London: Back on the world stage following a series of consistent shows, an ever-improving India will strive to unsettle some top teams in the Hockey World League Semi-Final, where they face lowly Scotland in their campaign opener on Thursday.
Not long ago, eight-time Olympic champions India were struggling to cope up with the changes in world hockey, which in turn led to their downfall.
Such was the state that India failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics and then finished last in the 2012 London Games.
But having touched the lowest ebb, it was time for Indian hockey to revive and it did so slowly and steadily under the watchful eyes of master tactician Roelant Oltmans.
Now India are looked upon as a power to reckon with in world hockey and have scaled up to sixth position in the international rankings.
And the HWL Semi-Final will provide India a chance to prove to the world that they certainly deserve a place among the elite of world hockey.
It should be a cakewalk for India in their opening encounter as they play against a side which is ranked 23rd in the world at the Lee Valley's Hockey and Tennis Centre in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The Indians are expected to win the match hands down and it remains to be seen how big the margin of victory Oltmans' men can manage on Thursday.
For India, the HWL Semi-Final is a chance to assess their progress and implement new tactics against top teams as being the hosts, they are guaranteed a place in the HWL Final to be held later this year and the 2018 World Cup.
But for other competing teams, the HWL Semi-Final is an opportunity to seal their berths for the two prestigious events, both to be held in the Indian city of Bhubaneshwar.
Seven teams go through to the finals in Bhubaneshwar to join hosts India in December.
Crucially, 10 teams from the London and Johannesburg semi-finals will join India and the five continental champions at the 2018 World Cup.
India are placed in Pool B along side World No 4 Netherlands, Canada, arch-rivals Pakistan and Scotland while Pool A features reining Olympic champions Argentina, hosts England, Korea, China and Malaysia.
After Scotland, India will play Canada on 17 June followed by the much-anticipated clash against Pakistan (18 June) and Netherlands (20 June).
India have fielded a relatively strong team for the tournament and will be led by mid-fielder Manpreet Singh in the absence of regular skipper PR Sreejesh, who is injured.
With the likes of Manpreet, talismanic Sardar Singh, and vice-captain Chinglensana Singh, the Indians boast of a strong mid-field.
India's forwardline too looks lethal and consists of experienced players like Ramandeep Singh, SV Sunil, Talwinder Singh, Mandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh.
But it is the backline, which would be a cause of concern for Oltmans and the Dutchman will rely on Kothajit Singh and Harmanpreet Singh to share the burden in the absence of Rupinderpal Singh, who suffered a last-minute hamstring injury.
If the injury to Sreejesh was not enough, India were dealt a twin blow in the form of Rupinder and mid-fielder SK Uthappa on the eve of the match.
Both the players have been ruled out of the tournament because of varied reasons. While Rupinder will miss the tournament because of a hamstring injury, Uthappa will return home to attend to a family emergency.
Rupinder has been replaced by Jasjit Singh Kular, who doubles up as a drag-flicker while Uthappa's place in the side has gone to Sumit, who made his senior team debut in this year's Azlan Shah Cup.
The tournament will also test India's back-up goalkeepers — Vikas Dahiya and Akash Chikte — and the duo will have to ensure that the team doesn't miss Sreejesh, presently rated as one of the top custodians in world hockey.
In the other Pool B match of the day, Pakistan will take on mighty Netherlands.
Meanwhile in Pool A, world no.1 Argentina will play Korea in the tournament opener while hosts England will face China.
Published Date: Jun 15, 2017 03:07 pm | Updated Date: Jun 15, 2017 03:07 pm