The four-nation tournament down under
India set foot on Australian shores with firstly the four-nation “International Festival of Hockey” tournament against the hosts Australia, their neighbors New Zealand and Malaysia. The four-nation tournament begins from 23rd November in Melbourne, Australia with the finals to be held on 27th November.
This would be immediately followed up by a 3 test match series against Australia, an annual affair between these sides.
Players and roles
Injuries to SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh, have given a chance to the fresh faces of Satbir Singh and Mohammad Amir Khan. With PR Sreejesh ruled out, Akash Chitke would be the team's custodian and looks confident after his heroics in the finals of the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy.
India has also taken in rookie Abhinav Kumar Pandey in the squad as the reserve goalkeeper.
This tournament also marks the return of VR Raghunath who was out injured and has now been given the captain's armband. He alongside Rupinder would take up the drag-flicking duties. They would team up with veteran Birendra Lakra to shore up the defense.
Their presence would mean India would not miss the services of drag-flicking dynamite Harmanpreet Singh who would be representing India in the Under-21 Hockey Junior World Cup in Lucknow.
Manpreet also makes a return to the squad after recovering from his injury and in all likelihood, Akashdeep would partner him in midfield. Akash is all up for the surprise new midfield playmaker's role that he got when Manpreet was injured in the Asian Champions Trophy earlier. On quote:
“I played as a midfielder in a match during the Spain tour earlier this year. But this was a whole tournament. I enjoyed this role very much,” - Akashdeep Singh relishes his new midfield role.
— sreejesh p r (@16Sreejesh) November 10, 2016
With Danish Mujtaba out and, he along with Sardar reaching their 30's, the onus lies in developing another playmaker in the midfield role to serve India good in the coming years. Akashdeep's former coach Avtar Singh is not a big fan of his new position but strongly believes that this could help him groom into a more complete player.
Here is what he has to say about Akashdeep's new role:
“These experiments will give Akash the confidence and experience to become a complete forward. Over time, he can become a central striker who can constantly shift into the role of a play-maker, behind the other strikers in a match.” - Akashdeep's former coach Avtar Singh.
Nikkin Thimmaiah would be beaming with confidence, courtesy his winner against Pakistan in the final of the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy. He would try to replicate his form in the absence of both Ramandeep Singh and SV Sunil.
Both Talwinder Singh and Affan Yousuf were retained and would try to repay the faith instilled in them by the team management by ably supporting Nikkin and linking up play from the flanks.
A rejuvenated Australia
India begin their campaign against world number one, Australia. Australia will be playing in the competition after a long break post-Olympics and would be fresh and raring to go. Both Australia and New Zealand played the trans-Tasman tourament as a practice for this tournament in mid-November.
The Kookaburras have put an experimental squad with the likes of Chris Ciriello, Mark Knowles, the Matthews - Swann & Dawson and veteran and talisman playmaker Jamie Dwyer rested. Also missing are the likes of Glenn Turner and Matt Gohdes.
The forward line also brings backs the Grovers brothers of Kieran & Blake and also Trent Mitton. Whereas the midfield is bolstered by Simon Orchard and Aran Zalewski, the latter captaining the side having completed 100 games just recently. Jeremy Hayward would love to get some goals with his lethal drag flicks.
Australia have always been threatening at home and in all likelihood would like to add another trophy to their already illustrious cabinet. India should take heart from the fact that around the same time last year, they had defeated Australia in the test series.
This encounter also has bearing on the rankings as Australia are the highest ranked team in the world and defeating them would allow India to earn some much-needed points and up their rank in the latest FIH rankings.
The Kiwis - A bird too difficult to catch!
New Zealand has been a team below India in the rankings for much of the last few years. However, on a given match day they have more or less come out stronger against India. Much like Australia, New Zealand have also been well rested and come to this tournament after the Olympics i.e. a 3-month break.
India would look to shut them early and deny any chances in the final quarter where the Kiwis have looked far stronger and hold an upper hand against the Indians.
India would like to replicate the form of the semifinal of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow UK where Sardar Singh was given a one-match disciplinary ban, where Manpreet captained and led the team to a fantastic 2-1 victory in a humdinger of a match.
Malaysia - the surprise package
Malaysia as a team have been very consistent in all home tournaments, be it the yearly fixtures in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup or the recently concluded Asian Champions Trophy where they bagged the bronze. However, it would be interesting to see how Malaysia adapt away from home.
Being the lowest ranked team they have no pressure riding on them and would like to scalp at least one big fish in their campaign. Faizal Saari's drag flicks and attacking play has always been a cause of worry. He is like a jack in the box and India needs to contain him from scoring.
2nd place (this also justifies the minimum position India should attain given their ranking)
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.
Live Stream via Epicentre.tv. at http://www.epicentre.tv/events/international-festival-of-hockey-aus-nz-geo-blocked/