India face Aus test in opener

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

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 has come 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, SV Sunil and VR 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 tournament.
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.”

Nobbs’ decision to rest seniors is justified as the Azlan Shah Cup is India’s only engagement before the back-to-back series against Pakistan at home and away, which undoubtedly is of much greater interest for the eight-time Olympic champions.
Apart from Australia, India will also play Korea (Mar 10), Pakistan (Mar 12), defending champions New Zealand (Mar 14) and hosts Malaysia (Mar 16) in their round-robin matches.

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