Michael Nobbs perceives the Azlan Shah hockey tournament, starting on Saturday at Ipoh, as the platform for Indian juniors.
His goal is not a podium finish, nor even a decent placing among the six contestants. The target is the junior World Cup in Delhi this December.
Nobbs deserves plaudits for his pragmatism. Every coach aims at moulding new formations. And when it comes at someone’s expense, as the Azlan Shah event does, the occasion cannot be overlooked. By opting to field 11 juniors in the 18-member squad, Nobbs attempts to brew a new blend.
India is not an exception in looking at this edition as a venue to experiment. All the top teams have lost a set of players after the London Olympics. But India looks the best junior squad at Ipoh.
While the focus may still be on stars like Rupinder Pal Singh and Gurvinder Singh Chandi, it will be of interest to observe how well players like Sushant Tirkey (goal-keeper), Satbir Singh, Mandeep Singh, Chengelensana and Gurjinder shape up in the face of formidable challenges.
New Zealand is the defending champion under the veteran Dean Couzins. It is the best bet to retain the trophy under the new Australian coach Colin Batch.
Interestingly, apart from Pakistan and Korea, the rest of the four teams have foreign coaches. Among them three - Ric Charlesworth, Colin Batch and Michael Nobbs - hail from Australia. Malaysia’s Paul Revington is a former Ireland coach from South Africa.
Australia retains a few who figured in the Olympics. Undoubtedly, it will be the main challenger for the Kiwis. Rob Hammond leads the Aussies under stalwart coach Ric Charlesworth.
The Aussies, six time winner, face India in the second match on Saturday.
The outcome of this tie will showcase the strength, or the lack of it, of the new-look Indian team, which, Micheal Nobbs believes will be the nucleus for the Asia Cup and World Championships.
Saturday’s matches: New Zealand v Pakistan; India v Australia; Korea v Malaysia.