Pressing forward

Hours after the Indian junior team arrived in New Delhi after winning a silver medal at the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia, four players, Manpreet Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Gurmail Singh and Kothajit Singh boarded the flight to Australia with the rest of the senior national team, as it set out for its first campaign after the Olympic debacle — the Lanco International Series and the Champions Trophy. These four young players, who were in-transit in Delhi on Tuesday, also reflected the transition that Indian hockey is quietly undergoing.

Post London, where India finished 12th, the selectors have shown faith in youngsters. As a result the team — which has seven new faces, including Akashdeep and Gurmail — wears a remarkably refreshing look, with the oldest player (only relatively speaking) being the 26-year-old captain, Sardar Singh.

More than a gamble it's a well-calculated move; a step in the right direction — forward. "What happened in London is a thing of the past. We need to look ahead now," says head coach Michael Nobbs. And these two twin tournaments will give a glimpse of what lies ahead. The early signs have been encouraging. In the senior nationals in Bangalore last month, youngsters such as forwards Akashdeep and Nitin Thimmaiah outperformed more established seniors such as Shivendra Singh, while full-back Gurmail put pressure on the likes of Gurbaj Singh. They showed they have the talent, now they need to translate it into results at the senior level.

Low expectations

It helps that expectations from hockey, perhaps, are at an all-time low, but the players have set high standards for themselves.

Junior India skipper Manpreet, who has been part of the senior side for over a year, says: "Although it was a junior tournament in Malaysia, there were top two teams of the world, Germany and Australia. Some of their players were also those that we are going to see more of at the senior level in the years to come. So holding our own against such teams and beating them was a morale-booster. We now want to raise our game further for the Australia tour. A good performance there will cement our places, and while a poor show might not be the end of the world."

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