Lightning struck twice for Liam Pitchford ©ITTF

England's men pulled off a major surprise on day one of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Team World Cup in Tokyo, defeating Japan 3-1.

The competition is doubling as a test event for next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games and it wasn’t the ideal start for the hosts.

Liam Pitchford was the star of the show for England, securing wins over world number five Tomokazu Harimoto and world number 11 Koki Niwa in Group B.

Pitchford has a great record against Harimoto having beaten him in the same event in London last year, and he edged a five-game thriller, 6-11, 11-7, 11-8, 9-11, 11-8.

Japan had earlier won the opening doubles 11-7, 11-6, 11-7, thanks to Niwa and Maharu Yoshimura defeating Paul Drinkhall and Tom Jarvis.

But further singles brilliance from Drinkhall gave England a 2-1 advantage, thanks to a victory over Yoshimura, 11-2. 4-11, 7-11, 11-3, 11-9.

The Japan team knows their form will have to improve ©ITTF
The Japan team knows their form will have to improve ©ITTF

Pitchford then stunned the home crowd with a comprehensive 3-0 (11-8, 12-10, 11-5) triumph over Niwa.

Japan did, however, bounce back to record a crucial 3-1 victory over Austria.

England face Austria tomorrow, with the top-two qualifying for the quarter-finals.

But there were no surprises in Group A, as defending men’s champions China comfortably defeated Nigeria and Chinese Taipei by the same scoreline, 3-0.

It was also a strong day for Germany’s men in Group C, with 3-0 victories over Australia and Brazil.

Group D is being dominated by Republic of Korea, with early wins against the United States and Sweden.

In the women's tournament China are also the defending champions and they got their campaign off to a perfect start.

They only dropped one game in comprehensive 3-0 victories over Egypt and Ukraine.

Japan showed the same consistency of performance, defeating Austria and the United States.