Men's Pro League 2020 team profiles: India - All set to take on the world's best
The 2020 edition of the Men's Hockey Pro League featuring nine of the world's best teams is all set to begin.
Defending champions Australia, runners up Belgium, bronze-medalists the Netherlands, Great Britain, Argentina, Germany, Spain, and New Zealand will be joined by India in the upcoming season.
How do the teams stack up - and who are the players you need to keep an eye out for?
Sportskeeda sizes up the top teams - and we begin with India - who will aim to come good against the cream of the crop in Pro League 2020.
Team India: (WR #5)
After a period in the wilderness, the Indian men's team rose up the rankings to make their presence felt among the elite of the hockey world with rousing performances in the Hockey World League and Champions Trophy.
The resurgent Indians won two silvers in the last two editions of the historic Champions Trophy (2016 and 2018) which has now made way for the Hockey Pro League which began last year.
The worlds fifth-best team chose not to be part of the League in its inaugural season but will make their Pro League debut in 2020 as the only Asian side in the competition.
While the Indian forward line is among the best in the business, consistency - especially in high-pressure matches - remains a concern.
The Indians are one of the fittest teams in the world currently with a flair for counterattacks that can keep the best of defenders on their toes. The defence - for long considered the Achilles heel - has learned to be a lot steadier and tidier than before with the strikers not hesitant to fall behind when needed.
Manpreet Singh and co. play a brand of hockey that pleases the galleries no end - and whether at home or abroad, the stands are sure to erupt when the outrageously talented Indians take the field at the Pro League.
Lack of what the experts call big match temperament has done the Indians in once too often - and despite their much-improved speed, strength, and stamina the Men in Blue continue to stutter on the big stage much to the chagrin of their die-hard fans.
There are no easy games in the Pro League and a shorter version as compared to 2019 effectively means that no team can afford a bad day in the office if they are to finish amongst the top at the end of the tournament.
The Indians have not played any competitive matches involving ranking points with the top sides in the world ever since they lost to the Dutch in the quarterfinals of Odisha 2018 - and will cross swords against the same team at the same venue in the Pro League opener in less than two weeks.
The drag-flick department
The Indians now boast of a 4-man PC battery which may prove to be advantageous considering the fact that the Pro League involves no less than 9 teams and extra options will always be welcome.
Rupinder Pal Singh may no longer be the first choice but his experience will come in handy even as Harmanpreet aims to cement his position as one of the best drag-flickers in world hockey.
Varun Kumar has proved time and again that he can tilt the scales in India's favour when the going gets tough while Amit Rohidas will be the perfect surprise package at crunch times - the Odisha lad has never shied away from taking body blows while stopping the PCs too as the Indian postmen are fast learning to run down the opposition drag flickers with panache.
Players to look out for
The lethal drag-flicker is cool as a cucumber in his own circle as he intercepts the probing through balls, gets ahead of the lone lurking striker near the vicinity of the post, and times his tackles to perfection - every now and then he scampers off on a long sprint surveying the width of the field and whips off a long ball that catches the opposition on the wrong foot.
Harmanpreet exudes a sense of calm and total self-belief which also seems to rub off on those around him - so much so, that an Indian squad without the defender from Punjab - who turns 24 on January 6 - seems quite incomplete.
Vivek Sagar Prasad
Coached by Ashok Kumar, son of the legendary Dhyan Chand, the 19-year-old prodigy from Itarsi has been manning the Indian midfield with aplomb every since early 2018 and has done quite enough to earn the respect of his seniors and the love of his fans who hope that the immensely talented lad can usher in a new era for Indian hockey.
Along with Dilpreet Singh whose sublime skills upfront have not gone unnoticed and Hardik Singh who took Vivek's place at Odisha 2018, the Indian team is now brimming with a plethora of fresh talent - and let's not forget midfielder Jaskaran Singh who made his debut last year.
Chief Coach: Graham Reid
The former Aussie international, who was part of the Dutch camp prior to his Indian assignment which began last April has also coached the Kookaburras - and will be assisted by his former ward, Analytical Coach Chris Ciriello.
Ciriello who was with the Australian national team until 2016 is now an integral part of the Indian think-tank after having taken on the role in early 2018.
The Indians will play eight home and eight away matches - and as FIH CEO Thierry Weil pointed out, travel has been cut by half in the 2020 Pro League as compared to last year.
Teams which have home matches against a particular side in one season will play the away match next season.
Home Matches for 2020
India vs Netherlands - Bhubaneswar (January 18, 19)
India vs Belgium - Bhubaneswar (Feb 8, 9)
India vs Australia - Bhubaneswar (Feb 21, 22)
India vs New Zealand - Bhubaneswar (May 23, 24)
Away Matches for 2020
India vs Germany - Berlin (April 25, 26)
India vs Great Britain - London (May 2, 3)
India vs Argentina - San Miguel de Tucuman (June 5, 6)
India vs Spain - Valencia (June 13, 14)