FIH Pro League: New-look India hope to overcome World Cup blues

Harmanpreet Singh. Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images for Hockey Australia

After a disappointing performance in the 2023 World Cup held at home in Odisha, the Indian men's hockey team are back in action in the FIH Pro League match, where they play against Germany and Australia. All the matches will be played at the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium in Rourkela with India facing both the teams twice.

When are the matches?

The schedule of this leg is as follows:

March 10: India vs. Germany

March 11: Australia vs. Germany

March 12: India vs. Australia

March 13: India vs. Germany

March 14: Germany vs. Australia

March 15: India vs. Australia.

Who's there in the India squad?

There have been quite a few changes in the Indian team for the upcoming four matches. After the departure of head coach Graham Reid, Hockey India named David John and BJ Kariappa as interim coaches who'll take charge of the team for the four matches. The newly-appointed full-time head coach Craig Fulton is expected to join the team after the matches.

Senior players like Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Amit Rohidas did not get picked for the latest matches while goalkeeper Krishan Pathak will be missing due to his marriage.

Harmanpreet Singh retains the captaincy job despite facing criticism during the World Cup, where India finished ninth. Hardik Singh, who has recovered from his injury because of which he could play only two matches at the World Cup, is back to full fitness and will be Harmanpreet's deputy. Another senior player and former captain Manpreet Singh also retains his place in the squad while PR Sreejesh is the senior goalkeeper.

In terms of new faces, midfielder Vishnukant Singh has been promoted from the junior team to the senior squad. The likes of Dilpreet Singh, S Karthi, Sumit, Manjeet and Gurjant Singh are back in the team after missing the World Cup.

India Pro League standing: 4th with 8 points.

Who is in India's Squad?

Goalkeeper: PR Sreejesh, Pawan

Defenders: Harmanpreet Singh (C), Jugraj Singh, Nilam Sanjeep Xess, Jarmanpreet Singh, Sumit, Manjeet, Manpreet Singh

Midfielders: Hardik Singh (vice-captain), Vivek Sagar Prasad, Moirangthem Rabichandra Singh, Vishnukant Singh, Dilpreet Singh, Shamsher Singh, Raj Kumar Pal

Forwards: S. Karthi, Sukhjeet Singh, Abhishek, Gurjant Singh

How are India's opponents coming into the leg?

Germany will be back in action a month after becoming world champions in India. As many as 13 members from the World Cup squad will be playing the Pro League matches against India and Australia.

Germany's Pro League ranking: 5th with 8 points.

Mats Grambusch will captain the side while other senior players like Tom Grambusch, Gonzalo Peillat, Alexander Stadler, Martin Zwicker and Thies Prinz, all who played vital roles in their team's brilliant World Cup, will be playing the matches.

Meanwhile, Australia will be playing with a young squad with head coach Colin Batch naming four uncapped National Development Squad players Davis Atkin, Hayden Beltz, Anand Gupte and Ben Staines in the main squad. Batch has said that he will use this opportunity to open up selection by giving chances for young players and those who couldn't make it to the World Cup squad.

Australia were world number one going into the World Cup but finished a disappointing fourth in the tournament. They opened their Pro League campaign with an inexperienced squad against Spain and Argentina in the first week of March. They lost both their matches against Spain, while losing one against Argentina in the shootout. Their only win in the leg came in their second match against Argentina, a 3-0 victory.

Pro League ranking: 8th with 4 points.

What can we expect from the new-look Indian team?

Although this is somewhat a new team under two interim coaches, India are expected to play attacking and aggressive hockey. John and Kariappa will look to try out new things, like a different structure or different positions for players, but the overall style will likely remain the same.

A young midfield with Hardik back to full fitness means India will focus on winning the ball high up on the pitch with their press and be quick on transitions. There's no doubt India will create chances to score, but the key factor is finishing those opportunities. This is where the inexperienced forwards, without the help of Mandeep and Akashdeep, might face problems.

Karthi impressed in previous Pro League games but couldn't find a place in the World Cup squad. The upcoming matches are a perfect opportunity for him to shine and make a serious case of playing regularly in the team. Abhishek and Sukhjeet Singh played in the World Cup but couldn't make an impact as they struggled to score. Both players will aim to make significant improvement when it comes to finishing the chances.

While Germany will be a tough opponent to beat twice, Australia are not at their full-strength so India should look to make it count against them.

What they said (ahead of the first match):

Harmanpreet Singh: "Our strategy has changed a bit. We will try out a new structure and new positionings. If we do well in the first and second quarter then we'll continue with the same strategy or we can always go back to our normal structure. We'll use these matches for learning. Of course results matter but if we want to try new things, this is the time. We can't do major changes in big tournaments but here we can."

Hardik Singh: "I feel very good after being named as vice-captain of the Indian team. It's a big thing for me. I made my debut in 2018 and I never thought I'll be named the vice-captain one day. I will strive hard to live up to the standards and values set by former captains like Manpreet and Sreejesh and now Harmapreet. I will also look to help the newcomers in the team."