Star striker SV Sunil on Saturday said the Indian hockey team has improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years and achieving a top-three rank in the world is definitely a realistic target now.
The Indian team is ranked sixth in the FIH rankings and Sunil, who was recently adjudged the the Asian Player of the Year 2016, said doing well in the upcoming tournaments will be crucial for the team.
"It's a good improvement from being placed 12th or 13th about four years ago. I feel if we keep up our performances and show good results starting right from the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where teams like Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia will take part, we have a very good chance of improving our ranking and the aim is definitely to reach world ranking of top 3," Sunil was quoted as saying.
Indian team has a lot of assignments lined-up for the next year such as Asia Cup, Hockey World League Final, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Champions Trophy and World Cup in 2018.
Sunil said getting the Asian Player of the Year award from the Asian Hockey Federation came as a surprise.
"I didn't expect it when coach called out Harmanpreet (Asian Promising Player of the Year 2016) and me from the pitch in the middle of the training session to inform us about the award. At first I thought we were being punished for something," Sunil said.
The Coorg lad, who leads the attack with Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Talwinder Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah, said the youngsters are presenting a good challenge to the seniors.
"There are nine players who play the forward position in the core probables right now. Some of the youngsters from the junior squad have very good performances to show and even Affan Yousuf had a good outing last year as well as in the 2017 Coal India Hockey India League.
"I feel each one of us have to fight for our position and make sure we have creditable performances from tournament to tournament to ensure our spot in the team," said Sunil.
With a new system in place and a rotation policy followed by the Dutch Coaches, Sunil feels youngsters today have greater opportunities to prove their worth.
"When I made the transition from junior to senior player, there were very few chances for a junior to be part of the playing 11. They would not substitute as often as they do now.
So the first set of players who went in would virtually play the entire 60-70 minutes.
"But now with the speed of the game increasing, almost every player gets a few minutes on the pitch and one must make use of it," he said.