Junior Hockey WC: India takes on Canada in its opener

What makes the contest interesting is the large number of Indian-origin players – 13 in the 18-man squad, including captains Balraj Panesar and Brandon Pereira – in the Canadian side.

Skipper Balraj Panesar (in red) is one of the 13 Indian origin players in the Canadian side.   -  Getty Images

Divided into three groups on Wednesday, the Indian junior men's hockey team worked out in precise formations at the Major Dhyan Chand stadium here on the eve of its opener in the 13th Hockey Junior World Cup against Canada. Rotating themselves among attack, possession play and defence, the players were relaxed but practiced with intensity.

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That relaxed nature, admitted chief coach Harendra Singh, was the key to the team being in a good place. “The mood is fantastic, I have never seen something like this in any team in my 18 years of experience. There used to the pressure and tension on players' faces, but not now there is a chemistry that I am happy with,” he said as India embarked to add to its only title in the tournament, which it won in 2001.

National coach Roelant Oltmans added that “there is a lot of fun, they enjoy it all, but at the right moment, you have to get your focus back and this group wants to show that the good results in recent times were not a coincidence.” Harendra, though, made it clear that he wanted his boys to not bother about the summit or even the opponent on Thursday.

“From what I have seen in the previous editions, we always try to do something special against every team, which is not possible in modern hockey. It's better to concentrate on doing your job well. If you play normal hockey, you will play fantastic. If you try to do something new all the time, you will fail,” he said, explaining the team's approach.

What makes the contest interesting is the large number of Indian-origin players – 13 in the 18-man squad, including captains Balraj Panesar and Brandon Pereira – in the Canadian side. Incidentally, both were also part of the Canadian side in the previous edition of the competition. Ganga Singh, along with 20-year old Parmeet Gill, travelled to India earlier this year and spent two months playing and learning the Indian style of hockey at the Namdhari Hockey Academy in Sirsa. While it was a personal decision, it also highlighted the deep planning behind the team's preparations.

For India, the biggest advantage would be the continuity maintained in the past three years in terms of personnel on and off the field. The likes of captain, Harjeet Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Mandeep Singh, Ajit Panday and Vikas Dahiya have already earned senior caps and form the core of the team. “The one important thing I have told the boys is to remember the last two years and eight months of hard work and training and why they started playing hockey in the first place. I guarantee that we will not disappoint,” Harendra said.

Defending champion Germany, meanwhile, would kick off against Spain in its search for a third consecutive title and an incredible seventh overall.

Schedule: Pool C: New Zealand vs Japan (11.30 am), Spain vs Germany (1.30 pm); Pool D: England vs South Africa (3.30 pm), India vs Canada (7 pm).