by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
In period now of over two years, the selection of Liam Pitchford, Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker has been the tried and trusted combination; the key factor being that it is a well-balanced outfit, a trio of players who have trust in each other.
Furthermore the results indicate that when it’s the big occasion, they respond; the revelation being Sam Walker, who emerged the one winner when against the odds when he beat Yuya Oshima in the three-one semi-final defeat against Japan in Kuala Lumpur.
Now could he be the key to success? Does any other team have the depth England possesses?
Singapore, the outfit which beat England in the final at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games is nowhere near as strong as four years ago. Gao Ning, now 35 years old and with no noteworthy successes in recent times remains. He is steadfast and sound but most pertinently Zhan Jian, Yang Zi and Lu Hu, all crucial to the success of four years ago have now retired from the international scene.
In Gold Coast, Gao Ning lines up alongside 25 year old Pang Xue Jie with teenagers Ethan Poh Shao Feng, Beh Kun Ting and Pang Yew En Koen completing the team. Notably the coach is Liu Jiayi, for some 20 years the England national coach and to whom Paul Drinkhall pays great credit as the man who guided his path to the Cadet Boys’ Singles and Junior Boys’ Singles titles at the European Youth Championships.
Undoubtedly, India provides a major challenge. At the recent Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Platinum Qatar Open, both Sharath Kamal Achanta and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran shone. Each ousted a star Japanese name; Sharath Kamal Achanta beat Koki Niwa, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran accounted for Yuya Oshima.
Now who is the third choice? Soumyajit Ghosh, Amalraj Anthony and Harmeet Desai are the contenders but although last year Soumyajit Ghosh beat Amalraj Anthony in the Men’s Singles final at the 2017 ITTF Challenge Chile Open, none have really excelled in recent months.
Equally, Nigeria is a major contender. Quadri Aruna leads the team, he is the star name; last year he won the Men’s Singles title at the 2017 ITTF Challenge Polish Open. He is supported by the voice of experience, 43 year old Segun Toriola, the Men’s Singles winner in Manchester in 2002, the first occasion that table tennis appeared in the Commonwealth Games. Bode Abiodun and Olajide Omotayo complete the Nigerian line-up; both are experienced internationally but arguably do not have the credentials of Quadri Aruna and Segun Toriola.
Possible outsiders for honours are Canada and Nigeria; Eugene Wang leads Canada, whilst for Australia, Yan Xin and Heming Yu, finalists in the Men’s Singles event at the recent Oceania Championships with the former the winner, lead Australia. The question is whether the remaining players in the selection can respond.
David Powell, Kane Townsend and the boomerang throwing Trent Carter complete the Australian team; Antoine Bernadet and Marko Medjugorac join forces with Eugene Wang.
A total of 17 countries compete in the Men’s Team event.