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Azlan Shah 2017: Juniors Shine as India Play Out 2-2 Draw Against Great Britain

Image credit: Hockey India.

Image credit: Hockey India.

India were held to a 2-2 draw by Britain in the opening match of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh on Saturday.

Ipoh: Going into the game, if someone had told India coach Roelant Oltmans that his team would be held to a 2-2 draw by Great Britain, he wouldn't have agreed. But under the circumstance — a two-hour rain delay — India will be happy to have taken home a point from their international season opener at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament.

Not all plans fall into place when you are playing your first game in six months. On that count, a 2-2 draw against the dogged Britons shouldn't disappoint the Indians.

"I can live with it," Oltmans said after the match. Quite a strong stand from the coach after seeing his boys throw away the advantage twice after taking the lead.

RAIN THREAT

Saturday was not the first time though that rain had played spoilsport with the Indians. Each of India's training sessions in the run-up to the opener had been interrupted by rain.

It was almost a given that it would rain, but the weather-gods saved the longest spell for Saturday. Each of the three games had to be shifted by two hours, forcing everyone to brace up for a long evening.

But the newly-laid turf at the Azlan Shah Stadium drained almost simultaneously, staying in perfect condition to allow play as soon as the rain stopped - without any evident heaviness or slowness.

"The first training session had been the same (interrupted by rain). I told the boys this will happen in the tournament as well, so be prepared," Oltmans said.

RE-STRUCTURED DEFENCE LOOKED GOOD

Even though India failed to win the game, the team had a new-look defensive structure with Surender Kumar and debutant Gurinder Singh assisting Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh. Sardar played slightly withdrawn as a midfielder, often seen fortifying the defence.

Affan Yousuf was asked to scurry as a centre forward intermittently, trying to hurry the British defenders into committing soft errors.

For most part of the game, Manpreet Singh Sr bossed the central midfield, also creating the second goal with a brilliant overlapping run that assisted Mandeep Singh to score.

And then India had three debutants to foster. Adding all that up, Oltmans expected things to look up from here as the boys get into the groove in the week ahead.

"I think we can play much better than we did. This is the first match with this team. So, it's not strange that not all the rhythms and automatic movements are part of your game," the India coach said.

SOLID BACKLINE SHINES THROUGH

Surender stood out in the back-line, exhibiting good ball sense and marking of opposition attackers. He is one player who has shown the maximum improvement since the Champions Trophy and Rio Olympics last year, taking forward his learning from those two marquee events.

India conceded just one penalty corner in 60 minutes showing that they had their plans and defensive wall in the right place to cramp the Britishers for room.

Harmanpreet, who made his senior debut here last year, looked more composed than Rupinder — the most senior of the three Indian defenders.

"We defended pretty well in the whole match and conceded just one penalty corner. That was very good," said Oltmans.

JUNIORS WILL IMPROVE

It was a big day for Sumit, Gurinder and Manpreet Singh Jr — the three debutants. Of the three, Sumit looked a bit overwhelmed by the occasion. What Oltmans did well was ease them into the match and not keep them on the pitch forever. He tried to give them the feel of international pressure gradually, not thrusting them into the line of fire.

"Probably from all of them it was not the best hockey they have played in their lives, but I am 100 per cent sure they will improve their game throughout this tournament," Oltmans opined.