Indian hockey

Coach Marijne wants inexperienced India to improve their defence at Sultan Azlan Shah Cup

The Indian hockey team will be contesting a series of high-profile tournaments later this year.

The Indian men’s hockey team’s head coach Sjoerd Marijne has again picked an unseasoned squad for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup starting in Malaysia from March 3. The 43-year-old said the tournament seemed “perfect” for giving the youngsters some experience.

Despite India’s recent good results, the Dutchman continues to chop and change the team as he believes it will “add to the depth of the side.” A similarly inexperienced India had finished runners-up in the Four Nations Invitational Tournament in New Zealand last month after losing a tense final to Belgium.

Marijne said the team management was continuing the same process of handing playing time to youngsters in Malaysia. “It’s good that youngsters can make their international debut and can compete at the highest level,” the head coach said on Tuesday during a media interaction at the Sports Authority of India in Bengaluru. “We have watched them in the junior camps, they are good.”

Coming back to lead the side after a gap of almost two years is veteran Sardar Singh. The 31-year-old was out of the reckoning for the Hockey World League Finals and the Four Nations Tournament. He’ll also be playing in the midfield – his favourite position.

Marijne, like many others, is looking forward to see if Sardar can make the most of this opportunity and solidify his place in the team and especially in the midfield. “He is an experienced player and having missed two tournaments previously, this is an opportunity for him to show his skills,” the coach said.

Defensive weakness

Marijne wants his men to improve their defence and goal-conversion in the upcoming tournaments. In the Four Nations Tournament, India conceded 17 goals in eight games. The weakness in defence, at times, cancels out their swift counter-attacks.

“We have to improve our defence and we are working on that,” Marijne said. “I am happy with the chances we created in the New Zealand tour but we have to convert them into goals.”

The improvement, he added, will be a little slow but steady. “We have 10 days to prepare after the New Zealand tour. That’s not much. It will not change in one or two weeks. It will take lot of matches to get better and better.”

“In the World League, we were the team with most circle penetration, but not the most goals. We worked on that. We were better in New Zealand. They also improved their consistency.”

The team will be contesting a series of high profile tournaments – the Commonwealth Games in April, the Asian Games in August and the Hockey World Cup in November – this year. Of these, the Asian Games is the most important as a title win there will secure the Indians an Olympic spot.

Asked if the team management will treat the Commonwealth Games as a preparation for the Asian Games, he replied: “No, athletes always want to win. We want to play with full intensity. Such games are good for them and eventually also good for the other tournaments. You go there to win and every tournament will help for the other tournament.”

Marijne also revealed the team is awaiting their new drag-flick coach Chris Ciriello.

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