New-look India face mighty Australia in Azlan Shah opener

New-look India face mighty Australia in Azlan Shah opener

It will be a test of character for a young and new-look Indian team when it takes on the world champions Australia in its opening encounter of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament here tomorrow.

The match between six-time champions Australia and five-time winners India is being billed as the clash of the day.

India's chief coach Michael Nobbs came here with a development squad, led by Danish Mujtaba, after resting six of his senior players, including inspirational skipper Sardar Singh for the tournament.

Nobbs saw the Azlan Shah Cup to build a strong reserve pool for Indian hockey as he opted to rest some key players like Sardar Singh, S V Sunil and V R Raghunath and instead blooded in youngsters.

The fact that India's junior team coach Baljit Singh Saini is accompanying the side is an indication that the team management is looking far beyond the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Some of the young names that came to the fore during the inaugural Hockey India League -- Mandeep Singh, Malak Singh, Gurjinder Singh, Gurmail Singh, Amit Rohidas, PT Rao and Sushant Tirkey -- will get a much-needed international exposure from this tournament.

"We had some objectives in mind when we selected the team for the Azlan Shah Cup. Our main aim is to build a strong team for the Junior World Cup, and we can achieve that only by giving as much international exposure as possible to the junior players," Nobbs had said.

"It is also a good opportunity to draft in some junior players as they are the future of Indian hockey. It will also create a healthy competition for places in the team.

"Mandeep's (Singh) performance in the Hockey World League is a prime example of the fact that junior players need development. Mandeep found international hockey lot tougher than Hockey India League. He has got talent but require development," he added.