India vice captain and reliable defender Surender Kumar feels the experience gained by the youngsters in the upcoming 28th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2019 will be beneficial for the team in the FIH Men's Series Finals, slated to be held in Bhubaneswar this June.
India will be fielding a young squad at the Azlan Shah, starting March 23 in Ipoh (Malaysia), with the likes of Hardik Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma, Sumit Kumar (Junior), Gurinder Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Gurjant Singh among other players who have shown tremendous potential after making their International debut with the senior team.
"The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup has always been a great platform to test youngsters and see how they adapt to international standards. Their experience will grow ahead of the major (2020 Olympic Games qualifying) tournaments we play this year," said Surender.
"Some of these players have done very well at the FIH Champions Trophy and 2018 Men's World Cup and carry a lot of confidence. And we have been speaking to them regularly about handling pressure especially in situations when we are one goal down or two goals down. Their good show will only be beneficial for our team in the lead up to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo," he said.
Haryana-born Surender broke into the national scene in 2016 when he was picked for the senior men's camp after a successful outing in the Hockey India League (HIL). Ever since, Surender has improved tournament-to-tournament with consistent performances in the backline. He credits his growth in the team to compatriot Rupinder Pal Singh.
"Rupinder Pal guided me a lot during our days at HIL and always egged me on saying I will get a chance in the national camp if I played well in HIL. Even when I came into the camp in 2016 ahead of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup he guided me a lot in terms of handling pressure and how to carry on despite mistakes we might commit during matches," Surender recalled.
The turning point for him came after the Asia Cup 2017 in Dhaka when the coaches advised him to improve his speed, footwork and tackling.
"After the Asia Cup, coaches told me where I was going wrong and they told me my movement was a bit slow and I needed to improve my speed and tackling. I worked a lot on this last year ahead of the FIH Champions Trophy and the Indian team works with the belief that our defence needs to be solid and solid defence can win tournaments. This belief automatically brings a sense of responsibility," the 24-year-old said.
"The goal is to win Gold but we won't be going into the tournament thinking of the final. We will have to go step-by-step. Our first match is with Japan and then Korea, and it's important to start well," he asserted.
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