Indian men’s hockey team has an edge over its rivals in the upcoming Asian Champions Trophy but will need to perform consistently to clinch the title, captain P R Sreejesh said.
“We have an edge over the Asian countries because we are playing European and Indian style of hockey, but we need to perform consistently,” Sreejesh told PTI in an interview here.
An 18-member Indian team, to be captained by Sreejesh, was announced for the fourth Asian Champions Trophy to be held in Kuantan, Malaysia from October 20 to 30.
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Sreejesh, however, conceded that some work needs to be done to strengthen India’s fowardline, which he said has not been at its best.
“Some work needs to be done to bolster our forwardline. It has not been at our best. However, this team is capable of scoring many goals as we had seen in Sultan Azlan Shah Cup match against Pakistan where we thrashed our rival 5-1,” he said.
The Indian captain said that at this level no team can take any opposition lightly.
“We are Asian champions, but we cannot take chances. Koreans are developing their team for 2018 Asian Games. They have been playing good hockey which was evident playing against them Champions Trophy in London,” said Sreejesh.
“Malaysia and Pakistan also are working hard in developing their teams. Pakistan is doing it after failing to qualify for the world cup last time around,” he added.
He informed that the experienced drag-flicker V R Raghunath has been left out of the team due to his elbow injury.
“Actually, Raghunath was having pain in the elbow for a long time. He is under treatment and that is why we changed him,” the Indian goalkeeper said.
In the last edition in 2013 in Japan, India sent a second-string team comprising mostly of junior players and they had finished fifth out of six teams.
Indian team Strategic Coach Roger van Gent said India are the favourites in the six-nation tournament because it’s among the highest ranking teams in the world.
“We are a team to defeat because we are among the high-ranked teams in the world at the moment. We are the favorites in Asian Cup Trophy. I am interested to know how our team copes up with the new challenge,” said van Gent, who is spearheading the coaching of Indian team in the absence of Roelant Oltmans.
On Birendra Lakra making a comeback, Sreejesh said the ace defender was one of his favourites. He said he would love to fielding him right from the first match, but ultimate decision would rest with Oltmans.
“Lakra is one of my favorites, but unfortunately he had to miss out the Rio Olympics. I would love to have him right from the first match, but all depends on Oltmans — the decision lies with him,” he said.
“It will be difficult for him to adjust, even though he (Lakra) is fit. International matches are competitive and challenging, even for a normal player,” said Sreejesh.
Gent said Lakra brings a lot to the Indian defence as he is handy in pressure situations.
“It is important to play Biru (Lakra) because he is able to find solutions in pressure situations. His presence boosts the morale of the team,” he said.
“Lakra is match fit. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been picked in the squad. I have watched him at the training. I really admire how he has improved on his game, especially after coming from an injury,” said Gent.
Asked how he rates Talwinder Singh and Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, who were picked in the squad, Sreejesh said, “Talwinder and Lalit Kumar are as good as Akashdeep and Ramandeep (who were left out). There is no problem. We get easy replacements, thanks to the availability of core group of players.”