Little time to get into the groove, an under-the-weather Indian captain Harmanpreet Singh, teams unsure of the scheduling and officials racing against time to get everything in place will mark the return of international hockey to Chennai when teams take to the field on the opening day of the Asian Champions Trophy on Thursday.
For the host, it will be the final opportunity to try out its plans and personnel before the Asian Games next month amidst high pressure and higher expectations at the revamped Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium. For everyone else, it will be a chance to assess their opponents in what is being billed as a test event ahead of the big-ticket outing in Hangzhou.
On Wednesday evening, India had its first training session without Harmanpreet, although the drag-flicker is expected to take the field in India’s opening game against China, the lowest-ranked side in the tournament. Given India’s record of starting slow and often slipping against Asian opponents, it could not have asked for an easier game to get into the rhythm, relatively speaking.
India has lost only once to China in its last seven outings, the lone defeat coming in the 2013 edition of the ACT, the only time India did not return with a medal in the event after fielding a second-string side. It was a long time ago, but India would do well to guard against any complacency. The fact that India could not score a single field goal in its recent outing to Spain will also be a concern, even if the opponents were vastly superior.
“The turf is actually very fast so it’s a good one to play on. It’s also good that we will be playing late in the evening because you need a little time to adjust after coming from Europe. But other than that, we are ready to go,” midfielder Vivek Sagar Prasad said after the practice.
Korea vs Japan (4pm), Pakistan vs Malaysia (6.15pm), India vs China (8.30pm).