India, the 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallists, hope to ride hockey's new rules in the upcoming Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. The team's goalkeeper and vice-captain PR Sreejesh feels India have the players to soak the pace and power the new rules will demand. (Also read: Can India end hockey medal drought at Asian Games?)
International hockey has assumed a new format that includes moving to four 15-minute quarters and having 40-second time-outs when a penalty corner is awarded and after a goal is scored. Overall game time will move from 70 minutes (previously two 35-minute halves) to a 60-minute game with four 15-minute quarters.
The additional time-outs for penalty corners and after goals ensures that the new 60-minute format is primarily actual playing time and eliminates the dead time associated with penalty corner set up while allowing for teams to enjoy their goal celebrations.
Sreejesh feels India have the right players in attack and defence to handle the demands of the modern game. India open their group league campaign against Sri Lanka on September 21 but the big games will be against Pakistan (September 25) and China (September 27).
"The practice sessions have picked up pace and the whole team is training really hard to face the challenge that is coming our way. The new format of the game is actually going to act as an added advantage in the field, as it will not only make the game much faster, but will also offer time to the players to re-energise during every quarter," said Sreejesh, who has 106 international caps.
Sreejesh picks out striker SV Sunil as the man who will deliver during the Asian Games.
"During the Commonwealth Games, I saw Sunil giving a tough time to the opponents whenever he used to enter the Dee. Whenever Sunil was successful in penetrating through the opponents defence, there was much tension. I look up to him to continue his Commonwealth Games form and help us keep the opponents on their toes," said Sreejesh.
Manpreet Singh will be critical in the mid-field. The Junior Player of the Year, Manpreet says: "The midfield position is very important as we have to keep the speed intact and ensure that we support both the defence as well as the forwards."
But the man who will be the fulcrum of the team will be skipper Sardar Singh, a veteran of 191 internationals for India. Manpreet paid tribute to Sardar saying: "If I am successful as a midfielder, it is because of Sardar Singh. He plays a pivotal role in the team as well as in the midfield position and he is the inspiration for Danish, Dharamvir, Chinglensana and myself."
Sardar knows the importance of a good start. "We are aiming for a clean sweep and with the confidence in the camp I feel that we will be able to achieve the goal. Our first match against Sri Lanka is crucial as starting a tournament on a winning note will boost the morale of the team and will help continue the winning dominance".
India last won the Asian Games gold in Bangkok in 1998.