With the Indian men’s hockey team reaching the semifinals of the ongoing Junior Asia Cup and booking its spot at the Junior World Cup later this year, coach CR Kumar is looking beyond, preparing players for the step up to the senior level.
India will most likely face South Korea in the semifinals on Wednesday and the defending champion – India won in 2015 with the 2021 edition cancelled due to COVID – is keen on continuing the momentum.
“This was our only chance to prove ourselves and qualify for the Junior World Cup and we have done good so far. I have faith in this team and our preparation and am hoping to be in the final and do well against whichever team we face,” Kumar said from Salalah on Monday.
Having worked extensively over the years with junior Indian teams, both men and women, Kumar continues to welcome the challenge. “It is always exciting to work with youngsters, the future players. Hockey today is like an electronic product, there is nothing called latest because tomorrow something new will come along – new ideas, tech, creative plans. My responsibility is to convey the same to the players and help them adopt and adapt to the constantly changing conditions. I am not looking at the World Cup only but beyond to make sure they realise their potential and are ready for the senior team,” he explained.
Team captain Uttam Singh – one of the six in the side from the 2021 Junior World Cup where India finished 4th in Bhubaneswar – admitted that that outing hurt but the team had moved on. “It hurt to finish 4th last time, at home and as defending champions. But we need to move forward with this new team. There are 5-6 of us who played the 2021 JWC and also some senior games but that gives us experience, not any special leadership role. We have to take everyone along and move forward together. We are the top side in Asia and there are lots of expectations every time but we have learnt from our victory at the Sultan of Johor Cup (last year),” he insisted.
The penalty corners have been a concern for the teams and Kumar admitted the team was hoping to overcome the challenge. “Firstly, PCs are more a matter of perfection of execution than raw power. Also, it’s a new turf and so not very smooth, there is a little friction. Every team that wants to play at a high pace has struggled but it’s the same for every team, we just have to adjust and prepare accordingly,” he shrugged.
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