Future trumps title defence for Black Sticks
Take a glimpse at the New Zealand men's hockey squad for this week's Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia and it's easy to see why coach Colin Batch is more concerned about development than defending their title.
Nine of the 18 players have played fewer than 10 internationals, and just three players - captain Dean Couzins, Andy Hayward and Hamish McGregor - are older than 23.
Batch is using the tournament as a development tool ahead of bigger dates later this year and though New Zealand are the defending champions, having last year won the tournament for the first time in its 30-year history, repeating that success appears unlikely.
"It's a very different team to last year," Batch said from Malaysia.
"They'd been together for four years and were building toward the Olympics last year. This squad has only had a handful of games together; there's a lot of young guys and players who we want to give an opportunity at international level."
To that end, expect to see plenty of squad rotation during the tournament, which starts tonight with a match against Pakistan.
"It's difficult to say where we will finish results-wise in the tournament, but my ambition is to keep developing and trial players for benefits in the longer term."
Batch said it was good to have two leaders in Couzins, 31, a veteran of 266 tests, and Hayward, 27, who were "very experienced players and doing a good job off the field with our less experienced players".
New Zealand play five qualifying matches in eight days, culminating in a playoff for final positions.
As well as world No 5 Pakistan, the sixth-ranked Black Sticks face the hosts, South Korea and India (all ranked just below them) and world No 2 Australia.
They split two warmup tests this week against Malaysia, at No 13 the lowest ranked of the six teams at the tournament.
Match schedule (world rankings in brackets, all times NZ):-
New Zealand (6) v Pakistan (5), 9.05pm today
New Zealand v Malaysia (13), 1.05am Monday
New Zealand v Korea (8), 9.05pm Tuesday
New Zealand v India (11), 11.05pm Thursday
New Zealand v Australia (2), 11.05pm next Saturday
Fifth v Sixth, 8.35pm Sunday, March 17
Third v Fourth, 11.05pm Sunday, March 17
First v Second, 1.35am Monday, March 18
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