With an eye on the Olympics, the India hockey team skipper Sardar Singh said that the upcoming tournaments like Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and Champions Trophy will serve as important preparatory events in the run-up to the Rio Games.
Sardar said while the immediate aim is to win a gold in Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at Ipoh from April 6-16, the larger goal is to come up with a medal-winning show in the Champions Trophy, to be played in London from June 10-17.
"We have a very busy schedule over the next few months. So, we need a very strong core group of players around which the team will revolve. Though the immediate focus of our preparation is the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, but we are also looking ahead at the Champions Trophy that will be played in June," Sardar said at the training-cum-conditioning camp, which is currently underway at the SAI Centre here.
The Indian team has enjoyed considerable success in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, winning the tournament five times -- 1985, 1991, 1995, 2009 and 2010. Last year, India finished third and Sardar said his team's target is to do better this time around.
"We have a good record in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Our target is to do better than last year when we won bronze. We lost some close matches against New Zealand and Malaysia. But this year our aim is to come back with gold," he said.
This year, besides India, defending champions New Zealand, 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, Australia, Pakistan, Japan, Canada and hosts Malaysia will be taking part in the tournament.
The skipper feels that the preparations are in the right direction to win the upcoming tournament.
"The core group of players is shaping up very well. This team has the right balance of experience and youth and the youngsters are willing to stand up to be counted. We have a great chief coach in Roelant Oltmans, who is a very astute reader of the game.
"I can confidently say that the team is working in the right direction and is making 100 per cent effort to win the tournament," said the veteran of 236 international games.
Sardar said that the team has been working on a few grey areas like conceding early and late goals, and the inability to create more scoring chances by earning penalty corners inside the opponent's striking circle.
"We are conscious of the weak areas. We are working to eliminate the flaws that have plagued the Indian team in the past like conceding early and late goals. We felt that these two problems can be solved with better communication on the field. For better communication the boys need to spend a lot of time together off the field. We have been focusing on this particular aspect at the camp by spending a lot time doing things together off the field.
"Also, in modern hockey the result is determined by how a team plays inside the two striking circles. In our training, we are working on some new strategies and tactics how to create more opportunities inside the opponent's striking circle by earning more short corners and not to concede any early or late goals," Sardar explained.
India start their campaign in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup against Japan on April 6.
Image: India's hockey captain Sardar Singh.
Photograph: Michael Dodge/Getty Images