New-look India ready  to spring surprises

After a disappointing 2013, the Sardar Singh-led side aims to make a fresh start as they open their campaign against higher-ranked England

We have a young and talented team in transition.  We need to do the basic things right then we will be in a position to defeat major teams in the world Sardar Singh India hockey team captain

New Delhi: A relatively new-look India would be gunning for glory on home turf under new coach Terry Walsh in the inaugural Hockey World League Final, where the team will open its campaign against higher-ranked England at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium today.

New-look India ready  to spring surprises

The tournament will provide men in blue a perfect build up for the World Cup to be held later this year at The Hague, Netherlands. With the world’s top seven teams in fray here, India could not have asked for better preparation for the quadrennial event.

India should consider itself lucky to be one of the participating teams in the HWL Final. Having failed to qualify directly, India managed a place in the event by the virtue of being the host. India is also slated to host the prestigious Champions Trophy later this year and now it is high time the past masters of the game take advantage of these big-ticket opportunities.

The Indians finished a disappointing sixth in the HWL semi-finals in Rotterdam, but the HWL Final provides the eight-time Olympic champions a perfect stage to prove their detractors wrong. But for that, they will have to overpower formidable opponents such as Germany, Australia and Netherlands.

India is placed in Pool A alongside reigning Olympic champions and world number one Germany, world No.4 England and seventh-ranked New Zealand. Pool B consists of Australia, Netherlands, Belgium and Argentina. So, understandably it won’t be a cake-walk for the Indians, who are ranked 10th in the world, and Walsh’s boys will have to perform superbly if they desire to progress to the knock-out stage.

India’s forward-line sports a fresh look as apart from Sunil and Walmiki, the selectors have put faith in youngsters like Nikkin Thimmaiah, Mandeep Singh and Affan Yousuf. For Affan, who was vice-captain of the Sultan Johor Cup winning side but was later ignored for the Junior World Cup, it is a maiden call-up to the senior side.

Another rookie entry to the senior side is goalkeeper Harjot Singh, who replaced PT Rao. Experienced custodian P R Sreejesh has been entrusted with the responsibility to share Sardar’s leadership responsibility.The Indians will be desperate to open their campaign on a winning note against England before they square off against New Zealand on Friday and Netherlands on Sunday.

India captain Sardar Singh, however, promised to spring some surprises in the HWL Final. “We have a young and talented team in transition. We need to do the basic things right. The biggest advantage that we have is that we have world’s best coach in Terry Walsh. We need to tighten up our defence and then we will be in a position to defeat major teams in the world.”

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