Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2017: An opportunity for next crop to earn their stripes

 Harmanpreet Singh

Last year, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup was crucial for Harmanpreet Singh and Mandeep Singh for contrasting reasons. For Harmanpreet, it was an opportunity to show he could be as effective a drag-flicker at the senior level as he was with the colts. While for Mandeep, it was about holding on to his place in the side, which was being questioned with every passing match. 

Like Harmanpreet, Harjeet Singh too was playing his maiden international tournament. It was a gamble coach Roelant Oltmans had taken, especially in an Olympic year. But its result is apparent a year on. The trio, which played a crucial role in India winning the junior World Cup, are regulars in the senior side now.

This year, it will be the turn of the other juniors to earn their stripes through the Azlan Shah Cup. Defender Gurinder Singh and the midfield duo of Sumit and Manpreet Singh Junior will make their international debut when India take on Britain in their opening match of the tournament on Saturday.

In the goal, Akash Chikte – who too made his international debut at the Azlan Shah last year – will have another opportunity to stake his claim as the back-up to PR Sreejesh. Chikte is a last-minute addition to the squad after Suraj Karkera, who was originally selected as the No.2 goalkeeper in the squad, injured himself just before the team left for Malaysia.

India isn’t the only team experimenting in Ipoh. Australia and Britain, too, have traveled with a young squad with an eye on a busy 2018, which includes the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup.

India have historically done well at this tournament, winning five times and finishing runners-up twice. But Oltmans is wary of making bold claims this time, saying the team is under transition.

“This is the first big tournament after the Olympics for seniors and after the junior World Cup. So it’s normal that all five teams have come with a couple of new players and at the same time, retaining the core so it will be competitive but difficult to say,” Oltmans said.

“But you go into a tournament with just one aim, that is to win. That is the attitude we are trying to achieve and we need to start with the first tournament we play this year.”

India’s schedule
  • April 29: vs Britain;
  • April 30: vs New Zealand; 
  • May 2: vs Australia; 
  • May 3: vs Japan; 
  • May 5: vs Malaysia; 
  • May 6: Final/playoffs


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