The Indian Fed Cup team, without its spearhead Sania Mirza, will have a tough task of staying in Group I in the Asia-Oceania zone, when the competition kicks off in Astana, Kazakhstan, on February 6.

“It will be a great achievement if we can stay in Group I, especially without Sania,” said the captain of the squad, Enrico Piperno.

Sania injured her hip during the Australian Open and was ruled out for two weeks.

India is clubbed with Kazakhstan, which has the 29th-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova, and Thailand, which has the 155th-ranked Luksika Kumkhum as the main players.

In fact, the three other Kazakhstan players are also ranked high — Ksenia Pervak (92), Galina Voskoboeva (107) and Sesil Karatantcheva (113). Thailand brought in Varatchaya Wongteanchai (248) in place of the seasoned Tamarine Tanasugarn, with the other two being Nudnida Luangnam (210) and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (262).

In contrast, among the Indians, with an average age of 19, Kyra Shroff will be the highest ranked at 477. Rishika Sunkara (549), Ankita Raina (563) and Rutuja Bhosale (604) complete the line-up.

“It is going to be cold, and competition will be indoors. We are getting there well in time and will have four full days to prepare,” said Piperno, on the eve of the team’s departure.

“We have no expectations. Hopefully, Kyra can rise to the challenge and do something”, said the captain.

The other group will have equally tough teams in China, Chinese Taipei, Korea and Uzbekistan.

The toppers of the two groups will meet in a play-off to decide the team that will qualify for the World Group II play-off to be staged in April. The third placed team in Group I and fourth-placed team in Group II will have a play-off, with the loser being relegated to Group II for the next season.

India had moved up from Group II to Group I last time.

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