India’s five-match series, starting here on Saturday, against World No. 1 Australia represents another chance for the team to reassess its strengths and weaknesses ahead of the FIH Hockey World Cup.
It has always been a herculean task for India to challenge the might of the Australians, a dominant force in world hockey. It will be the first time the two sides meet since Australia thrashed India 7-0 in the Commonwealth Games final in Birmingham.
World No. 5 India will clearly start as the underdog against the Kookaburras, although Graham Reid’s team has been a force to reckon with since winning a historic bonze in the Tokyo Olympics last year.
India is coming into the match after two victories against New Zealand and mixed results (1W, 1L) against Spain in Bhubaneswar in the fresh FIH Pro League season. Both Spain and New Zealand are lower-ranked sides — at eighth and ninth, respectively — and facing Australia at home will be an altogether different proposition for the Indian side.
Talking about the series, India head coach Reid said, “There is no better place to come than Australia for preparation for the World Cup. Australia’s way of play is very grounded in India. What’s great about this series is that both teams get to learn about the different skills that both bring to the table,” the Australian said during the pre-match press conference here on Friday.
With the FIH World Cup in Bhubaneswar-Rourkela less than 50 days away, captain Harmanpreet Singh said each match against Australia will prove vital in the team’s preparations for the marquee event at home.
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“This series is really important for us. When you are preparing for a mega event like the World Cup, it’s always good to play against the best in the lead up,” said the ace drag-flicker.
Treat for Indian fans in Australia
The FIH Player of the Year is also hoping that his team will get enough support from the Indians residing in Australia.
“It is great to be in Australia after so many years gap. Due to Covid we couldn’t travel here, there are many passionate Indian hockey fans here and we always love playing in front of them. I am looking forward to good matches here.”
Seasoned Australia head coach Colin Batch said, “This series is really important for us coming up to the World Cup in January. It’s great that India are here. We love playing against them and this will be great competition for us. India is a really strong team and these will be the only matches we will play before the World Cup. We feel like we can take some strong steps in our preparation for the World Cup.”
The Australian squad will be led by co-captains Aran Zalewski and Eddie Ockenden, who is set to play his 400th international in the second match on Sunday. Seven players — James Collins, Tom Craig, Dylan Martin, Ben Rennie, Lachlan Sharp, Jack Welch, and Ky Willott — have been added to the squad that won the Kookaburras’ seventh straight Commonwealth Games gold medal in Birmingham.
Goalkeeper Andrew Charter will be unavailable for the first two matches because of his marriage.
The full Kookaburras squad has not been together since the Commonwealth Games.
The other four matches will also be played here — on November 27, 30, December 3 and 4.