Black Sticks' showing gives coach nice headache
Black Sticks coach Colin Batch admits he faces difficult selection decisions for the national men's hockey team's next assignment, a six-test home series against South Korea in May.
That assessment comes on the back of a mildly successful showing at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, where Batch's bunch of mostly inexperienced players - only three of the 18-man squad were over 23 and 10 had played fewer than 10 tests - acquitted themselves well.
There were wins against Korea and India and losses to winners Australia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Korea, but New Zealand were competitive in all six matches.
Batch saw enough from a development perspective to label the week-long tournament a success despite finishing fourth of six teams, having lost yesterday's bronze medal playoff 2-1 to Korea.
"I'm very pleased with the progress the group has made," he said before boarding a flight to Auckland yesterday.
"In the first match we were 3-0 down against Pakistan and as a young team we could have been exposed, but we fought back to 3-3 in that match [eventually losing 4-3] and from there we improved throughout the tournament.
"We were focusing more on processes and development than results and tactically we kept improving, and our set pieces were particularly good. From a development point of view it was very successful."
Several more experienced players were either rested or involved with European clubs, such as Simon Child, Nick Wilson, Phil Burrows, Shea McAleese and Brad Shaw, but they will all be available for the Korean series.
That series will be the final selection trial ahead of round three of the World League in the Netherlands in June, a World Cup qualifying tournament, and Batch said some individual performances in Malaysia had given him food for thought.
He was impressed with the three debutants, North Harbour defender Cory Bennett, Midlands midfielder Nick Ross and Auckland midfielder Jared Panchia, a member of the Junior Black Sticks.
"Those three guys all looked good, and Cory scored three penalty corner goals," Batch said. "Some of the other less experienced players like Kane Russell, another Junior Black Sticks player, also stepped up and were a handful.
"They've all been exposed here and will be hugely motivated after having a chance. It's going to make selection for the Korea series very interesting."
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