WITH THE 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup just around the corner, the preparations of the Indian Men’s hockey team has entered the final stretch at the training-cum-conditioning camp currently underway at the SAI Centre in Bengaluru.
While the team is preparing with the immediate target of winning gold at the annual tournament to be played in Ipoh from April 6-16, the larger goal is to come up with a medal-winning performance in the Champions Trophy that will be hosted in London from June 10-17. Both these tournaments will serve as very important preparatory pit-stops before embarking on the 2016 Rio Olympics campaign.
The packed schedule of the Senior Men’s Hockey team for the next few months means that the Men in Blue have to maintain their peak performance and fitness levels for a sustained period of time. To achieve these two objectives, the ongoing preparatory camp in Bengaluru is focusing on further strengthening the core group of players besides adding more depth to the Indian team for more options in the months to come.
“We have a very busy schedule over the next few months. So, we need a very strong core group of players around which the team will revolve. Though, the immediate focus of our preparation is the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, but we are also looking ahead at the Champions Trophy that will be played in June,” said Sardar Singh, Captain of the Indian team.
This year, besides India, defending Champions New Zealand, 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, Australia, Pakistan, Japan, Canada and hosts Malaysia will be taking part in the tournament.
India has enjoyed considerable success in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup winning the tournament on five occassions in 1985, ’91, ’95, 2009 and 2010. In 2015, the Indian team led by Sardar finished in third place beating Korea on penalties. “We have a good record in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Our target is to do better than last year when we won bronze. We lost some close matches against New Zealand and Malaysia. But this year our aim is to come back with gold,” said Sardar.
The Captain feels that the preparations are in the right direction to win the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. “The core group of players are shaping up very well. This team has the right balance of experience and youth and the youngsters are willing to stand up to be counted. We have a great Chief Coach in Roelant Oltmans, who is a very astute reader of the game. I can confidently say that the team is working in the right direction and is making 100 percent effort to win the tournament,” said the veteran of 236 international games.
The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will also be a test to see if the Indian team has been successful in eliminating its weakness of conceding early and late goals that have extracted a heavy price in close games. Another area of concern is the inability to create more scoring opportunities by earning penalty corners inside the opponent’s striking circle.
“We are conscious of the weak areas. We are working to eliminate the flaws that have plagued the Indian team in the past like conceding early and late goals. We felt that these two problems can be solved with better communication on the field. For better communication the boys need to spend a lot of time together off the field. We have been focusing on this particular aspect at the camp by spending a lot time doing things together off the field. Also, in modern hockey the result is determined by how a team plays inside the two striking circles. In our training we are working on some new strategies and tactics how to create more opportunities inside the opponent’s striking circle by earning more short corners and not to concede any early or late goals,” said Sardar.
India opens its campaign in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup against Japan on April 6.