It was at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games that Indian shooting turned a new leaf --- from the perennial also-rans it became a powerhouse in a sport long considered elite. Guide to shooting
A bulging tally of 69 medals --- 30 of them gold --- and a fourth-place finish was what India earned in Manchester and a lot of credit for that goes to the India marksmen.
The good work started by the shooters eight years back and repeated at the 2006 Melbourne Games, has once again turned the spotlight on them, even though their preparations in the run-up to the quadrennial Games has not been satisfactory.
But all that would count for nothing when the 28-member contingent, which boasts of an Olympic gold-medallist, World, Asian and Commonwealth champions, takes on the might of the Australians and British at the Karni Singh Ranges come October 3.
Of course, there would be many who would question the exclusion of a certain Sanjeev Rajput or a Joydeep Karmakar --- two of the best rifle marksmen in the country --- and the way the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) selection committee ignored their credentials, but overall this is still the best team competing in a top-notch event.
With the likes of Olympic and World Championship gold-medallist Abhinav Bindra, world champions Tejaswini Sewant and Manavjit Singh, world record holder in double-trap Ronjan Sodhi and the man who has won the maximum number of World Cup medals for the country, Gagan Narang, the list is endless.
Indian shooting has reached a stage where cutthroat competition allows no one to even sit back and bask in the glory of success. So, if a certain Samresh Jung was cornering limelight in Melbourne four years back, after clinching five gold medals, he barely managed to scrape into the team this time --- and that too in just one discipline, standard pistol.
Despite some controversies, consistency has been rewarded and that's the reason why many of those who were in the Melbourne contingent are still leading contenders this time around too.
In these intervening four years, Gagan and Ronjan are the two names that have held their own despite a milling crowd of upcoming shooters from all over the country. Fresh from his World Championship bronze medal in Munich, Gagan would be gunning for six gold in individual and team events (air rifle, 50m rifle three position and 50m rifle prone).
Perhaps, the onus would be on this 28-year-old Hyderabad shooter --- ignored for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna this year --- to lead by example. The world record holder in air rifle seemed downcast and even considered taking a break following the disappointment of not being considered for the biggest sporting honour, but that is history.
For Ronjan, the disappointment of not making it to the Beijing Olympic Games spurred him to become one of the best double-trap exponents in the world.
Challenge? In the last two editions of the Games, India shooters have virtually killed all opposition, but Australia and England, smarting from the 'bashing' they received in Manchester and Melbourne, would be gunning for the hosts. The Commonwealth Championships in February this year in Delhi were an indicator that the two would certainly be a force to reckon with.