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Hockey World League Final: India look to replicate Asia Cup success

Reigning Asia Cup champions India will start their Hockey World League Final campaign against Australia on Friday.

other sports Updated: Nov 30, 2017 22:05 IST
Sharad Deep
Sharad Deep
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneshwar
Hockey World League Final,India hockey team,Hockey
India look to start their Hockey World League Final campaign on a winning note as they face Australia on Friday.(Getty Images)

Indian hockey seems to be on the upswing, or so it seems. As the city — emerging as the newest hub of the sport — hosts the third edition of the Hockey World League Final, one is pleasantly reminded of the exploits of the junior boys nearly a year ago who lifted the World Cup at Lucknow after almost 15 years.

Many of the boys – including Harmanpreet Singh, Sumit, Gurjant Singh, Dipsan Tirkey and Varun Kumar — have graduated to the senior level and are now ready to soar. And what better occasion, and platform, to excel.

As India take on Australia in the opener, it will be a mix of youth and experience that will take on the hockey powerhouse. And this could only be a teaser, as the hosts will be up against Germany and England in the other two group games.

Undoubtedly, India have made rapid progress in the last few years — silver in the Champions Trophy and the junior World Cup title last year — but a competition at the senior level, that too against the likes of Australia, Germany, Olympic champions Argentina and the likes, is a different cup of tea altogether.

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Even though the format of the tournament assures all competing teams a place in the quarter-final, it is the knockout round that would be India coach Sjoerd Marijne — who took over from Dutch expert Roelant Oltmans a couple of months ago — worry. A poor finish in the group would invariably mean being pitted against a strong team in the quarter-final knockout in the ‘crossover format’ where the top pool finisher of one group faces the bottom-placed finisher of the other pool in the quarters.

More than the challenges he will face in possibly the last edition of the HWL, Marijne would be keen to ‘cement’ his own place, given that coaches almost invariably get the boot for the team’s poor performance. And, HWL has accounted for quite a few.

India are currently ranked sixth India in the world and a podium finish here would boost the home side’s confidence ahead of the 2018 World Cup in November-December and before that the Asian Games in Jakarta and the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.

Irrespective of what every team does on the field, their ultimate aim is to qualify for the Olympic Games. India will get many opportunities to qualify and the HWL Final is a stepping stone to achieving that goal. India will have to rely on the experience of drag-flicker and defender Rupinder Pal Singh --- coming back from a long injury layoff --- Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas, who is in the team courtesy his strong showing in the Hockey India League.

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India, bronze medalists in the 2015 edition at Raipur, slipped in the HWL Semi-final, finishing sixth in June at London but got an automatic entry into the tournament by virtue of being the hosts. But after that unimpressive show, they have bounced back, winning the Asia Cup after 10 years.

And the biggest advantage for the Manpreet Singh-led side is the liberty to try out different combinations before they make it to the knockouts, as the format allows for more than a couple of indiscretions.

For coach Sjoerd, it could be a chance to test the waters ahead of a busy year, even if India don’t finish on the podium. Sjoerd could also take heart from the fact that his Australian counterpart, Colin Batch, has also taken up the job recently and is also figuring out the team composition.

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 18:27 IST