With a fresh outlook, new tactics and youngsters in the fold, the Indian senior men's hockey team will hope to begin a new season on a high note. The first challenge is Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2017, in Malaysia, which is the first major event in this year calendar for the Indian hockey team and getting off to a good start here will be crucial in the lead-up to an all-important year where India play the Asia Cup and Odisha Men's Hockey World League Final Bhubaneswar 2017. The following year will see them compete at the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Champions Trophy and World Cup in Bhubaneswar 2018 slated for next year.
Coming into this tournament, Roelant Oltmans-coached India had a 40-day long national camp where the players were put through a tough regime involving nearly five-six hours of intense training.
This year's edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which is scheduled to run from April 29 to May 6, will see England, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea vie for top honours along with India.
Having arrived here in Malaysia a week before the start of the tournament, the Indian team has had enough time to get used to the humid conditions and is geared up for a good start at the tournament, according to captain P.R Sreejesh.
"The team is doing well. We have trained every single day after arriving here and I feel we have had a good five-six days to acclimatise to the conditions here," said the ace goalkeeper.
India have picked four debutants -- defender Gurinder Singh, midfielders Sumit and Manpreet and goalkeeper Suraj Karkera. While Gurinder, Sumit and Manpreet were part of the Junior World Cup winning squad, the 21-year-old Karkera was in the junior India squad that toured England in 2016. Harmanpreet Singh is also another member of the Junior World Cup winning side.
Manpreet Singh will be Sreejesh's deputy and he will be joined by the experienced Sardar Singh, Chinglensana Singh Kangujam, Harjeet Singh, Sumit and Manpreet in the midfield.
The defence includes Rupinder Pal Singh, Pardeep Mor, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh and Gurinder Singh while the forward line will feature S.V Sunil, Talwinder Singh, Affan Yousuf, Akashdeep Singh and Mandeep Singh.
India will take on Great Britain in their first match on April 29. India last played them at the 36th FIH Champions Trophy in London last year where India won 2-1. "But it's a new team this year with a lot of youngsters. I think only about three or four members in their squad are senior players. But knowing the mental strength of the team, I know they will play with a lot of energy," Sreejesh pointed out.
"First match is always a game turner and we definitely want to start on a great note and the mood in our dressing room is very upbeat right now," said the 28-year-old.
The reason for Sreejesh's optimism also stems from the 2-0 win they tasted against Japan in their practice match on April 26. It was young forward Mandeep Singh who scored both the goals for India and according to chief coach Roelant Oltmans, the team's defence was "outstanding" in the match.
"It was good to win the practice game as it was the first time before the start of the tournament, we were playing against a different team as opposed to playing matches against our own teammates during practice sessions.
"It is good to get that winning momentum ahead of the start of the tournament and we will further discuss on our strong points and low points in the team meeting today (Friday). Our immediate focus is to play well against Great Britain on Saturday," concluded the skipper.
Goalkeepers: P.R. Sreejesh (captain), Suraj Karkera.
Defenders: Pardeep Mor, Surender Kumar, Rupinderpal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Gurinder Singh.
Midfielders: Kangujam Chinglensana Singh, Sumit, Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh (vice-captain), Harjeet Singh, Manpreet.
Forwards: S.V. Sunil, Talwinder Singh, Mandeep Singh, Affan Yousuf, Akashdeep Singh.
(With inputs from IANS)