India's men's hockey team captain PR Sreejesh believes that they have grown mentally to handle tough situations as they begin a crucial season ahead with the 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, scheduled to begin from April 29.
The tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia is the first major event in this year's international calendar for the team which will take on Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, Japan and hosts Malaysia.
At the previous edition of Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, India lost the final to Australia. At the 2016 FIH Champions Trophy in London too, it was Australia who denied India the coveted gold medal in the final.
"Yes, in a way Australia has been a tough team to beat. Until last year they had a lot of senior players and were the most experienced team. In pressure situations, their past performances really helped them cope with that pressure and come up with good results," stated Sreejesh on Saturday.
"But I think now, our team has experienced youngsters, who can turn the matches around. We have improved a lot mentally over the past year. In tough situations, in quarter-finals, we have beaten big teams and moved to semi-finals," he added.
"We need to show consistent improvement, in tough match and we need to raise the bar and perform well in tournaments like these its important to beat top teams like Australia so that you can develop your confidence."
Getting off to a good start in the season will be crucial in the lead-up to an all-important year where India play the Asia Cup and Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar in the winter.
"While getting off to a good start is important, the most important thing for me is the finish – in December when we really have to be good. This tournament in Malaysia will give us an indication on the things we expect and test ourselves to see if the progress I expect to see is really on," explained chief coach Roelant Oltmans.
It's an added advantage that the Indian team, equipped with a new support staff, had a 40-day long national camp where the players were put through a tough regime involving nearly five-six hours of intense training.
"We deliberately had a 40-day camp. Physically I wanted them to be at a good starting point so there was a lot of emphasis on that and I believe we have succeeded in achieving that level," Oltmans pointed out.
"With new players coming into the squad, the understanding between players had to grow. New style of play needed to be adapted to and the best place to get confirmations is in big tournaments and we go to Malaysia to test ourselves," concluded the 62-year-old Oltmans.