Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will be India’s first international test of 2016
The Coal India Hockey India League was undoubtedly a resounding success. Now with the much-hyped league over, the focus will shift to the national team’s preparations.
Of course, 2016 is a crucial year as this is the Olympic year with the showpiece event happening in Rio de Janeiro in July-August.
The national team players are taking a much-deserved break after exhausting their batteries in the Coal India Hockey India League and will hit the national camp in the first week of March.
We are almost into the third month of 2016 and India is yet to play its first international tournament of the tournament.
There is still some time for that to happen as the national senior men’s hockey team will hit the competitive pitch in the 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which will be held in Ipoh, Malaysia from April 6-16.
The 25th edition will feature defending champions New Zealand, last year’s runners-up Australia, who are the current world champions, Pakistan, Canada, hosts Malaysia, and Japan.
India had won a bronze medal at the 2015 edition, having won the event five times -1985, 1991, 1995, 2009 and 2010, finishing runners-up once in 2008, and bagging the bronze medal six times - 1983, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2015.
The 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will attach significance as India will be more than keen to start their international programme for 2016 on a winning note so that the Olympic preparations are smooth.
But it will not be easy as India will have to counter Australia, who are a formidable opponent having won the tournament a record eight times – winning the 2013 and 2014 editions on the trot.
New Zealand, Pakistan, and Malaysia will also be worthy opponents. Pakistan will be on a high after winning the SAF Games, while Malaysia will look to make an impact under new coach Stephen van Huizen.
South Korea is the only team to miss out from the 2015 edition, being replaced by Pakistan. Canada will feature in the event like last year, but only as a last-minute entrant after Great Britain pulled out, with Japan being the seventh team.
The seven-nation tournament will be vital for four teams - Australia, India, New Zealand and Canada – who will be using the tournament as their build-up to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.