Currently into their last week of training before they head to Tokyo for the upcoming Olympic Test Event, the Indian men's hockey team are leaving no stone unturned in their preparations for the tournament, said vice-captain Mandeep Singh on Thursday.
The Indian squad, currently ranked world number five in the FIH rankings, will be the top-ranked team taking part in the competition, and Singh believes that the younger players are ready to step-up in order to help the team win the tournament.
"We are going to play Malaysia, Japan, and New Zealand in the Olympic Test Event, and these teams have great quality in all departments. On the other hand, our team has a lot of younger players with two debutants as well, along with players who will be looking to prove a point as we progress towards next year's Olympic Games. The Test Event will give us good exposure of how the conditions are in Tokyo, and playing there will also motivate us even further to secure a position at next year's quadrennial event," Mandeep said.
The 24-year-old is one the most experienced players in the team, with only veterans SV Sunil and Kothajit Singh Khadangbam having won more international caps than the forward player.
"It is definitely a new challenge for me personally to be given more responsibility in the form of the vice-captaincy of the Indian team. I take pride in playing for the nation, and to be able to get more responsibility, I feel it motivates me even further to bring more success to the country in the upcoming tournament," Mandeep said.
The forward player, who has 142 international caps for the Indian team, will be linking up with SV Sunil again in the forward-line and says that he is excited to welcome back a player who has 250 international caps for the country.
"SV Sunil is one of the most experienced players in our squad, and he is someone who I have always looked up to. It is great that we have the opportunity to link up on the field, and I am sure that we can enjoy much success in the upcoming tournament," Mandeep said.
The Indian men's hockey team is scheduled to play three round-robin matches in the competition between August 17 and 20 against Malaysia, New Zealand and Japan, which will see the top-two sides compete in the final match on August 21.
With some senior players like PR Sreejesh, Manpreet Singh, Birendra Lakra, Akashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh being rested for the tournament, defender and drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh has been given the captaincy of the team, while forward Mandeep Singh will be his deputy.
( With inputs from ANI )