Ipoh, Malaysia: Indian hockey team were dealt a severe blow ahead of their opening Asia Cup group league encounter against minnows Oman after skipper Sardar Singh was declared unfit as he is recovering from viral fever.
Sardar, who was hospitalised for running temperature along with throat infection, was discharged yesterday and even trained with the other members of the team today but India's interim coach Roelant Oltmans is in no mood to take any risk ahead of crucial upcoming encounters.
"Sardar is well now. He was discharged yesterday, but he won't play (against Oman) tomorrow. His fitness is not of the required level. If I let him play tomorrow, he may fall sick again," Oltmans, who is also the High Performance Director of Hockey India, told PTI after the team's practice session at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium on Friday.
Sardar, however, is hopeful of spending at least some time in the turf tomorrow to get a feel.
"I have recovered now but still there is some weakness. I don't know what plans the coach has but I will speak to him and see if I can get to play for 10 minutes tomorrow," Sardar said.
Meanwhile, Oltmans cautioned his wards against complacency against Oman and said he is just looking for a winning start tomorrow.
The Dutchman feels that Oman will play a defensive game aand it will be a test of character for his young forwardline to breach the opposition defence.
"To be honest, we all know Oman is not in the top 20 in the world but we have seen that it is very difficult to play against teams who are defending. Oman will play defensive hockey.
"For us, it is more about making sure that our performance is good. I am not really searching for many goals. I really don't care if we win by a goal or by a big margin. At the end of the day, what is important is a winning start," Oltmans said.
Oltmans feels that one should take Oman lightly at their own peril.
"We can't take any opponent lightly. We have to respect every opponent. They (Oman) has a German coach now. The most important thing is to win and we want to win with a good performance," he said.
"We will also look to get better in every match so that our best performance comes up in the final."
Oltmans is also happy with the preparation of his team and said it is now time to deliver.
"We had two good practice games against Malaysia and Japan. We drew 1-1 with Malaysia and beat Japan 4-0," he said.
"We know more or less what we can expect out here. Condition wise it is hot, humid and it will be like that. Turf is little bit different because the Astroturf is nylon turf. It is faster than most of the other turfs. So it was good to practice a lot on it. I think we have done what we wanted to do.
"Especially, in our last practice game, the team showed really good possessional skills. Now it is time to show on the ground what how we have prepared in the past six weeks,” Oltmans signed off.