A new look India are all set to reclaim the top spot in Asia after 12 years as they begin their campaign against Japan at the fourth edition of the Asian Champions Trophy organised by the Asian Hockey Federation. The tournament will be held in Kuantan, Malaysia, starting today i.e. 20 October 2016, and India start as tournament favourites; after all, they are the highest-ranked team in the tournament!
Let’s take a look at the squad and its chances of lifting the trophy.
The squad has been injury-plagued, which has forced head coach Roelant Oltmans to recall some of his rested players. Three key players out due to injury are as below.
1) SV Sunil – wrist injury
2) Manpreet Singh – groin injury
3) VR Raghunath – elbow injury
All of these three are currently at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) complex in Bengaluru for rehabilitation. This has led to some forced experiments as Oltmans stated,
“We have several options and I don’t see this as a setback for us at all. We will most probably play Pardeep Mor and Akashdeep on the midfield for this tournament,” – Coach Oltmans on the injury setbacks.
The defence is led by none other than captain PR Sreejesh, who recently also won the 28th Jimmy George Foundation Award for the best sportsperson in the state of Kerala. He has been rock solid in the goal with his acrobatic saves over the last two years. Sreejesh has been a major factor in India’s rise in world hockey, and was deservedly promoted to become captain of the team.
Is Jasjit Singh Kular an able replacement to Raghunath (lost due to injury) and Harmanpreet, who is rested due to fear of burnout? One would only get to know the answer to this question as the tournament progresses. With his lethal drag flicks, Kular can be an able deputy to Rupinder Pal Singh, although he needs to step up in defence.
This tournament also marks the return of talisman Birendra Lakra, who missed the Rio Olympics due to lack of fitness. This was after he was rushed into play in the six-nation friendly in Valencia, Spain earlier this year prior to the Olympics after his surgery.
“I’m excited to be back. I want to contribute the same way I used to before. If you keep thinking about the injury, you’ll never be able to play.” – Lakra’s views when quizzed on his comeback.
With SV Sunil injured, 24-year-old midfielder Manpreet Singh was assigned to be Sreejesh's deputy for the tournament. However with him also ruled out due to an injury, the onus fell on the tall and sturdy Rupinder Pal Singh to be the vice-captain of the team.
Rupinder will provide both calmness and stability to Kular, and their defensive combination along with Lakra is something that will make or break matches for India. Moreover, Kothajit and Surender also provide much-needed cover as and when needed.
The tried and tested duo of Chinglensana and Devinder should start feeding the forwards more. The onus as always is on star player Sardar Singh to provide a bit of magic and link up play with not just Uthappa in midfield but also Thimmiah and Ramandeep up front.
It would be interesting to see how Akashdeep adapts to this new role. But given the master tactician that Oltmans is, one can be assured that he would bring the best out of Akashdeep and add another versatile player to India’s growing list in the last couple of years.
India’s forward line had been wasteful in the Rio Olympics, with very few goals in the tournament group phases. In SV Sunil’s absence, this would hurt India even more. The Asian Champions Trophy is a make-or-break tournament for Talwinder, who has to score some goals to keep knocking on the door and remind Oltmans of the quality at his disposal.
All the in-form players in the recently held Obaidullah Khan Heritage Hockey Cup in Bhopal and the MCC-Murugappa Cup in Chennai have been rewarded. We can see the ever-hungry and raring to go Affan Yousuf and Lalit Kumar Upadhyay also back in the side.
Lalit Kumar Upadhyay
Japan and China are two teams against whom India should be assured of a victory.
The teams to be wary of; that will decide the goal difference and the play-off spots –
India vs Korea
India vs Malaysia
On Sunday, 23 October, against defending champions Pakistan.
Here is the list of fixtures; all the matches will be telecast live on the Star Sports network (Star Sports 4/HD4 and Hotstar) in India.