India shall look to begin their Hockey World League campaign on a winning note when they take on England in their inaugural match of the Hockey World League here at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Friday.
However, the inaugural eight-nation league gives the hosts a chance to improve their world ranking They can also test their bench-strength as this year has two big events — World Cup and Champions Trophy.
Ranked No. 10 in the world, only above Argentina in the eight-team competition here, India should count themselves lucky to have got a chance, by virtue of being a host for this build-up, having failed to qualify directly for the quadrennial event.
All the eight teams here in this tournament have already qualified for the World Cup to be held in May at The Hague, Netherlands.
Apart from England, India are clubbed along with New Zealand and Germany in Pool A, while Pool B consists of Australia, Holland, Belgium and Argentina.
The format, however, is such that all the eight teams after playing the league will qualify for the quarterfinals. So, every team will play at least four matches in the tournament.
Indian skipper Sardar Singh, is confident of a better show going into Friday’s game.
“We have a young and talented team in transition. We need to do the basic things right. The advantage we have is that we have world’s best coach in Terry Walsh. This tournament will give us good experience and exposure as it is a new event. We are lucky that the final round is being held in India. Our month-long camp in Bhopal helped the players improve their performance,” he added.
Injuries to Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Danish Mujtaba have forced India to recall SV Sunil and Yuvraj Walmiki.
The forward-line consists of Nikkin Thimmaiah, Mandeep Singh and Affan Yousuf. Goalkeeper Harjot Singh has been preferred over PT Rao while PR Sreejesh has been named deputy to skipper Sardar Singh. The midfield looks solid having SK Uthappa, Dharamvir Singh, Manpreet Singh, Chinglensana Singh and MB Aiyappa
With defence being a concern it will be interesting to see how Birendra Lakra, Rupinderpal Singh, V.R. Raghunath, Kothajit Singh and Amit Rohidas will perform.
England are bolstered by the return of striker Ashley Jackson.