Millennium Post

India gear up for Kiwis in Sultan Azlan Shah Cup

Keeping an eye on the Olympics, India will be looking to fine tune their strategy as they kick-off their campaign in the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament against New Zealand here on Thursday.

India, five-time champions, will also be looking to make a podium finish after finishing a disappointing sixth last year in the seven-nation tournament.

After taking on New Zealand May 24, India play matches against Korea (May 25), Britain (May 27), Malaysia (May 28), Argentina (May 30) and Pakistan (May 31).

Britain, who are the highest ranked team here at World No.4, are the tournament favourites and will attempt to win their first title in 18 years, having won it in 1994.

Except Malaysia, all the six participating teams have qualified for the Olympics. In fact, South Korea and New Zealand are clubbed with India in the same group in the London Olympic Games.

This time, India, who were winners here in 2009 and joint champions with South Korea in 2010, will also use the tournament to test where they stand ahead of the 2012 London Games.

Eight-time Olympic champions in hockey, India had shockingly missed the 2008 Beijing Games for the first time in the 80-year history of the sport in the Olympics.

While India did well in the qualifiers at home, they were completely outplayed on the new blue turf in the test event in London at the Riverbank arena.

The Indian players had trouble in adjusting to the bouncy surface and the Azlan Shah Cup, which will also be held on a similar surface, will help them get used to the new surface.

India's drag-flick specialist Sandeep Singh, who was the top scorer in the qualifiers, looked happy after his first glance at the blue surface here.

"Hopefully the pitch is not as bumpy as the one in London. I had problems for the drag flick and this affected the outcome of the matches too," said Sandeep.

For Rupinder Pal Singh, another penalty corner specialist, the presence of Sandeep somewhat eases the load off his shoulders for penalty corners.

'Obviously Sandeep will have the first bite at the cherry but this gives us more options in the penalty corner department,' said Rupinder Pal, who was seen going through several penalty corner variations with chief coach Michael Nobbs.

Rupinder said India have to be consistent, which was lacking during the test event in London.

'We need to be consistent and these matches here will provide the coach with valuable input that will ultimately decide who travels to London,' said the youngster.
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