Much has been made of the experimental and young nature of the Indian hockey team that PR Sreejesh will lead to the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which begins in Malaysia on Saturday.
The Indian team — which comprises as many as six players from the Junior World Cup winning team, apart from youngster Suraj Karkera — will first take on Great Britain in the six-nation tournament where teams of the calibre of Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Japan will also be contesting.
But India skipper Sreejesh is not particularly worried about the quality of the competition.
“We don't think about who's going to be playing there at the Azlan Shah tournament. When the players are playing for the national team they have their responsibility and they have to take up the challenge and give their 100 percent for the team. That's more important. Since the Azlan Shah is the first tournament this season, we're trying new strategies and making new plans for the team. Sometimes it may go wrong, but finishing on the podium is always our target. That's always in our mind whenever we go for a tournament,” Sreejesh told Firstpost before the team left for Malaysia.
He added that the influx of the juniors into the national team also kept the seniors on their toes.
“When youngsters come into the team, they need to work really hard to confirm their place in the team. And seniors need to perform better than ever to confirm their position as well. It's all about the performance of the player, because if you don't perform well, there's no place for you in the team,” the 28-year-old said.
The next year-and-a-half will see India play in big-ticket tournaments like the Hockey World League Semi-Finals, the Hockey World League Final, the Asia Cup, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the Hockey World Cup. While Sreejesh said that the biggest aim in this duration for the national team will be winning the Asian Games gold, considering it also ensures a berth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the team was also looking to improve on their rankings in the near future.
“Our progress has been steady from the last few years. We were working really hard. We made a core group from 2013 to 2016 and all of us from the group really worked hard. That's why India came from 11th rank to fifth rank. At present we are sixth, but the target now is to break into the top four and we really need to work hard for it.
“This year is all about building a new team, gaining some experience for our youngsters and preparing them for the bigger matches. After the Azlan Shah tournament, we will go to Germany. This year the World Hockey League Finals and the Asia Cup are more important for us. In between we are flying to Europe for a couple of test matches where the youngsters can gain more match experience.
“Next year is definitely going to be a big year. The Asian Games are going to be our target because there are qualifying berths for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”
Coach Roelant Oltmans has spoken about the team attempting a ‘new style’ at the competition. Sreejesh said that the style may come as a surprise.
“I can't explain more about our game style. But it's definitely not the same way we played at the Rio Olympics. We wanted to try out some new styles, according to new players and their fitness levels we changed a lot of things in our game plans and also in penalty corners. Our style will be a surprise, I think you should wait and watch our matches,” the India goalkeeper said.
Watch PR Sreejesh's full exclusive interview below:
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Updated Date: Apr 29, 2017 17:29:52 IST