As expected, Indian men and women will test their preparedness for the bigger battles of the 19th Commonwealth table tennis championship by facing modest rivals in the first stage league on Sunday.

After the draw was made on Saturday, in the presence of the representatives of the participating nations, India was clubbed with South Africa and Australia in men’s Group ‘B’. The women’s team faces Canada and Sri Lanka in Group ‘C’. After the round-robin league, two teams each from four groups will qualify for the quarterfinal league on Monday.

In both sections, India is expected to top the group. The men from South Africa — Luke Abrahams, Theo Cogill and Kurt Lingeveldt — are too lowly-rated to be of any serious threat to the host. The Australians — David Powell, the Townsend brothers, Kane and Wade, along with Hu Meming, too, look good enough only to bid for the second qualifying spot from the group.

Zhang Mo delayed

In the ladies section, India could have expected a stiffer test against Canada. But the delayed arrival of Canada’s spearhead Zhang Mo has made India’s job a bit easier. Zhang, currently training in China, is expected to get her visa on Monday morning and reach here later in the day. The organisers have allowed Canada to play the first stage league with two players — Yuen Sara and Fu Shirley.

“Had Zhang Mo been around, it would have been a good test for us,” said Bhawani Mukherjee, coach of the Indian women’s team. “We have had some close matches in the past with Canada. But this time, it should be a bit easier.”

Singapore remains the firm favourite. Served by its spearhead Zhan Jian, Li Hu and Chen Feng, all in the men’s top-100 list of the world, the team is likely to be challenged only by India. Among the ladies, Singapore’s Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan are way to too strong for the rest in the field.

In the 2010 Commonwealth Games here, Tianwei took the singles gold ahead Mengyu after helping their nation ensure the team title. Tianwei also took silver in doubles and mixed doubles. This time, too, she is set to return with a big haul of medals.

The point of interest over next six days would be whether India manages to deny Singapore a golden sweep. The Indian camp is confident of causing an upset or two.

The host expects more from the men, both in team and open events. The ladies are aiming to reach the final at the expense of England. It is time for the Indians to translate their preparedness into medal-winning performances.

The groups:

Men: Group ‘A’: Singapore, Northern Ireland, Nigeria and Maldives; Group ‘B’: India, South Africa and Australia; Group ‘C’: England, New Zealand, Malaysia and Canada; Group ‘D’: Scotland, Wales and Sri Lanka.

Women: Group ‘A’: Singapore, Australia and South Africa; Group ‘B’: England, Wales and New Zealand; Group ‘C’: India, Canada and Sri Lanka; Group ‘D’: Malaysia, Nigeria, Scotland and Maldives.

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