Winless so far, India face an uphill task as they take on in-form world champions Australia in a crucial match of the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, in Ipoh on Tuesday. After one loss and a draw, India are currently placed fourth in the six-team tournament with just one point. Australia, on the other hand, are positioned atop the table with two wins from as many games. And come Tuesday India cannot afford another loss if they wish to stay afloat in the tournament.
But it would be easier said than done as Australia have fielded a strong squad and are in red-hot form while the Indians have come here with an inexperienced team under the leadership of Sardar Singh.
While India lost 2-3 and drew 1-1 against Olympic champions Argentina and England in their first two games respectively, Australia defeated England 4-1 before getting the better of hosts Malaysia 3-1.
The Indians looked lacklustre in the opening two games and wasted numerous chances, including as many as nine penalty corners against England in their second game. But if Sjoerd Marijne’s team wants to upstage the Kookaburras tomorrow, it cannot afford to miss scoring chances, especially against an opponent as attacking as Australia.
Skipper Sardar has to lift his game significantly and inspire the youngsters in the absence of his regular teammates. For Sardar, it is a make or break tournament. He has to deliver to be in fray for important tournaments lined-up later this year as an ordinary outing can draw curtains on his international career, especially with the team management preferring youngsters.
With the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games a month away, it would be one last time for the Indian players, including Sardar to impress upon the national selectors. A favourable result against Australia tomorrow would definitely brighten India’s chances as they play hosts Malaysia (on March 7) and minnows Ireland (March 9) in their last two round-robin fixtures.
In other matches of the day, England will play neighbours Ireland while Argentina will square off against the home team.