TABLE TENNIS: Douglas in firing line

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At the age of 39, Desmond Douglas could find himself playing a central role when he makes his comeback for England in the World Championships in Tianjin today.

Five years after last playing for his country, the 11-times former national champion finds he is likely to be unexpectedly crucial to the action in China, because of an injury to the national champion, Carl Prean.

Prean, after failing to win the Commonwealth title in Singapore last week, is talking of taking five days off with a knee injury, something which has upset the England manager, Denis Neale, and could place in danger the men's status in the top category.

That is more important than ever because the next World Championships are in Manchester, where the presence of the home country at the highest level would be a major promotional asset.

Neale is said to be considering sending Prean home before next week's individual events if he cannot play a significant role for England in the team event.

This means that Douglas - who was originally selected to make carefully chosen appearances as first reserve because the England No 1, Matthew Sayed, is taking his final exams at Oxford University - may now have a heavy burden placed upon his stamina and consistency.

This would also increase the focus on England's outstanding player, the former World Cup winner, Chen Xinhua, who has already been a centre of attention since his return to his home country three days ago.

The 35-year-old has put his house in Yorkshire up for sale, is talking about quitting the game at the end of next week and returning to China, and of forgetting his ambition to play for Britain in next year's Olympic Games.

Good performances in the campaign which begins against Belgium today may help Chen change his mind. The women begin against Germany, also today.