Fit-again Birendra Lakra feels India will be under little bit of pressure in the upcoming Hockey World League Final as the country gears up to host top hockey playing nations of the world in Bhubaneswar from December 1 to 10.
Lakra, who missed last year’s Rio Olympics due to a nagging knee injury and has been out of the team for quit some time, is making a comeback to the national team and that too in front of his home crowd.
And the ever-reliable fullback said the capital of Odisha has always been a “special” venue for India because of the support they enjoy from the hockey crazy fans of the city.
“There will always be a little bit of pressure at a big event like this where we are playing the top seven teams of the world,” said Lakra, who last played for India during the Australian tour in December last year.
“But I am excited and eagerly awaiting to play in front of my home crowd. I am expecting many of my friends and family to come and watch our matches. People are crazy about hockeyin Odisha and the support we enjoy in Bhubaneswar always makes this a special venue for the Indian Team,” he added.
Besides Lakra, two other Indian players — young Dipsan Tirkey and Amit Rohidas — will also get a chance to play before their home crowd in the HWL Final.
While Rohidas had an impressive Hockey India League this year, Tirkey is a member of junior World Cup-winning side and made a smooth transition into the senior team.
“This is the first time I will be playing for the Indian team in front of my home crowd in Odisha,” said the 19-year-old Tirkey.
Excitement apart, playing top teams like Australia, Germany and England in the group stage will test the nerves of youngsters like Tirkey, who has just 12 international caps under his belt.
“Our chief coach Sjoerd Marijne has had one-on-one talks with us on mental preparation for this tournament. We are aware of our individual duties. Our focus is to execute the team’s strategies without letting pressure of expectation affect us,” said Tirkey.
In the backline, Tirkey and Rohidas will play alongside experienced Lakra who has always been a constant support for the duo.
“It is not just Biru (Birendra) but seniors like (SV) Sunil, Manpreet (Singh), Rupinder (Pal Singh) have all been extremely encouraging to us us in every session. As a team, we have worked very hard for this tournament and the fact that we did well in Belgium as well as the Asia Cup is a motivating factor to achieve good results in the Hockey World League Final,” said Rohidas.
The Indian team, who are camping here at the SAI Centre, will reach Bhubaneswar on Wednesday.
India will open their campaign against defending champions Australia on December 1.