SV Sunil

Bengaluru, April 1 (IANS) Experienced India forward S.V. Sunil has urged his teammates to continue their improvements as he reckons that earning a top three ranking in world hockey is a realistic goal for them.

For the Indian team, year 2017 and 2018 are crucial with the Asia Cup and Hockey World League (HWL) Final in Bhubaneswar scheduled for this year and Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Champions Trophy and World Cup in Bhubaneswar 2018 slated for next year.

“We are currently ranked sixth in the world. It’s a good improvement from being placed 12th or 13th about four years ago,” stated Sunil in a Hockey India (HI) release on Saturday.

“I feel if we keep up our performances and show good results starting right from the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where teams like Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia will take part, we have a very good chance of improving our ranking and the aim is definitely to reach world ranking of top three.”

Sunil leads India’s attack with Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Talwinder Singh, Nikkin Thimmaiah and with youngsters like Mandeep Singh, Gurjant Singh, Affan Yousuf, Lalit Upadhyay waiting to make a permanent place in the senior squad, the competition within the team is tough. And the vice-captain is not taking his place for granted.

“There are nine players who play the forward position in the core probables right now. Some of the youngsters from the junior squad have very good performance to show and even Affan Yousuf had a good outing last year as well as in the Coal India Hockey India League (HIL),” he reflected.

“I feel each one of us have to fight for our position and make sure we have creditable performances from tournament to tournament to ensure our spot in the team,” said the 27-year-old from Coorg.

With a new system put in place and a rotation policy followed by the coaches, Sunil felt youngsters today have greater opportunities to prove their worth.

“I think back when I made the transition from junior to senior player, there were very few chances for a junior to be part of the playing 11. They would not substitute as often as they do now. So the first set of players who went in would virtually play the entire 60-70 minutes,” recalled Sunil, who made his debut in the Asia Cup in August 2007.

“But now with the speed of the game increasing, almost every player gets a few minutes on the pitch and one must make use of it.”

Sunil, who was recently named the Asian Player of the Year 2016 by the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF), said he was pleasantly surprised with the award.

“I didn’t expect it when coach called out Harmanpreet Singh (Asian Promising Player of the Year 2016) and me from the pitch in the middle of the training session to inform us about the award. At first, I thought we were being punished for something,” Sunil revealed candidly.

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