India faces twin challenges ahead of FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers

Indian men's basketball team will need to tackle twin challenges of missing key players and a modified qualification procedure ahead of the first round of FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers.

India's Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (black jersey) in action during a match against Iran.   -  AFP Photo

Indian men’s basketball team will need to tackle the twin challenges of missing key personnel in Amjyot Singh Gill and Arshpreet Bhullar and a modified qualification procedure ahead of the first round of FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers starting this Friday.

Drawn alongside Bahrain, Iraq and Lebanon, India will begin its campaign by taking on Bahrain and Iraq in back-to-back away games without Amjyot and Arshpreet owing to the disciplinary proceedings initiated against the duo last December. K. Govindaraj, President, Basketball Federation of India, stated that it will be a “couple of months” before they return.

Moreover, Satnam Singh is also out following a doping violation.

Asia’s flagship event has also undergone a change. Biennial before, the Asia Cup will be held once in four years starting from the 2021 edition. Earlier, teams used to qualify through their respective regional championships; India, in 2017, secured the berth by winning the South Asian Basketball Championship.

Under the new format, 24 teams from across Asia have been drawn into six groups. Each team will play a double round-robin format (home and away) across three windows spread over a year. The top two teams in each group will advance to the FIBA Asia Cup 2021, while the six third-placed outfits will compete in a separate tournament to determine the last four members that will complete the 16-team roster.

“It's tough preparation wise,” said skipper Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. “Now we will play two matches. The next matches are after eight months. What if something happens to some player? The Federation is trying to get us some tournaments, matches in between. But it is a big gap.”

But the 28-year-old played down the absence of key players. “There will be some effect. But we have practised, planned and trained for two months without them. So it doesn't matter.”

Bhriguvanshi also stated that the aim was to recapture the golden form of 2015-16 when India made the quarter-finals of the 2015 Asia Cup and finished seventh in the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge.

The team: Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (Capt), Muin Bek Hafeez, Joginder Singh, P.V. Sivakumar, Sahil, Jagdeep Singh, Prashant Rawat, Aravind Annadurai, Princepal Singh, Amritpal Singh, Amaan Sandhu, Arvind Arumugam; Head coach: Veselin Matic.

Fixtures: India vs. Bahrain (Feb 21); India vs. Iraq (Feb 24).

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