A young and inexperienced India will be eyeing a big win over Ireland here tomorrow to keep alive their slim hopes of qualifying for the final of Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament and hope for favourable results in other matches. After a below-par outing in the first three matches, India rekindled their hopes by registering their first win of the tournament yesterday, mauling hosts Malaysia 5-1.
Before the win, India had earlier lost 2-3 to Olympic champions Argentina, 2-4 against world champions Australia and drew 1-1 against England.
World champions Australia are already through to the final with four wins from as many games but barring Ireland, all other four teams have a chance to make it to the summit clash.
Australia are leading the points table with 12 points ahead of second-placed and Olympic champions Argentina (7 points), Malaysia (6), England (5) and India (4). Ireland are already out of the race with four consecutive defeats.
But India's fate completely depends on lots of permutations and combinations. For India to qualify for the final, they will first have to beat Ireland by a big margin and hope Australia beat Argentina and the final round robin match between Malaysia and England ends in a draw.
With four big-ticket events lined up this year, including the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, the Indians have opted to field a young and inexperienced side under veteran Sardar Singh.
India chief coach Sjoerd Marijne wanted to test all his options before deciding on his squads for the big tournaments. And as expected the Indians took time to get their game going in the tournament. Marijne's boys looked erratic in the first three games before dishing out their best display against Malaysia.
Against Malaysia, Shilanand Lakra, Gurjant Singh, Sumit Kumar and Ramandeep Singh scored and Marijne would be hoping for the same spark from his forwards tomorrow.
Skipper Sardar especially need to produce an inspiring performance as an ordinary show in the tournament could well draw the curtains on his illustrious career.
This could well be a make or break tournament for Sardar if he wants to prolong his career till 2020 Olympics as the team management have already shown their interest on younger legs keeping the busy year in mind.
India play their match the second tomorrow and by then they would be in a position to learn their fate as Australia and Argentina square off in the day's opener. England and Malaysia will lock horns in the final round robin match on Friday.
(With PTI Inputs)