Monday, November 11, 2013

3rd Asian Champions Trophy: A handy examination for Indian junior hockey players

The move to pick a senior team loaded with as many as 13 juniors for the 3rd Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament in Kakamigahara, Japan, was seen as a forward-looking one.

With the 2013 Junior World Cup slated to be held in New Delhi in December, it appeared a step in the right direction, although hockey fans would have liked the inclusion of few more seniors so that Indian juniors look competitive when pitted against the senior teams.

The 5th place finish for the Manpreet Singh-led Indian senior side may be disappointing results-wise, but it is important to understand that the juniors needed this international exposure (no preparation can be better than locking horns with the senior teams) to fine-tune their preparations for the Junior World Cup.

If hockey fans want to ask whether the purpose of fielding juniors in the senior team for the 3rd Asian Champions Trophy was justified, one can only say that the junior have lots to gain from the tournament.

The manner in which India launched their campaign left hockey fans jittery as to whether this side, laced with juniors, will struggle to be competitive against the senior teams of China, Japan, Oman, Malaysia and Pakistan.

A 0-2 defeat and 1-2 loss to Japan (they squandered an opening goal lead) only enhanced the belief that the young side was looking out of place.

However, India got better as the tournament progressed. A 3-0 win over lowly Oman got them going before they reached their best against two of the toughest teams in the tournament – Pakistan and Malaysia.

Stats may reveal that India lost three of their five league games, but the way in which they ran Pakistan close before going down 4-5 has to be emphasized.

Trailing by an early goal, India not only levelled the issue but also took the lead. That’s not all, they twice came from behind to restore parity in the second half before running out of steam.

For a moment, one thought it was the Sardar Singh-led senior team which was engaged in an intriguing tussle with their arch-rivals.

The above speaks volumes of the fighting spirit the Manpreet Singh-led team possesses. Manpreet is still very much a youngster, but the slew of responsibilities he has handled in recent times will make you feel that he is a senior pro.

The tough fight India gave to Pakistan lifted the side by a several notches and it showed in the final league tie when they pipped Malaysia 4-3. The momentum was maintained when India spanked Oman 6-1 in the 5th play-off tie.

It was nice to see drag-flicker Gurjinder Singh make his presence felt in the side with three goals. Amit Rohidas – who was quite a disappointment in the 9th Asia Cup in Ipoh, dished out a decent performance.

Talented striker Akashdeep Singh – returning to the side after a prolonged shin injury – was easily the find of the tourney with four goals, including a hat-trick against Oman. Malak Singh enhanced his credentials as another good investment for the senior team, slamming as many goals.

For the likes of Ramandeep Singh and Mandeep Singh, the Kakamigahara event will surely stand them in good stead for the Junior World Cup.

It’s pretty clear a large chunk of this team will be featuring in the Junior World Cup, and that way one couldn’t crib about the way the youngsters pulled themselves up after their sluggish beginning to the tournament.

All said and done, the 3rd Asian Champions Trophy benefited the juniors in a big way – the boys now need to work hard and stay injury-free as they have a gargantuan responsibility of making their hockey fans happy by winning the Junior World Cup – fans will not settle for anything less than that given the fact that they will be playing in their own backyard.

Picture Courtesy: Zimbio

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