The current hockey test series between 8th ranked India and 7th ranked New Zealand presents a great opportunity for the Indians to fine-tune their preparations for the FIH Hockey World League Finals which will be held in Bhubaneshwar and ultimately, the 2016 Rio Olympics.
While India have already qualified for the tournament, New Zealand can still manage to reach the Olympics if they emerge as the Oceania Champions. But, the World Number 1 Australia awaits as the stumbling block for their ambitions. Hence, playing India will help them get into groove for the Oceania Cup which begins on the 17th of October.
During the 1950s, Field Hockey provided the much-needed succor to people in the Indian subcontinent. But, while they have not quite managed to recapture the magic of yesteryear, the current Indian hockey team are enjoying a recent resurgence in their performances. With expectations gradually increasing, India are marching towards the Rio Olympics with renewed hope.
Despite administrative squabbles ensuring that efficient coaches such as Terry Walsh and Paul Van Ass quit the job for different reasons, the players have regrouped admirably under the guidance of High Performance Director, Roelant Oltmans. Captain Sardar Singh must be given due credit for his calm leadership skills which have enabled his troops to rally around him.
After they won the Asian Games in 2014 against arch-rivals Pakistan, India became the first country to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. India continued their fine run with a historic 3-1 test series win against the mighty Australians. However, their disappointing result in the 2014 Champions Trophy and inconsistent show in the FIH World League Semi-finals proved that there are still quite a few chinks in the armor that the opposition teams will be eagerly waiting to exploit.
The primary deficiency plaguing the team is conceding late goals which has cost them several high-profile matches. Even though Rupinder Pal Singh and Dharamvir Singh have gained pace, their inconsistent and nervy handling of the ball is a huge concern for the team-management.
Custodian PR Sreejesh has often been the savior with his uncanny tendency to get into difficult positions to stop the ball. India had a massive chance to groom a back-up goal-keeping option. But, the team management has not considered testing the bench-strength of the squad.
Even the attacking play will have to be orchestrated by the usual suspects in Ramandeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmiah. With the coaching staff opting to remain in the comfort zone of packing up the mid-field, the team exudes a sense of predictability which could hamper their development.
With a packed schedule in store for the “Blue Sticks”, there remains a high probability of last-minute injuries and burn-outs which may test the resolve of Sardar Singh’s men.
Testing times ahead for Simon Child’s New Zealand
Meanwhile for the New Zealand team, the objective is simple. The coach, Colin Batch would want to establish a settled squad with efficiently formulated strategies. Forwards Marcus Child and James Coughlan will have to co-ordinate with star striker Simon Child who is also the captain.
The defensive line which includes the likes of Nick Haig and Brad Shaw is vastly experienced and is expected to support the veteran goal-keeper Kyle Pontifex. The iconic Ryan Archibald remains the crucial link between attack and defense.
The “Black Sticks” who have gained the reputation of being mentally resilient will have to perform exceedingly to win the OFC Cup and book a ticket to Rio De Janeiro. They will look to start their redemption with a win against the formidable Indians.
With the series locked at 1-1, the last two matches take place at Christchurch on 9th and 11th of October.