ACT, a chance to test new combinations before Jr WC: Clark

New Delhi: With focus firmly on the FIH Junior Men`s World Cup in December, India is sending a relatively junior team for the Asian Champions Trophy in Japan and chief coach Gregg Clark said the upcoming tournament will give him a chance to assess all the arsenal at his disposal ahead of the quadrennial event.

Hockey India has included as many as 13 players from the Sultan of Johor Cup-winning junior squad in the 18-man touring party announced for the third Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) to be held in Kakamigahara, Japan from November 2-10.

"The Junior World Cup is merely five weeks away so the preparations are mainly aimed at that. We are testing out some new combinations. It`s all part of the process to try and make sure that come December 6 we are in the best place as a team," Clark told reporters at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium here today before departing for Japan later tonight.

"We will just try to build on what we did previously in Johor Cup in terms of all our structures. We scored some good penalty corners there but we need to better our conversion rate. Gurjinder Singh is in the team, he wasn`t in Johor. He is very effective in penalty corners. So the tournament will be a test for him. Our main focus will be to see how complete as a team we are by the time ACT gets over," he added.

The South African said the ACT is an opportunity for some regular members of the senior side like Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh to mix with the junior set up.

"The strength of the team is that we have got 13 players from the Sultan of Johor Cup team. We can build on that. Hopefully, the players who are coming in can add really good values. For guys like Mandeep and Akashdeep who have joined the team, it is an opportunity to learn from Greg Clark and Baljit Saini, may be slightly different from Roelant Oltmans` coaching in the Asia Cup," Clark said.

Satisfied with the preparation of his side, Clark is aiming to repeat the success of Sultan of Johor Cup in the ACT.

"I think the build up has been good. We had good three weeks of training here in Delhi. We are in the back of success in Johor. We have the bulk of the team that was in Johor. So, I am happy with the preparation," the South African said.
"We will play each opponent on their merit. For me it`s about how well the team can guard on each day and execute our plans as effectively as possible."

Midfielder Manpreet Singh, who captained the junior team during the Sultan of Johor Cup, has been given the honours to lead the senior team that will be without regulars Sardar Singh, VR Raghunath, PR Sreejesh and Rupinderpal Singh, who have been rested to allow juniors a chance to prepare for the Junior World Cup to be held here from December 6-15.

"I am little bit nervous because its a big responsibility. I hope I follow Sardar bhai`s footsteps," Manpreet said.

"There is little pressure on me as a captain because it is a senior tournament. But I will give my 100 per cent and try to keep the team together. We are expecting to repeat our Johor Cup performance in ACT," he added.

India won the first edition of the ACT in 2011, but failed to defend the title last year, losing to arch-rivals Pakistan 4-5.
The other participating teams in this year`s men`s competition are China, Japan, Malaysia, Oman and Pakistan. India will open their campaign against China on November 2 followed by matches against Japan (Nov 3), Oman (Nov 5), Pakistan (Nov 7) and Malaysia (Nov 8).

Alongside the men`s side, Indian eves will also be participating in the women`s competition of the ACT and the team`s chief coach Neil Hawgood is looking at the tournament to prepare his wards for next year`s important events.

"After the disappointment of the Asia Cup and not qualifying for the World Cup, we are looking forward to the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games now. We need to expose as many players as possible to international hockey quickly," Hawgood said.

"I think we actually made some really good improvements. We beat China in the shoot-out in the Asia Cup. China are highest ranked among the Asian teams. We now can compete against top Asian teams. We just need to be more consistent in terms of performances.

"We have got a lot of hockey coming up next year. But the good thing is that after this tournament we have three months break to work on our mistakes and not think about preparing for any tournaments," he said.

The other participating teams in the women`s competition are China, Japan and Malaysia. The Indian eves will open their campaign against China on November 2 followed by matches against Malaysia on November 4 and Japan on November 7.