India’s budding stars gear up for AHL challenge

The India A men’s and women’s teams will participate in the Australian Hockey League from September 28.

The India A teams begin their campaign on September 29.   -  P. V. Sivakumar (Representative Image)

India’s A teams - men’s and women’s - left the country to take part in the Australian Hockey League that begins on September 28 in Perth. The league will see 10 teams, including defending champion Victoria, fight for top honours.

The men’s team prepared for the Australian challenge at the Sports Authority of India centre in Bengaluru, while the corresponding women’s team at the SAI centre in Bhopal.

India A men, led by goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya, have performed well in recent tournaments. The team comprises several players from the Indian side that won the 2016 Junior World Cup in Lucknow. “I think we have a very good mix of players with many of us who have played together for more than four years. There is a great understanding among the players and we have undergone good preparations for the challenge in Australia. The teams we will be playing are quite strong with players of national repute but we are geared up for a good show,” Dahiya said.

Dahiya felt the upcoming tournament can can be a means to help grab attention of national selectors ahead of the all-important Men’s Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar in December. “With the development squad, the player pool is much larger and there is scope for every player to showcase their abilities. A good performance in AHL will help players get a call-up for the men’s squad. The competition within our team is healthy and each one will undoubtedly give more than their 100 per cent,” said Dahiya.

‘Lot of excitement’

19-year-old Preeti Dubey, skipper of the women’s team, said the AHL will be a stepping stone for young and upcoming players. “Apart from four or five of us in this team, not many girls have had strong international exposure. Considering this is the first time that a women’s team from India is being sent for the AHL, there is a lot of excitement among the players,” said Preeti, who had a good outing for the senior side at the Hockey World League Semifinal recently.

For the women, the AHL will be a platform to test their abilities against a strong set of opponents in tough Australian conditions. “The Australians play fast and attacking hockey. While our aim is to perform well in all departments, the AHL will be a very good platform for most of us to understand the demands of fast-paced international hockey. Moving forward, this experience will definitely help us in other international tournaments and we are looking forward to this challenge,” Preeti added.

The men begin their campaign against Western Australia on September 29 while the women take on Victoria in their first match on the same day.

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