Their eyes firmly set on a podium finish in the upcoming Commonwealth Games, India would look to utilise their final 2021-2022 FIH Pro League tie against the Netherlands, starting on Saturday, to address the grey areas.
In their previous tie against Tokyo Olympic champions Belgium in Antwerp last week, India won the first match 5-4 (3-3) in shoot-out before losing 2-3 to slid to the third position in the Pro League standings with 29 points from 14 games.
Belgium moved to the top with 31 points from 14 games — on par with Netherlands — who have played 12 matches.
Still in with an outside chance of finishing at the top of the standings, the Indian men would be hoping to sign off their campaign on a high against the mighty Netherlands.
But it is easier said than done as world No. 3 and reigning World Cup runners-up, the Netherlands are a formidable outfit and are expected to give the Indians a tough time in the double-leg tie.
Playing against such world-class opponents in European conditions can only benefit the Indians as they prepare for the Birmingham CWG, to be held from July 28 to August 8.
These matches are providing valuable insights to the Indian team’s think tank on where it stands currently and what more needs to be done to finish on the podium in Birmingham.
Against world No.1 Belgium, the Amit Rohidas-led Indian team showed tremendous fighting spirit in both the matches, and the visitors would look to continue in the same vein against the Netherlands.
India’s vice-captain and ace drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh believed that the two overseas ties against Belgium and Netherlands will hold the side in good stead in the Birmingham Games.
“Playing back-to-back matches in Pro League has benefited us a lot. In Pro League you are playing against the 12 best teams in the world. After every match the thinking changes, the strategy changes and it is helping us a lot.
“We are learning in every aspect of the game in every match,” he said.
Though India are still in with a chance of winning the league, Harmanpreet said they are just aiming to finish the campaign on a positive note. The rest depends on luck and results of other fixtures.
“It is our last two matches, we have no option but to win to be in the reckoning. There is not much difference between the top three teams but Netherlands have an edge as they still have four games remaining and Belgium have two games against England.” Harmanpreet pointed out that finishing and stopping the opposition attack outside their ‘D’ are the two main areas on which they are focussing on ahead of the CWG.
Besides the men, the Indian women will also be in action in the weekend against Olympic silver medallist and world No. 2 Argentina, who are on a 14-match unbeaten streak.
The Indian women had lost 1-2 and 0-5 to Belgium in Antwerp last week.
Despite the defeat, the Indian women are placed third in the standings with 22 points from 10 games, behind Netherlands (32 points) and table-toppers Argentina (38).
But going into Saturday’s first game, the Indian women would be low on confidence after the thrashing at the hands of Belgium last Sunday.
India captain Savita said the players ought to handle pressure if they are to book their places in the squad for the World Cup, to be held in Spain and the Netherlands from July 1 to 17.
“The players have to adapt and handle the pressure, but it’s not the same everyday. Sometimes a player can let this very fact run their mind and let it affect their game because it’s not easy when you’re playing.
“It’s easy to say don’t get affected by the fact that if you will not perform and get dropped.
“Here, it was a team of 24 players first, then it got to 20 players then it had to be down to 18 players, so yes the players did feel the pressure and I think it does affect the performance.
“But no one is to blame in this scenario because we need to handle the pressure here if we want to perform in the World Cup.
“In Olympics, the team handled the pressure well, even in Bhubaneswar we got to know how the players handle the home ground pressure,” she said.