India bank on Kamal bloom

Defending champion will have to overcome nemesis Ning

India bank on Kamal bloom

Not many Indian players will go in as holders in Delhi, but the table tennis team, spearheaded by the world number 41, has the men’s team and singles titles, won by Sharath himself, to defend at the Yamuna Sports Complex.

Apart from the success of the men, the women’s team brought home the bronze from the Melbourne Games. “Kamal is key to our success in CWG. If Kamal is in full flow, then it won’t be difficult for us to defend the title,” Indian coach Bhawani Mukherjee, who is co-coordinating with foreign coach Italian Massimo Constantini, said.

Sharath will be supported by Melbourne gold-winning team-mates Subhajit Saha and Soumyadeep Roy. A Amalraj, the second highest-ranked Indian at 181, and Sourav Chakroborty are the new faces in the squad.

“I don’t want to say we will win lot of medals. Our aim is to play at our very best, put up a good fight. If we do that, we will be satisfied with the results.

“I am not going to put pressure on the players by saying we will win two or three medals. But we are keen to make this opportunity, as the host nation, count,” said Mukherjee.

Sharath’s good form is good news for India, who have pinned their hopes on the 28-year-old stalwart. Sharath became the first Indian to win an ITTF Pro Tour singles title by capturing the Egypt Open in July, before claiming the US Open crown at Michigan days later.

But Sharath will have to find ways to beat the defence of his nemesis Singapore's Gao Ning, ranked 19th in the world, to entertain hopes of retaining the gold.

Ning has accounted for Sharath in the last two Commonwealth Championships. In 2007, Ning got the better of Sharath in the semifinal and two years later, he overcame Sharath in a close final.

The players though know that fetching top honours on home turf will not be a cake-walk as besides tough competition, they will also have to handle the pressure of expectation. “There will be lot of pressure. But that’s also an advantage as it motivates you to perform better,” said Amalraj.

India are second among the men and fifth among the women. With several top-ranked players in their ranks, Singapore are expected to dominate the women’s section.
Apart from Singapore and Hong Kong, the Indian paddlers will have to negotiate stiff challenges from Malaysia, New Zealand and Nigeria in the men's section.

Besides being the spearhead in the team event, Sharath will pair up with Subhajit in doubles and K Shamini in mixed doubles. Amalraj will play the open singles and partner Soumyadeep in doubles.

“We are focusing on individual attendtion on players. In the team event, there are only singles matches and we have to strategise accordingly. Against weaker sides, we are thinking of resting Sharath,” added Mukherjee.

In the women’s section, a lot will depend on the draw. It will be an uphill task for the Indian eves to get past defending champions Singapore, who have in their midst two top-10 players — Feng Tianwei and Wang Yuegu. The hosts’ hopes will rest with reigning national champion Poulomi Ghatak and her doubles partner Mouma Das.

Former national champion Shamini, Madhurika Patkar and Mamta Prabhu have the ability to pull off upsets on their day in the competition that will run from October 4 to 14.

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