Indian women face Azeri test

Hosts prepare for Oly qualifier

Indian women have been polishing their skills in the national hockey camp since a fortnight and face their first test in a four-match series against Azerbaijan, beginningon  Sunday, ahead of February's Olympic qualifier.

The series is more about India guaging its preparedness for the qualifiers than proving a point by winning it. All the 32 India probables will be tested in this series, before a final squad is penciled in. The competition among the players will, therefore, be intense and this should go in India's favour.

A number of senior players like Joydeep Kaur, Jasjeet Kaur, Mukta Prava Barla, Chanchan Devi and Saba Anjum -- who were not in India's tour to Argentina in December owing to injuries and personal reasons -- will also be closely watched by the selectors.

Though coach CR Kumar brushed away the worries about the players’ fitness, he admitted players recovering from injuries are yet to return to their best.

“The injuries are not serious. I do not want to push them because I need them to be at their best during the qualifier. The series is the time for the players to peak,” Kumar told reporters on the eve of the match. “It is part of our preparation for the qualifier and we have to take it seriously.”

Though Azerbaijan are a couple of rungs lower than India at 15th place and were twice beaten by India in the Champions Challenge, the Indians feel they are capable of giving them the required tune-up for the qualifiers.

“All the top teams are playing in the Champions Trophy in Rosario, so we had no choice but to go for Azerbaijan. Their standard has risen since Champions Challenge,” Kumar said.

The teams played two warm-up games, both ending in a 3-3 and 2-2 draw. Kumar said the result is no reflection on the team's performance as he had introduced a lot of junior players during the two games.

The players have been working on their shortcomings since their lackluster outing in Australia and Argentina, specially on their goal scoring. “We were able to score through penalties but it is in field scoring we missed a lot easy chances. I want the strikers to score.” India captain Asunta Lakra said the team is an improved lot now.

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