Carrying the mantle of Olympic bronze medallists has added "some pressure" as India began their campaign in the 2021-22 FIH Pro League Hockey in Potchefstroom, South Africa. But it's so far so good. India have registered two big wins against France (5-0) and South Africa (12-2). (More Hockey News)
The Manpreet Singh-led side will face hosts France in the reverse fixture on Saturday (February 12), then South Africa on Sunday before the end of February fixtures. India will then host Spain, Germany and Argentina at Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar. The tournament is the Indian team's first competitive assignment of the year.
How to watch - TV channels and live streaming platform
The FIH Pro League Hockey matches are being telecast live on Star Sports Select 2, Star Sports Select 2 HD channels. Live streaming will be available on Disney+ Hotstar.
India Full Squad
Goalkeepers: Sreejesh PR, Krishan Bahadur Pathak; Defenders: Harmanpreet Singh (vice-captain), Amit Rohidas, Surender Kumar, Varun Kumar, Jarmanpreet Singh, Jugraj Singh; Midfielders: Manpreet Singh (captain), Shanglakpam Nilakanta Sharma, Hardik Singh, Jaskaran Singh, Shamsher Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad; Forwards: Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Akashdeep Singh, Shilanand Lakra, Dilpreet Singh, Abhishek.
Standbys: Suraj Karkera, Mandeep Mor, Raj Kumar Pal, Sumit, Gursahibjit Singh
FIH Pro League 2022: India's full schedule
India vs France on February 8 at 21:30 pm IST (NWU Astro, Potchefstroom);
India vs South Africa on February 9 at 21:30 pm IST (NWU Astro, Potchefstroom);
India vs France on February 12 at 21:30 pm IST (NWU Astro, Potchefstroom);
India vs South Africa on February 13 at 21:30 pm IST (NWU Astro, Potchefstroom);
India vs Spain on February 26 at 19:30 pm IST (Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar);
India vs Spain on February 27 at 19:30 pm IST (Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar);
India vs Germany on March 12 at 19:30 pm IST (Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar);
India vs Germany on March 13 at 19:30 pm IST (Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar);
India vs Argentina on March 19 at 19:30 pm IST (Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar);
India vs Argentina on March 20 at 19:30 pm IST (Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar);
India vs England on April 2 at 19:30 pm IST (Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar);
India vs Argentina on April 3 at 19:30 pm IST (Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar)
Speaking about whether the Olympic bronze medallists tag adds any pressure on his wards, chief coach Graham Reid said, "Realistically, yes, it does add some pressure, but I don't think it is more than the pressure we put on ourselves to perform well.
"Whenever a team does well at a big event like the Olympics, I think other teams take note of that and there is a target on you. It does add extra pressure, but I think the good part about that is that we tend to play our best when we are in such situations."
World number three India will fancy their chances against both opponents. India haven't played world No. 13 France since winning the world league 2015 semi-finals.
Asked how the team has settled in South Africa ahead of the upcoming matches, Reid said, "It's great to be in South Africa. We haven't often had the chance to play here at such a high level of competition, so we view this as a great opportunity.
"All the boys understand how difficult it is going to be against these teams here but we are very keen to get the new year off to a positive start."
India will once again play France on February 12 before concluding the tour with the second match against South Africa on February 13.
Speaking about the distinct format of competition in the FIH Hockey Pro League, Reid said, "There is a different dynamic in this tournament because you get some time between two matches against the same team, so it is a bit like a multi-nations tournament in some ways.
"It is an interesting format which adds a different aspect for teams when they are preparing for their opponents."
Captain Manpreet echoed the coach's sentiments ahead of the game and said that the atmosphere in the team's dressing room is one of excitement.
"The players are excited to get back on the field since the Asian Champions Trophy towards the end of last year. We want to play well and settle into a good rhythm in the beginning of this year, because 2022 is a big year for us with the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games lined up this year," said Manpreet.
(With PTI inputs)