Following the junior national team’s triumph at the Hockey Junior World Cup in Lucknow, which broke a longstanding jinx, efforts are underway to build on the advantage.
Plans are afoot to create a development squad in order to groom players for senior international tournaments like the 2018 World Cup and Asian Games.
According to Hockey India (HI), a reworked proposal will be sent to the sports ministry for approval and sanction of funds. “At least top 33 players will be selected for the group, and they will be given all the benefits that senior teams get in the national camp like exposure and support staff,” said Elena Norman, CEO of HI.
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Norman said currently there were two groups — junior and senior among the men and women. “Each group has 48 probables, and with the setting up of the development team, each group will have 33 players. Instead of 48, we will have 66 players at the top.”
The federation had approached the government for the sanction of funds for the new group, but the green signal did not come. “It’s been pending for the past two years. Now that there is a feel-good factor after the World Cup win, there is a bright chance of the project being cleared,” said Norman on the sidelines of the function to felicitate the victorious World Cup squad. Sports minister Vijay Goel gave away cash awards of Rs 3,70,000 each.
Coach of the winning team, Harendra Singh, felt that all the players from the present squad might not find a place in the senior team. “Those who don’t make it also need to be groomed. Otherwise, the investment on youth development since 2014 might go waste,” he said, adding all leading hockey-playing nations have development teams. “That’s the way to move forward,” he said.
After a short break, the players will assemble for the Hockey India League, which starts in the second week of January. Soon after, there will be a national camp to prepare for the World Hockey League semifinals.
“All the players have done a good job, they deserve a short break too,” said Harendra.
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The junior team had claimed the title in 2001 at Hobart, Australia, but after graduating to the senior team they weren’t able to carry on the good work. The team flopped at the 2004 Athens Olympics and failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a first in the history of Indian hockey. The team qualified for the 2012 London Games, but finished at the bottom of the 12-team tournament.
Led by PR Sreejesh, the players gave a good account of themselves by finishing in the top-six at the Rio Olympics. To cement its place in world hockey, Harendra felt the “three-tier system needs to be followed”.
Besides the men’s team, the women too have shown improvement. Recently, the under-18 squad won bronze at the Asia Cup.
“By having a strong bench, the main team will get breathing space between top tournaments and more time to prepare for major events,” said Norman.
With an eye on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the selectors will focus on the HIL and Nationals to scout for talent for the national camp in March.