India finished second best at Sultan Azlan Shah cup

Sultan Azlan Shah cup of 2016 was played at Ipoh in Malaysia. This was the silver jubilee edition of the only invitational tournament which is recognized by FIH. Without any surprise, Australia clinched their 9th title of the coveted cup. With a relatively weaker side, India produced a sparkling show and came second best. Pakistan hockey touched another low and team finished only one spot above the bottom. The only silver lining for the boys in green was Arslan Qadir who finished as top scorer of the tournament with 6 goals.  Last year’s finalist, the black sticks, come respectable third.

Indian started the campaign on a very dull note. Team could snatch victory against lowly Japan by acute angled goal of Sardar Singh. Australia crushed India by 5-1. Things improved then onwards. Arch rival Pakistan was taught a lesson by boys in blue and defeated them by 5-1. Score could have been 6-1, had Rupinder Pal Singh not missed a penalty stroke. India lost a tough match against New Zealand. Boys came out in flying colors against the host in last league came and qualified for the final. There, despite of playing their hearts out, team could not produce the upset. The sad truth is that there is a huge gulf between students of Graham Reid and others of the world.

The expectations from this Indian side were not very high. From the pool of 36 players, coach Rolant Oltmans have given chance to some young faces. He also recalled some players and rested trustworthy fellows from the roster. Most trusted and favorite forward Akashdeep, who have produced some vital goals in crucial matches is recent times was not a part of the team. There were no regulars like Lalit Upadhyay and Raghunath. Mandeep Singh was recalled after India- Japan series played last year. Junior lad Harmanpreet was selected and given ample opportunity by the coach at Ipoh. No doubt, he was the pick of the tournament. He impressed by his ability of clever passes, attacking skills and penalty corner conversions. Allahabad boy Danish Mujtaba was recalled after a lot of time to don the blue jersey. Talwinder showed that he has improved a lot and can be a member for Rio. S V Sunil, Ramandeep played as per reputation. Nikkin had a quite tournament. Manipur village friends Kothajit and Chiglinsana gelled well with the boys of team. Sardar was impressive and was everywhere on the turf.

Hockey of modern days depends a lot on agility and fitness of the goalkeeper. Coach Oltmans has already has decided to rest first choice world class Sreejesh for the cup. Here, Harjot was the first choice GK. He did well under the bar. Amit chikte was GK in the final. Clearly, he needs a lot of improvement.

For the Olympics, this tournament has done a lot of good for coach, administrators and fans. Talent pool is the deepest in modern time. If all the cards are selected and played properly then no doubt, India can finish at the podium in Rio.

Author – Vijay Anand

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