India will start their title defence against traditional rivals Pakistan in the 5th Sultan of Johor Cup junior hockey tournament here on Sunday. After a month of intensive training, the two-time defending champions will also face Britain (Monday), Argentina (Wednesday), Malaysia (Thursday) and Australia (Saturday) in the prestigious Under-21 invitational tournament. The performance of the Harendra Singh-coached team will revolve around defenders — vice-captain Dipsan Tirkey and senior international drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh, midfielder and captain Harjeet Singh. Arman Qureshi and Parvinder Singh will be the main strikers.
The tournament will also provide the team with ample opportunities to improve the skills ahead of the all-important Junior Men’s Asia Cup 2015 next month. In the past two encounters, India have beaten Pakistan by huge margins of 6-0 in 2014 and 4-0 in 2013 in the same tournament.
However, coach Harendra is not giving much importance to past records and wants his players to start fresh. “The team is very much excited and well prepared. Everyone is geared up for the challenge ahead and are looking at an exciting contest against Pakistan. We have beaten Pakistan in the past and in both the encounters our boys outplayed them,” the coach said in a statement. “The team in the last two editions showed its mettle during crucial moments. The players’ strong mental strength helped them to win. But we understand that is the past. We will start the campaign tomorrow with a fresh mind and energy. We expect a great match and a positive result in our opening game,” said Harendra, who guided Ranchi Rays to its Hockey India League (HIL) title triumph last year.