Hockey

India look to put best foot forward at Sultan Azlan Shah Cup

Making their maiden journey with the national squad now are defender Gurinder Singh and the midfield duo of Sumit and Manpreet Singh Junior

Making their maiden journey with the national squad now are defender Gurinder Singh and the midfield duo of Sumit and Manpreet Singh Junior   | Photo Credit: PTI

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India were runners-up to nine-time champions Australia last year

Runners-up at the last edition, India would look to go one step further as they start their campaign in the 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup with a game against Great Britain in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Saturday.

India were runners-up to nine-time champions Australia last year and Harmanpreet Singh played a crucial role in the team’s success.

Making his senior India debut at Ipoh last season, Harmanpreet impressed one and all as he accompanied seasoned defenders Rupinderpal Singh and VR Raghunath to the Champions Trophy in London and then to the Olympics within four months.

India would be hoping that Harmanpreet will be a big inspiration to three uncapped players in this tournament.

Like Harmanpreet, midfielder Harpreet Singh, who captained the Junior World Cup champion side, and striker Mandeep Singh have in the past earned their senior grade spurs through the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Making their maiden journey with the national squad now are defender Gurinder Singh and the midfield duo of Sumit and Manpreet Singh Junior.

“The script of Harmanpreet’s graduation to the senior team is a big inspiration to follow for the youngsters who have come here,” coach Roelant Oltmans said on the eve of India’s opening fixture against Great Britain.

“We also have many experienced players who form the core of the squad and ensure that the youngsters do not come under intense pressure. We’ll be trying out new combinations and formations as we start the year that leads to important tournaments like the Asia Cup and the World League Finals,” said Oltmans.

Having climbed to No. 6 in the world rankings, India go into the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup to prepare a team that can give an impressive performance at the World League Semifinals in London in June.

Oltmans and the support staff will be looking at the players’ performances closely here to see which of them can last the course until the World Cup next year, which will also witness India featuring in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.

A successful defence of the Asian Games title can book India a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The senior members of the squad are aware that they too are under scrutiny as the four-year cycle to the 2020 Olympics starts.

“Starting an important season in the new four-year Olympic cycle, we are among the teams in transition,” said Oltmans. “It is a challenge that will help us assess where we stand at the start of the year filled with exciting hockey competitions.”

Five-time winners of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, India are the second highest-ranked team in this six-nation event where world No. 2 Australia will launch the defence of their title against Oceania rivals New Zealand.

The Indian team was on Friday welcomed at the stadium by torrential showers that have brought in a new dimension to the hockey event.

The tropical weather is expected to bother Great Britain more than the Indians, but the seasonal monsoon showers that have been coming down with intense force every afternoon has left Oltmans worried.

“Four of our five matches in the round-robin league are scheduled in the afternoon. I hope the rain does not spoil out games,” said Oltmans about the weather conditions that are a bother for the organisers, who in 2010 had to declare India and South Korea as joint champions due to flooding of the pitch on the day of the final.

More than the daily showers, it’s the accompanying lightning that has become an issue of discussion between the tournament director and the organisers.

When lightning occurs, hockey match being played on synthetic turfs are suspended midway to avert any danger to players and match officials on the pitch.

India’s schedule:

April 29: vs Great Britain

April 30: vs New Zealand

May 2: vs Australia

May 3: vs Japan

May 5: vs Malaysia.

The Final, playoffs for bronze and for the fifth place will be on May 6.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 2:30:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/hockey/india-look-to-put-best-foot-forward-at-sultan-azlan-shah-cup/article18301823.ece

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