Preview: India tour of Australia crucial for Hockey World Cup preparation

Hockey India

The last time the Indian men's hockey team played Australia, it was for the Commonwealth Games gold medal in Birmingham. It ended pretty badly for India, with Graham Reid's side conceding seven goals and not scoring even once.

It's time for India vs Australia in hockey again. This is not a one-off match, and neither will this be about a medal. Instead, the upcoming five-match series is crucial in the context of one hugely important tournament - the World Cup scheduled in India in January.

Here's all you need to know about the series to be played Down Under:

When are the matches?

India vs Australia will play each other five times, starting this Saturday.

November 26 - 11 AM IST

November 27 -11 AM IST

November 30 - 1.30 PM IST

December 3 -11 AM IST

December 4 -11 AM IST

All the games will take place at the MATE Stadium in Adelaide.

Who is part of the Indian squad?

Reid has selected a strong squad, with most players from the team that featured in latest round of Pro League matches against Spain and New Zealand in Bhubaneswar last month. Harmanpreet Singh will continue to captain the side while fellow defender Amit Rohidas will be his deputy.

Goalkeepers: Krishan Bahadur Pathak, Sreejesh Parattu Raveendran

Defenders: Jarmanpreet Singh, Surender Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh (Captain), Amit Rohidas (Vice - Captain), Jugraj Singh, Mandeep Mor, Nilam Sanjeep Xess, Varun Kumar

Midfielders: Sumit, Manpreet Singh, Hardik Singh, Shamsher Singh, Nilakanta Sharma, Rajkumar Pal, Mohd. Raheel Mouseen, Akashdeep Singh, Gurjant Singh

Forwards: Mandeep Singh, Abhishek, Dilpreet Singh, Sukhjeet Singh

Any notable changes from the Pro League?

Varun Kumar, Akashdeep Singh and Gurjant returned to the squad after missing the Pro League matches. Meanwhile, youngsters Selvam Karthi and Rabichandra Singh have not been included while Lalit Upadhyay and Vivek Sagar Prasad are yet to recover from injury.

Wasn't Karthi in good touch? Why is he dropped?

Yes, Karthi made a lasting impact when he played against New Zealand in October. He scored two sublime goals, helping India to script a remarkable comeback and win the match 7-4.

Coach Reid said that it is an unfortunate decision, but his focus is to improve the team in the midfield and defensive areas. For the Pro League matches, he selected five forwards but for the Australian series, he included just four players.

"It's a tough one. I had that meeting with him. He's a good kid and he's got a big future ahead of him. He played really well in the Pro League match," Reid told ESPN.

Talking about Varun's inclusion, Reid said he wanted to have a good backup option for penalty corners. Historically, Varun has always been India's second best after Harmanpreet in executing the penalty corners.

How is India's record against Australia?

Simply put, not good. India haven't managed to beat Australia in their last ten matches. The only 'victory' in this time period came from a shootout (after 2-2 scoreline in normal time) in the 2020-21 Pro League season. This is what makes this pre-World Cup tour all the more important.

Where do India need to improve?

As ESPN's review of India's Pro League matches mentioned, defence is a major area of concern. In the first three matches, India committed too many mistakes leading to the goals. Overall, India conceded 12 goals in four matches.

India are leading the Pro League table, but only New Zealand gave away more goals than them.

Against the No 1 side in the world, expect the defence to come under relentless pressure. In just the last two matches against Australia, India's defence has conceded 14 goals. The number rises to 25 in the last five matches. This will be something Reid would be especially focussed on.

What's the Australian squad like?

Head coach Colin Batch selected a strong 23-member squad led by Aran Zalewski and Eddie Ockenden, who will play his 400th international in the second match of the series. Key players like Blake Govers, Matthew Dawson, Jack Whetton, Jeremy Hayward and Andrew Charter are all selected for the world No 1 team.

However, unlike India, Australia haven't played any international matches since the Commonwealth Games final. A few players were competing in Europe for their clubs while others were playing in Australia's domestic league Hockey One.

"This is a bit different to our normal preparation in that we're usually together for a long time training in Perth, but we haven't all been together since the Commonwealth Games," Batch was quoted as saying by the Hockey Australia website. "That creates some urgency in getting it right in the short term and reconnecting with each other. We have a lot of confidence we can do that and we start now with this series against India. It's very much preparation for the World Cup so we won't be changing our team too much. We've got a core group of players who are playing well and we believe they can play well," Batch added.

In India, all the matches will be shown live on Star Sports First, Star Sports Select 1 (SD and HD). Live streaming will be available on Hotstar.