New talents keen to make mark

Hockey's Junior World Cup kicks off today; India take on Netherlands

New talents keen to make mark

The  Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium is a beehive of activity. The usual quiet of the venue is broken by the instructions furiously hollered during the practice sessions and urgent steps of various participating teams, waiting for their turn to get in.

The Hero Hockey Junior World Cup heralds the arrival of the fresh talents – restless to break away from the shadows.

The event is one of transition and provides a glimpse into the future of a hockey nation. The active involvement of senior officials for preparations assert the importance the event holds for each of the 16 participating teams.

For most, the tournament is more about giving the young men an opportunity to test themselves on the pressures of world stage, rather than winning. The event, however, is viewed as a ray of hope for hosts India, one that is expected to erase the disappointment of the 2012 London Olympics.

India, who had won their only title in 2001, has been boosted by their win in the Sultan of Johor Cup in September and comprise of several players with bags of experience at the international level.

Their captain and midfielder Manpreet Singh, is jokingly called a Buddha (old man) by his team-mates because of his 85 international caps, most by a player in this tournament. The experience is likely to give them an edge apart from the familiar conditions and home crowd.

Tricky pool

India are in a tricky pool C along with The Netherlands, Korea and Canada. The host opens against the Netherlands, the highest-ranked team in the pool, on Friday.

The host federation has invested heavily in the preparation by employing a battery of support staff to assist the team, right from the three coaches – South African Gregg Clarke (chief coach), assisted by Baljeet Singh and BJ Cariappa, the goalkeeping coach, South African Dave Staniforth to the scientific advisor Mathew Eyles.

The High Performance director with Hockey India, Roelant Oltmans, has also given his inputs.
The team has retained its attacking flair but has also worked on its defence and penalty corner conversion. India’s penalty corner expert, Sandeep Singh, spent a week helping three drag-flickers – Gurjinder Singh, vice-captain Amit Rohidas and Sukhmanjit Singh.

The forward line comprising Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Malak Singh and Talwinder Singh, is India’s strength. Harjot Singh and Sushant Tirkey are the goalkeepers.

Clark was hopeful of good show. “We are playing at home so I think we have as good a chance. We have a well balanced side. If we can balance our good, organised defence with our natural ability to attack, we will be in good stead,” he said.

The Netherlands manager and a two-time Olympics silver medallist, Floris Evers, admitted that unlike India they did not have many international players in their ranks but said their players are talented enough to win their maiden title.

The lack of competitive events at the junior level has evened out the advantage of knowing the opposition and made it difficult to pick a favourite.

There are some formidable opposition, though, like five-time champions Germany and the junior European Championship winners Belgium. But in the case of most teams, perceptions are largely built on the performances of their senior sides.

Australia, Pakistan, Spain and South Africa are the other sides to watch out for in the quadrennial bash.

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