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

Hockey: India look to put best foot forward at Sultan Azlan Shah Cup – India, who were runners-up to nine-time champions Australia last year, play Great Britain in their opening match on Saturday.

(File Photo)

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 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 team 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 team 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 and 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.

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.