Bhubaneswar: Bolstered by home support and boosted by the recent Asia Cup triumph an energetic Indian team look to start off on a positive note when they on World No.2 Australia in a Pool B match of the Men’s World Hockey League Finals (HWLF) at the Kalinga Stadium here Friday.
Even though, India’s recent record against Australia has not been inspiring, the hosts are aiming for a fresh start. “We are not bothered about the past. We are building a team for the future and hence we are not bothered about Australia’s strengths. We would rather depend on our strengths,” coach Sjoerd Marijne said Thursday.
India have a very good balance of youth and experience. The likes of Harmanpreet Singh, Dipsan Tirkey and Amit Rohidas give the team a lot of positive energy. The return of Birendra Lakra and Rupinder Pal Singh has also bolstered the team strength.
“We have some good defenders in the team and now we have also improved a lot in attacking aspects. We have senior strikers like Lalit Uppadhay and Sannuvanda Uthappa. They are quite capable of opening up any defence line,” Marijne pointed out.
“The most important aspect of modern hockey is penalty conversion and Indians have improved in that art in leaps and bounds. Now we have four to six expert drag-flickers in our team. The likes of Rupinder, Harmanpreet and an improved Dipsan are great assets for the team. It gives us the chance to implement variations. Our approach to the tournament has been pretty realistic. However, we haven’t set ourselves any goals. Rather we would take it one match at a time,” the newly-appointed coach added.
For the Aussies, who finished sixth at the Rio Games, the upcoming HWLF is a chance for redemption. However, even before the start of the tournament, they have been handicapped by the absence of the Craig brothers (Ben and Tom) through injury. Lachlan Sharp and Jake Harvie have replaced the duo.
The team will heavily depend upon their experienced skipper Mark Knowles and senior striker Jake Whetton. The likes of Matt Dawson and Aran Zalewski have the experience of playing for the home team Kalinga Lancers in the HIL. Their experience will come in handy.
Coach Colin Batch has huge expectations from his youngsters. “It’s a great platform for them and I am hopeful that the talented guys will come with flying colours,” stated Batch.
Bhubaneswar: A format where all the eight teams qualify for the quarterfinals seems to be okay with both the Australian and Indian coaches. “Well it’s been the format for some time now. It may not suit the top sides, but at the moment, we can’t do anything about it. We’d rather focus on winning all the games we play,” stated Australian coach Colin Batch. His Indian counterpart Sjoerd Marijne also spoke on the same lines. “We want to win our first game and that’s where our focus is. Format has nothing to do with us,” he said.
Rajendra Kumar Mohapatra