May 4, 2011

India's chances in Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2011

Sultan Azlan Shah Cup has been happy hunting ground for the Indian hockey team in past 5 years. In last five years of Sultan Azlan Shah Indian team has achieved podium finish in every edition and won last two editions of the tournament. So looking at the previous performances this year also a good result is expected from the Indian team.

But this year, first place finish will be difficult for the inexperienced Indian team who are missing key players. But this is a great chance for Indian team to test young players who are going to form back-bone of Indian hockey in the future. Arjun Halappa has inexperienced but promising back-line at his disposal. Dhananjay Mahadik has played fifty odd matches before for India. He scored the only hat-trick Sultan Azlan Shah last year against Egypt. While Rupinder Pal Singh has just played over ten games but a good penalty corner option for the team. Arjun Halappa and his midfield quartet of Vikram Pillay, Gurbaj Singh and VS Vinaya will have to plug the gap of inexperience of forward line and defense.

India played their practice game against New Zealand today and despite missing key players Indian team looks prepared for the tournament after beating New Zealand 5-3 in the practice game. Dhananjay Mahadik and Rupinder Pal Singh scored one goals each through penalty corners while Baljit Singh Chandi scored one goal. Team also conceded three goals through penalty corners.

Defense as usual will be a worrying factor for Indian team like every other tournament, but if any of the players come good, it will not be good for this tournament but also very helpful in future tournaments. Shivender Singh will take the pressure in the front and goal scoring duties in absence of Rajpal and Tushar.

So this tournament, the experienced midfield will have to rise up to the occasion and deliver in both offense and defense. Arjun Halappa and Gurbaj Singh are two players who have the ability to do that, change the tempo of the game when needed, deliver killer passes to the forward line, pitch in with goals and defend too.

This tournament is going to be a tough outing for Indian team due to inexperience in the side Indian team should try to aim for a 3rd place finish (The team only said not to expect wonders) which would be a great result. Anything above 3rd place would be blessing for the team. Pakistan has the strongest team of the tournament and are one of the favorites. Great Britain has also brought a good side in the tournament (they got best players from their league). Malaysia would be push-overs despite their victory over India in the Asian Games. Australia are without few first team players and specially Jamie Dwyer who can change the game single-handedly. Korea also has an inexperienced side for this tournament.

So Indian team can best look to finish in the 3rd position and hope that one of its defenders come good and fill the spot left by Dilip Tirkey.

My predictions
2nd-Great Britain
3rd-Australia or India
4th-Australia or India
7th-New Zealand

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