The 22nd edition of Commonwealth Games begins in Birmingham from July 28, which will be another opportunity Indian athletes get to shine on the world stage a year after the record-breaking medal haul at Tokyo Olympics.
India are sending a strong contingent with the presence of Olympic medallists and world class athletes. Shooting, a traditional heavyweight sport for India, has been excluded from this edition but India are expected to maintain their dominance in sports like wrestling and boxing.
Here are India's top ten prospects for the gold medal and an analysis of their form, competing field and history at CWG.
PV Sindhu - Badminton
Sindhu already possesses a gold in the Commonwealth Games, albeit in the mixed team event from 2018 - where she also claimed a silver in the singles after losing to Saina Nehwal. This time in Birmingham, she will aim to make it two golds from two events. Sindhu will go into the singles competition as the favourite for the gold - she will be the top ranked athlete (world No 7) and she will not have to face tricky opponents like Tai Tzu Ying and Ratchanok Intanon.
Sindhu hasn't won any major tournaments this year, but she still has three titles to her name. She won two Super 300 crowns - the Syed Modi International and Swiss Open - and the Singapore Open, a Super 500 title in July. She has been making deep runs in World Tour tournaments, having reached the semifinals seven times and quarters 10 times across 13 tournaments (excluding Uber Cup), while also winning a bronze in the Asian Championship.
As mentioned above, Sindhu will not face her usual nemeses from the BWF tours. The next best in terms of rankings are Canada's world No 13 and 2014 champion Michelle Li, Scotland's world No 18 Kristy Gilmour and Singapore's world No 19 Yeo Jia Min. Sindhu has a better head-to-head record against Li (8-2) and Jia Min (1-0) while she won one and lost another in the two matches she played against Gilmour.
Mirabai Chanu - Weightlifting
Like Sindhu, Mirabai Chanu also has multiple medals at the world stage, and she will look to add a second CWG gold medal in Birmingham after taking top spot in the previous edition. She is a clear favorite to win her event as her personal best of lifting 207 kg is way above her rivals at the Games.
This is only the third event since her silver medal winning effort at the Tokyo Olympics. She participated in the Singapore Weightlifting International earlier in 2022 to win gold (in 55kg and not in her favoured 49kg) and followed it up with another gold in the Khelo India national ranking women's weightlifting tournament with a total lift of 191kg (86kg in snatch + 105kg in clean and jerk).
The next best in the 49kg category is Nigeria's Stella Kingsley, whose personal best is 168kg (72kg snatch +96kg clean and jerk). So, judging by the numbers, Mirabai will not face tough competition in this event.
Murali Sreeshankar - Long jump
India's athletics team will be hoping to win at least two gold medals in Birmingham with Neeraj and Sreeshankar being the best bets. Sreeshankar has been consistently hitting the 8m mark this season and his best, a national record of 8.36m, is the second-best jump in the world this year and the best among athletes from Commonwealth nations.
Sreeshankar went into the World Championships with plenty of expectation, but he didn't make an impact in terms of pushing for a medal. He jumped 8m in the qualification and finished 7th in the final with a best jump of 7.96m. However, he has been performing consistently since the start of the season with seven 8m+ jumps, which bodes really well for his chances.
At the Worlds, the top six jumpers were not from Commonwealth nations. After Sreeshankar, the next best was Wayne Pinnock of Jamaica and Australia's Henry Frayne. Both the jumpers' season best is below Sreeshankar's. Bahamas' LaQuan Nairn, Australia's Christopher Mitrevski and South Africa's Jovan van Vuuren and Ruswahl Samaai will make the competition tougher but considering form and consistency, Sreeshankar has the best shot for gold.
Nikhat Zareen - Boxing
The world champion in the 52kg category will shift to a new category - 50kg - in the Commonwealth Games, but that doesn't mean her chances for a gold medal in Birmingham have taken a hit. The weight difference is not much, and she has been at her dominating best this season.
Earlier this year, Nikhat won gold at the prestigious Strandja Memorial boxing tournament and followed it up by becoming world champion in Istanbul, Turkey. At the Strandja Memorial, she defeated two big names - Buse Naz Cakiroglu, who won silver at the Tokyo Olympics, and Tetiana Bob, a three-time European champion. At the World Championships, she made it to the final winning the four bouts by a 5-0 unanimous decision. She also had a flawless campaign in the trials for the Commonwealth Games.
Nikhat will face competition from the likes of Savannah Stubley of England and Northern Ireland's Carly McNaul but the Indian boxer is expected to beat them. McNaul made it to the quarters for the World Championships before losing to Brazil's Caroline de Almeida. Nikhat then defeated Almeida in the semifinal.
Ravi Dahiya - Wrestling
A silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics was just the beginning for wrestler Ravi Dahiya. He raised the expectation levels with a superb show in Tokyo and now Ravi will want to live up to those in Birmingham. Clinching a gold medal is not an easy task but there's no better wrestler in the 57kg category than Ravi.
Since the Olympics, Ravi has participated in the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov 2022 wrestling tournament in Bulgaria and the Asian Wrestling Championships in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. He won silver in the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov event, although this came in the 61kg weight class. He was back to his favourite category for the Ulaanbaatar event and won a gold. This was Ravi's third consecutive gold medal at the Asian Championships.
Apart from India, wrestlers from Canada and Nigeria have dominated the event in the Commonwealth Games. Darthe Capellan of Canada is one to watch out for but beating Ravi will take some effort.
Bajrang Punia - Wrestling
This will be the third time Bajrang will be participating in the Commonwealth Games after winning a silver in 2014 and a gold in 2018. Like the previous edition, the competition is not expected to be tough for the Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist and anything less than a gold will be a disappointment for Bajrang.
Bajrang was out for many months post the Olympics after aggravating a knee injury in Tokyo. He made a successful return to the mat at the Asian Championships 2022, where he won a silver despite feeling the aftereffects of a long injury layoff. A month later, he won the bronze medal at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Despite not being at his best, Bajrang managed to win medals at two tough competitions.
As is the case with wrestling, the top athletes from Asian powerhouses will not be present. It will take an immense effort to beat a wrestler of Bajrang's calibre and talent, even though he might not be at his best yet.
Manika Batra - Table tennis
Manika will want to increase her gold medal tally in the Commonwealth Games, having already won two in the previous edition (in women's singles and women's team events). Going by the rankings, Manika is the second best in the singles field and can push for the medal in the mixed-doubles as well where she and G Sathiyan are World No 6.
Manika has gained a lot of experience since her stellar performance at the CWG 2018, but she also had to endure off-field issues in 2021. In 2022, she participated in five events, with the best result being the quarterfinal spot in the WTT Contender Muscat 2022. Manika and Sathiyan consistently made deep runs in tournaments this year as a mixed doubles pair. They qualified for the final in the WTT Contender Doha event and made it to the semis of WTT Star Contenders European Summer Series in Budapest.
Manika and Indian players will once again be up against Singapore, who have the record of winning most medals table tennis in the Games. If there are no hiccups, Manika might face World no. 16 Feng Tianwei, who has three Olympic medals, in the singles final. She had defeated Tianwei at the Gold Coast Games to make it to the final. Similarly, Manika and Sathiyan might have to overcome the experienced duo of Wong Chun-ting and Doo Hoi-kem to win the gold medal.
Lovlina Borgohain - Boxing
India is sending a strong boxing contingent to Birmingham and Lovlina is another strong contender to win the gold medal in the 70kg category. A bronze medallist in the Tokyo Olympics, Lovlina will aim to win her first medal at the Commonwealth Games.
A lot was expected out of Lovlina at this year's World Championships, but she lost in the pre quarterfinals. However, that was the first tournament since the Olympics and she likely wasn't at her best. Lovlina put out a much better performance in the Commonwealth Games trials to seal her spot.
Although the field shouldn't be tough, she's expected to get some competition from Mozambique's Alcinda Panguana in the run up to the gold. Panguana went to the quarter-final of the Tokyo Olympics and followed it up with a silver medal at the World Championships.
Indian men's hockey team
There's a really good chance for the Indian men's hockey team to end the Aussie dominance (six gold medals in six editions) in hockey and pick up their first Commonwealth Games gold medal in Birmingham. Led by Manpreet Singh, the team boasts of players with plenty of international experience and match winners.
The team won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics and followed it up with a third-place finish in the FIH Pro League. Penalty corner specialist Harmanpreet Singh scored 18 goals from 16 matches, the highest in this season's Pro League. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh's presence is always an advantage while the team added a promising forward in Abhishek, who impressed with his finishing skills - scoring six field goals in the Pro League matches.
Australia, England and New Zealand are the teams to beat. England finished below India in the Pro League while Australia and New Zealand missed the entire tournament due to COVID-19 restrictions. India will face England in the group stage and might meet Australia or New Zealand in the semifinals. The advantage India have is that they faced high quality opponents in the last one year and did well.
Nitu - Boxing
Nitu, who's a two-time world youth gold-medallist, will aim to make her mark in Birmingham with a gold medal in the senior category. She will be participating in the 48 kg, which has been Mary Kom's category for years and the one in which she won the gold at previous edition's Commonwealth Games. Nitu is one of the quickest boxer in the category and like Mary Kom, she'll be hoping to maintain India's dominance for years.
Nitu excelled in the youth championships before making progressing to the senior level. At the Strandja Memorial boxing tournament in February this year, Nitu clinched the gold with her aggressive performances in all the bouts. She was just one win away from winning a medal at the 2022 World Championships, having made it to the quarterfinals.
It looks like Nitu's biggest competition for the gold will be England boxer Demie-Jade Resztan. She won bronze at the Women's World Boxing Championships 2019 and made it to the quarterfinals of the 2022 event.
NOTE: This article earlier included the name of Neeraj Chopra but he pulled out of the Commonwealth Games due to an injury.