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Sultan Azlan Shah Cup a litmus test for youngsters: Vice-captain Surender Kumar

Bengaluru | Indian men’s hockey team vice-captain Surender Kumar on Wednesday said the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will be a good opportunity for youngsters to test themselves ahead of the qualifying tournaments for 2020 Olympics.

India will be fielding a young squad at the 28th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup with the likes of Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma, Sumit Kumar (Junior), Gurinder Singh, Simranjeet Singh and Gurjant Singh, among others. They have shown tremendous potential after making their international debut with the senior team.

“The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup has always been a great platform to test youngsters and see how they adapt to international standards. Their experience will grow ahead of the major (2020 Olympic Games qualifying) tournaments we play this year,” said Surender.

“Some of these players have done very well at the FIH Champions Trophy and 2018 Men’s World Cup and carry a lot of confidence. And we have been speaking to them regularly about handling pressure especially in situations when we are one goal down or two goals down. Their good show will only be beneficial for our team in the lead up to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo,” he added.

The Malaysia-bound team has been going through the grind in soaring summer heat at the Sports Authority of India campus here. Surender said the team felt that training in the afternoon will help them acclimatise to the weather in Ipoh, where the temperature will hover around 34-36 degrees when India play their matches. “It will be just about the same conditions in Ipoh but maybe a bit more humid,” said the vice-captain.

Speaking about India’s chances in the tournament, starting on March 23, with Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Canada, Poland in the fray, Surender emphasised that their goal is to win the gold. “The goal is to win gold but we won’t be going into the tournament thinking of the final. We will have to go step-by-step. Our first match is with Japan and then Korea, and it’s important to start well,” he said.

The Haryana-born Surender broke into the national scene in 2016 when he was picked for the senior men’s camp after a successful outing in the Hockey India League (HIL).

Since then, there has been no looking back for Surender. With his consistent performances in the backline, he has earned a name for himself. He credits his growth in the team to compatriot Rupinder Pal Singh. “Rupinder Pal guided me a lot during our days at Hockey India League and always egged me on saying I will get a chance in the national camp if I played well in HIL.

“Even when I came into the camp in 2016 ahead of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup he guided me a lot in terms of handling pressure and how to carry on despite mistakes we might commit during matches,” Surender recalled. His turning point, however, was after the Asia Cup 2017 in Dhaka when the coaches advised him to improve on his speed, footwork and tackling.

“After the Asia Cup, coaches told me where I was going wrong and they told me my movement was a bit slow and I needed to improve my speed and tackling. I worked a lot on this last year ahead of the FIH Champions Trophy.

“The Indian team works with the belief that our defence needs to be solid and solid defence can win tournaments. This belief automatically brings a sense of responsibility,” the 24-year-old said.

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