Young blood has added flexibility: Skipper Sardar

Antwerp (Belgium), June 17 (IANS) Indian hockey team captain Sardar Singh on Wednesday said the inclusion of new and young players has made the side more flexible as the squad gears up for the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final starting here on Saturday.

Chief coach Paul van Ass has brought in young blood in the forms of Lalit Upadhyay, Jasjit Singh Kular, Gurmail Singh and Devinder Walmiki. These players have joined the 18-member squad either because some of the seniors like V.R. Raghunath and S.V. Sunil are injured or van Ass has found them to be fitting into his scheme of things with an eye to the future — more importantly the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

“With the addition of new and young players, the team combination becomes more flexible, which is helping us to create more options in drawing new strategies,” the 28-year-old Sardar said in a release.

HWL Semi-final, an Olympic qualifying tournament, offers Olympic berths for top three performers. India, though, have already secured their place in the Olympics by winning the 2014 Asian Games gold medal.

Ahead of the 10-nation tournament, Sardar said they are getting tuned-up to coach van Ass’s new strategy, in which they will defend with 10 players as well as attack with the same number of players.

“Till now, everything is going fine and we have achieved satisfactory results in our training sessions and practice matches. The whole team, including the coaches and support staff, has been working hard preparing for this tournament and we have improved a lot in various aspects,” said the centre-half.

“We are getting positive results from our new strategies and team combination till now. It’s unfortunate that we lost to Belgium in our practice match but we have learnt many things about our strategies from that match, which will help us.”

With everything settled, the skipper is hopeful of getting off to a winning start.

The HWL Semi-Final will feature 10 teams divided in two pools. India are placed in Pool A with France, Poland, Pakistan and Australia while China, Ireland, Malaysia, Britain and Belgium are in Pool B.

India will play their first match against France on June 20 before taking on others.

“We are now focussing on our finishing and converting our attacks into goals. The weather is very cool here and best suited to playing hockey. We are looking forward to the first match and want to start our campaign with a win.”

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