New Delhi: India's chief hockey coach Michael Nobbs does not have high expectations from his squad in the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia but said that the tournament would serve as an ideal platform for identifying players for the Junior World Cup scheduled later this year. With an aim to build a strong reserve pool, India have fielded their development squad for the Azlan Shah Cup and rested six of its senior players, including regular skipper Sardar Singh.
Nobbs said the main idea behind the decision to field an under-strength team was to prepare the youngsters for the FIH Junior World Cup to be held in India later this year. "We had some objectives in mind when we selected the team for the Azlan Shah Cup. Our main aim is to build a strong team for the Junior World Cup, and we can achieve that only by giving as much international exposure as possible to the junior players," said Nobbs.
"It is also a good opportunity to draft in some junior players as they are the future of Indian hockey. It will also create a healthy competition for places in the team. "Mandeep's (Singh) performance in the Hockey World League is a prime example of the fact that junior players need development. Mandeep found international hockey lot tougher than Hockey India League. He has got talent but require development," he said.
Nobbs said junior team coach Baljit Saini will also be accompanying the team for the Azlan Shah Cup. Nobbs said with a long season ahead, it was also imperative to give rest to some of the already-exhausted senior players. "The other objective behind the decision to send the development team was to give rest to some senior players, who are either exhausted or are carrying injuries, because we have a busy schedule ahead," the Australian insisted.
Apart from India, arch-rivals Pakistan, Australia, Korea, New Zealand and hosts Malaysia are the other participating nations in this year's Azlan Shah Cup to be played from March 9 to 17.
Asked about the strength of other teams in the tournament, Nobbs said, "I really can't say anything as I don't know the composition of other teams. But I expect most of the teams will send their development squad." The India coach said acclimatising to the hot and humid conditions in Malaysia will be a big challenge for all the participating nations.
"It will be tough for all except Malaysia. It will be tough for us to suddenly play under 35 degree Celsius from 20 degree. But we have six days in hand to get used to the conditions," Nobbs said.