning 17 out of the country's 64 medals at the Glasgow Games in 2014.

As hosts in 2010, Indian shooters claimed a staggering 30-plus podium finish, and the expectations remain same eight years on.  

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