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Depleted India face tough task

Anupam Gulati | May 25, 2005 20:18 IST

India have a daunting task at hand when they open their campaign in the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday as Olympic champions Australia will start as firm favourites to defend their title.

India, who finished last in the previous edition, will take on South Africa in their first outing aware that their rivals would be looking to avenge the Olympic defeat.

The three-time champions will be without their key junior players, who travel to Bilbao, Spain, for an Under-21 four-nation tournament, enroute to Rotterdam for the defence of their World Cup title next month.

The eleven-day event will be played on a round-robin format amongst Australia, Pakistan, India, South Korea, New Zealand, South Africa and hosts Malaysia, with the final slated for June 5.

Though India have some new faces, who came into the spotlight after the inaugural Premier Hockey League, the dampener was the injuries to midfielders Viren Rasquinha and Vikram Pillay, besides veteran striker Samir Dad, who was hoping for a comeback.

India captain Dilip Tirkey, coming back after a long injury layoff, would be hoping that the other defenders -- Harpal Singh and Muthuselvan -- would provide the solidity, while Len Aiyappa would execute the penalty corner drag-flicks.

The midfield, weakened by the absence of Rasquinha and Pillay, will be marshalled by Ignace Tirkey and Bimal Lakra with support from rookies Avtar Singh and Jaswinder. The coaches Rajinder Singh (Jr) and Narinder Pal Singh may play Arjun Halappa in the right midfield to blunt rival onslaughts.

Deepak ThakurDeepak Thakur will hold the key for India's front line. If his forays have the precision and collaboration with Prabhjot Singh and Sandeep Michael, the trio could well be the toast of the large Indian support base here.

Another dark horse is striker Suresh Kumar, who impressed with his stickwork and marksmanship during the camps in Delhi and Hyderabad.

The Australians coached by Barry Dancer congregated for the first time at Perth since their title win at the Olympics last August, for an intensive training camp where the majority of the Athens squad were joined by Michael Boyce, Aaron Hopkins, Stephen Lambert and Craig Victory.

Australia had opted out of  the Champions Trophy in Lahore last December for security reasons.

The team will be spearheaded by Travis Brooks, man of the match in the 2004 final here, who slammed two goals in the summit clash against Pakistan.

The Victorian will have Michael McCann, Grant Schubert and Craig Victory for company upfront, while the Queensland pair Jamie Dwyer and Liam de Young are expected to provide the penalty corner fireworks.

The defending champions, who have won this title thrice, have also included uncapped Luke Doerner, David Guest and Eli Matheson in the squad and will face hosts Malaysia in their opener.

Pakistan, champions in 1999, 2000 and 2003 have brought along twelve juniors with the obvious motive to blood them in top flight competition before the Rotterdam Junior World Cup in June-July.

Skippered by centre half Mohammed Saqlain, the side will sorely miss Sohail Abbas, who announced retirement from international hockey soon after the Lahore Champions Trophy.

New Zealand, sixth at Athens, were pitted against the Pakistanis in the tournament opener under the hot and humid conditions.

Kiwi coach Kevin Towns was relieved that the Black Sticks would be back to full strength with the return of five players who are playing in the European leagues, including Phil Burrows and Dean Cousins, in Holland.

South Africa have retained seven men who did duty here last year including 29-year-old Bruce Jacobs who replaces captain Ryan Ravenscroft. The squad has a blend of experience and youth with the return of Chris Hibbert, Clyde Abrahams, and the Kwa Zulu Natal duo of Ken Forbes and Justin King.

The South Africans have also included their Under-21 captain Andrew Cronje alongwith junior Lungile Tsolekile, younger brother of Test Cricket wicketkeeper Thami.

South Korea has a very decent record in this tournament, winners in 1996 at Ipoh, then thrice runners up in succession and bronze medalists twice.

Hosts Malaysia, the Busan Asiad bronze winners, have only had one podium finish since the inception of the tournament twenty two years ago. Now coached by Wallace Tan, who replaced German Paul Lissek, their primary goal will be not to end up with the wooden spoon yet again.

Schedule of matches to be telecast LIVE on ESPN STAR Sports

Date

Time

Match

Channel

26-May-05

13:30

Pakistan Vs New Zealland

STAR Sports

26-May-05

15:30

India Vs South Africa

STAR Sports

26-May-05

17:30

Australia Vs Malaysia

STAR Sports

27-May-05

13:30

India Vs New Zealand

STAR Sports

27-May-05

15:30

Australia Vs South Korea

STAR Sports

27-May-05

17:30

Malaysia Vs South Africa

STAR Sports

28-May-05

17:30

South Korea Vs Pakistan

ESPN

29-May-05

13:30

India Vs Malaysia

ESPN

29-May-05

15:30

Pakistan Vs South Africa

ESPN

29-May-05

17:30

Australia Vs New Zealand

ESPN

30-May-05

15:30

Malaysia vs South Korea

STAR Sports

30-May-05

17:30

New Zealand Vs South Africa

STAR Sports

31-May-05

15:30

Pakistan Vs Australia

STAR Sports

31-May-05

17:30

India Vs South Korea

STAR Sports

01-June-05

13:30

Australia vs South Africa

STAR Sports

01-June-05

15:30

Malaysia Vs New Zealand

STAR Sports

01-June-05

17:30

India Vs Pakistan

STAR Sports

02-June-05

14:00

South Korea Vs New Zealand

STAR Sports

03-June-05

13:30

South Africa Vs South Korea

STAR Sports

03-June-05

15:30

Australia Vs India

STAR Sports

03-June-05

17:30

Malaysia Vs Pakistan

STAR Sports

05-June-05

13:30

Match to decide 5th & 6th rank

STAR Sports

05-June-05

15:30

Match to decide 3rd & 4th rank

STAR Sports

06-June-05

17:30

Final

STAR Sports


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