Bhubaneswar: Hosts India would look to continue their fine form when they take on title holders Australia in their next FIH Pro League tie here on Friday.
India have made an excellent start to their maiden FIH Hockey Pro League season and are currently sitting third in the table with eight points from four games.
The Manpreet Singh-led side claimed five points from a possible six against the Netherlands before claiming another three in a stunning 2-1 victory over Belgium, the reigning World and European champions. The Red Lions bounced back with a 3-2 win in the second match.
Few would dispute that India, coached by former Australian international Graham Reid and captained by newly crowned FIH Men’s Player of the Year Manpreet, are playing their best hockey in recent years.
It would also be India’s penultimate home tie at the Kalinga Stadium here before they embark on a series of away games. But past records and statistics don’t look promising for the hosts as Australia have an outstanding recent record against India.
The world no.2 Kookaburras have won 22 of their last 30 meetings against world no.4 India and have not faced a defeat since a 2016 Test match in Bendigo, Australia, when VR Raghunath scored twice in a 3-2 win.
Australia, managed by Colin Batch, who was recently named 2019 Men’s FIH Coach of the Year, also have an imperious record at the Kalinga Stadium, a venue where they have not suffered a defeat in regular time since a semi-final loss at the hands of Germany at the Hero Champions Trophy in 2014.
The Australians were unbeaten in all six matches on the way to claiming the title at the 2017 Hockey World League Final, and won five of their six matches at the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2018, with only the Netherlands getting the better of them in a semi-final shoot-out after the regular time finished 2-2.
The Kookaburras will be in a confident mood coming into the tie after their recent performances against Great Britain in the FIH Pro League, where they claimed five points out of six.
Australia recovered from a difficult opening weekend against Belgium in which they earned just one point from their two matches.
They are currently placed at the fifth spot with six points from four games.
The first match of the two-leg tie will be held on Friday with the return leg scheduled on Saturday.
After the two matches against Australia, the Indian team will leave for away games in Germany (April 25 and 26) and Great Britain (May 2 and 3).
India will return to play on home soil on May 23 and 24 against New Zealand before travelling to Argentina to play on June 5 and 6.
India will play the last leg of the Pro League round-robin matches in Spain on June 13 and 14.