London, Jul 25 (Table Tennis News) Scaling a new high after the 'peak' of 2018 would be tough but the Indian table tennis contingent would be a content lot if it manages to match its record eight-medal tally of Gold Coast at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
India had exceeded expectations in Australia by winning three gold, a couple of silver and three bronze medals.
Half of those medals, including two gold, came via Manika Batra whose career graph and popularity sky rocketed thereafter.
The 27-year-old from Delhi stunned Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei of Singapore not once but twice in the competition to secure an individual and team gold for India.
The 35-year-old Singaporean will be looking to settle scores against Manika in Birmingham. One can expect her to come better prepared as well for tackling the pimpled rubber that the Indian plays with.
It will be a new look women's team this time around with reigning national champion Sreeja Akula, Reeth Rishya and Diya Chitale joining the 41st-ranked Manika.
India's finest TT player Sharath Kamal, who will be be featuring in his fifth and last Commonwealth Games, the seasoned G Sathiyan, Harmeet Desai and Sanil Shetty form a formidable men's squad.
The players trained in Portugal before moving to Hungary for competition ahead of the multi-sporting event.
Off the table, it wasn't the smoothest of build ups for the table tennis contingent with three players approaching court against their non selection. Eventually, only Chitale managed to get in at the expense of Archana Kamath, who was supposed to play doubles alongside Manika.
The four-member men's squad remains unchanged from the last edition.
The quartet, much richer in experience, will be expected to defend their team title.
Indian men will be seeded third behind familiar rivals England and Nigeria.
"England as a team are slightly stronger than Nigeria. The aim is definitely to win gold in the team as well as individual event," said the 40-year-old Sharath who last won a singles gold back in Melbourne 2006.
Nigeria boast of world number 12 Aruna Quadri while England have a much improved Liam Pitchford and veteran Paul Drinkhall who tends to raise his game in multi-sporting events.
Having said that, the Indians will be fancying their chances in all categories, against their rivals.
Talking about India's rapid growth in the table tennis world since he made his Games debut 16 years ago, Sharath said: "Back then, winning a Commonwealth medal was a big deal, now we are expected to win. Our medals in Asian Games for the very first time has also contributed massively to how our opponents look at us." Not a gold but India were able to bag as many as four medals in mixed doubles and doubles in Gold Coast and a similar number will be expected this time around.
Sathiyan will be a gold medal contender alongside Sharath and Manika in men's doubles and mixed doubles respectively.
Squad: Men: Sharath Kamal, G Sathiyan, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty.
Women: Manika Batra, Reeth Rishya, Sreeja Akula, Diya Chitale.
News Source : PTI