| Dhanraj Pillay showed his mettle in Perth
Sydney: After a week of riveting hockey, the teams renew their rivalry in the second leg of the three-nation invitational tournament, which begins on Wednesday with India clashing against Australia.
The match at Wollongong here would give India the perfect opportunity to avenge their two defeats against Australia in the previous leg of the tournament in Perth. The Indians lost to Australia in a league match and then in the final where they conceded two goals in the last five minutes.
India’s overall showing, though, last week was commendable as they beat arch-rivals Pakistan and also Australia A.
India coach Rajinder Singh sounded optimistic about the challenge when he declared his team was ready to take on the mighty Australians. The Australian squad is likely to have a few changes.
“I am expecting a major change in the Australian side, which I feel will be very different to the one we played against in Perth.”
Despite emerging stronger after the Perth meet, the chief coach said he will be making some changes to the side for Wednesday’s match.
“I am still thinking on whom to drop, but I know two or three players are feeling the fatigue and need rest”, he said.
Though Rajinder declined to give details, sources close to the team said three youngsters — Tushar Khandekar, Sandeep Michael and Prabodh Tirkey — are likely to get the nod.
But he was quick to add that the players were keen to perform well and continue experimenting here as this would be their last chance to fine-tune their skills before the Champions Trophy in Amsterdam in August.
“We played well throughout the tournament in Perth. We were unfortunate to lose the final but the team’s showing improved with each outing,” Rajinder said.
“Here we will be sticking to our task of trying out new combinations and strategies with an eye on the Champions Trophy and next year’s Olympics,” the coach said.
Despite finishing second, the first-leg gave India the opportunity to try out new combinations to make their defence strong, which was till now considered a weak link in their preparations for bigger tournaments in future.
Dilip Tirkey showed his class in the matches against Pakistan and the final in the company of Kanwalpreet Singh and Jugraj Singh.
The much-improved performance of the defenders denied Pakistan from forcing any penalty corners till the 50th minute. They hardly gave any space to the rampaging Australian strikers to have a go at the Indian goal for most part of the final.
The veterans including skipper Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Singh Dhillon showed their mettle in Perth, scoring crucial goals.
Rajinder said the veterans gelled well with the youngsters which helped the side reach the final.
“It was good to see the veterans and seniors playing in tandem. Their performance here augurs well for the future of Indian hockey.”
India’s next match is against Australia A on Thursday.
On Saturday, India will take on Pakistan, who will open their campaign in the tournament against Australia A on Wednesday.
Nothing has gone right for struggling Pakistan, who came here after winning the prestigious Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia in March. They finished winless in Perth.
June 4: Australia vs India; Australia A vs Pakistan;
June 5: Australia vs Pakistan, Australia A vs India;
June 6: Rest Day
June 7: India vs Pakistan; Australia vs Australia A
June 8: Australia A vs 3rd; Final: 1st vs 2nd.