New Delhi: India have always travelled to the Commonwealth Games (CWG) with high hopes and often returned with the majority of those fulfilled. The story is expected to repeat itself at the 21st edition of the Games beginning in Gold Coast, Australia, on Wednesday, where topping the priority list of 225-member contingent will be to do better than 2014.
India finished fifth in Glasgow four years ago with 64 medals - 15 Gold, 30 Silver and 19 Bronze. But where that result hurt was that the gold count was 23 less than the previous edition and the lowest since 2002. The home advantage surely did help at Delhi 2010 but that's never an excuse for a slip.
The Gold Coast campaign almost began with a false-start thanks to the carelessness of the boxing team's doctor, who administered a 'vitamin injection' to one of the players bypassing the protocol under the 'no needle policy' in force at the Games Village.
A "strong written reprimand" by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) was almost a reprieve as the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) heaved a sigh of relief after a close shave with doping.
But focus shall now shift back to the real business that kicks off across 18 sports when 71 nations will go all out to claim the biggest chunk out of the 275 gold medals on offer. But before that happens, Australia will showcase itself at the Opening Ceremony where the march-past of Indian athletes will be led by their flagbearer PV Sindhu.
Ace shuttler Sindhu has been among the leading sportspersons who have put India on the world map over the last two years. Quite aptly, therefore, the sport is expected to find the top of the podium through players like Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikkanth and HS Prannoy, who accompany Sindhu in the squad. Pranaav Jerry Chopra and N Sikki Reddy also have a good chance to end India's medal jinx in the mixed team event.
Talking about high-profile, Indian wrestlers may flex their muscle and return with their richest gold-medal haul from the Commonwealth Games provided there are no slip-ups from Sushil Kumar (74kg) - the only Indian to win two individual Olympic medals, 2014 CWG champions Vinesh Phogat (50kg) and Babita Kumari (53kg), Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik (63kg) and promising names like Bajrang Punia (65kg), Somveer and Pooja Dhanda (57kg).
India shooting hasn't looked back after the current Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. Since then, be it the Olympics, CWG or the Asian Games, India have looked up to its shooters when it comes to winning gold medals. India don't have Abhinav Bindra (retired) in its ranks this time but there's still
enough ammo to add glitter to India's medals tally. Jitu Rai, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Gagan Narang and Om Prakash have that big-stage experience, which they can pass on to promising stars like Mehuli Ghosh, Manu Bhaker and Ankur Mittal for a shot at gold.
Sathish Sivalingam (77kg), Ragala Rahul (85 kg), Pardeep Singh (105kg). Mirabai Chanu (48kg) and Sanjita Chanu (53kg) qualified for the CWG by winning gold at the Commonwealth Championship last year. Mirabai topped it up with a historic gold at the world championship. While the 2014 CWG gold winner Sathish is the prime hope for gold among the men, Mirabai is expected to lead India's women brigade in the weightlifting arena at Gold Coast.
India's yellow-metal hopes largely rest with the women boxing where MC Mary Kom (48kg), Sarita Devi (60kg) and Pinki Jangra (51) are expected to cruise to medal rounds before expectations from them reach the 'golden' level. Vikas Krishan (75kg) and Manoj Kumar (69kg) will be the leading hopes on the men's side of the draw.
Hockey: The men's team will be disappointed if it doesn't finish on the podium. Having ended up second in the last two editions losing to Australia in the final both times, India will hope they can improve on the colour of the medal this time to win a historic first CWG gold. The women's team, which wore gold in 2002, has improved under coach Harendra Singh but will do well to reach the semis before it can set sights on the podium.
Athletics: Javelin-thrower and junior world-record holder Neeraj Chopra will hope to do much better than the Rio Olympics. He, along with long-jumper Arpinder Singh and discus-thrower Seema Punia, will carry the hopes of India's track-and-field squad.