Having faced and succeeded against Belgium and Netherlands, the Indian men’s hockey team now has the challenge of taking on defending champions Australia in the second edition of FIH Pro League. Traditionally, the Kookaburras have been a side that has bothered India the most over the years.
But India would be high on confidence after their brilliant performances against the Dutch and Belgian sides and we can expect to see two high-intensity encounters in the Kalinga Stadium of Bhubaneswar.
The Australian team has arrived in India and is gearing up for those two matches. Let’s whet our appetite for the upcoming games by looking at six key players who will feature in the contest and would be most exciting to watch, players who may prove to be the difference makers for their respective sides.
#1 Chinglensana Singh
Till injury forced him out of the team last year, Chinglensana Singh was India’s most important playmaker in the midfield. His good work in feeding the forwards had proved to be a key component of India’s success. However, he got injured at a time when coach Graham Reid was refashioning the side.
While he was recovering from injury, the midfielder from Manipur was awarded the Arjuna Award for his stellar service to Indian hockey. Now that he is back in the team, he is trying to regain his top form.
At the moment, he seems to be still settling back into the team. Now that he has played a few games, one would expect him to get into his groove against Australia. Watch out for his performance in the two matches.
#2 Tom Craig
Running with the ball and dodging defenders is thought to be a distinctly subcontinental style of play in hockey. However, there is one player in the Australian team who does this as well as anyone else.
Tom Craig should be a familiar name to Indian hockey fans as he played in the Hockey India League as well. But as a forward for Australia, he has produced some good performances at the international level also. What distinguishes him is the ability to generate great bursts of speed up the pitch which can leave defenders in a dizzy.
It would be a very interesting contest between him and the Indian defenders when their teams clash.
#3 Dilpreet Singh
Member of the 2016 Junior World Cup-winning team, Dilpreet Singh hasn’t yet fully sealed his place in the team. However, a very good performance in the Sultan of Johor Cup final last year improved his chances.
Now, as we enter the last leg of preparations for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, he is among the forwards being tried out by coach Graham Reid. He played a key role in the first goal that India scored in the first match.
But there is a lot more that this young striker can offer. He has tremendous dribbling and dodging skills and when in full flow, could use them to create trouble for the opposition. He would have to fight for his spot with various other forwards that coach Reid is trying out for assessment ahead of Tokyo Games.
If he gets a go, watching him play up to his potential would be a delightful experience.
#4 Jake Whetton
Jake Whetton plays as an attacking midfielder for the Australian team and is quite a dynamic player. For Australia to play in their usual attacking flair, he will have to be a big performer. Unlike some of the other players, Whetton isn’t physically imposing but is more like the legendary Jamie Dwyer in his physique.
But like him, though obviously not yet as good as him, he knows how to make his way through the midfield and slice through the defence of the opposition. Yet, being a truly modern player, he is quick across the turf and can get back deep into his own half for helping the defence also.
Australia, over the years, have been a heavy scoring side against India. But the new Indian team possesses a stronger defence that won’t be easy to break through. This is where Whetton’s challenge would lie.
#5 Krishan Pathak
In the matches against Belgium, India decided to have a revolving system for the goalkeepers, as part of which, Krishan Pathak and P Sreejesh shared the responsibilities of manning the goalpost. Pathak has done his job admirably.
If the plan for the Indian team is to not rely on Sreejesh alone and instead use two goalkeepers in a match, a trend that is catching up in the world of hockey, then Pathak’s progress would be keenly watched. He did a very good job against Belgium and the same would be expected of him against Australia.