AZLAN SHAH CUP: Dharmaraj turns to juniors for help
THERE will be a massive change in the Malaysian backline when the hosts open their Azlan Shah Cup campaign against South Africa in Ipoh Friday.
Missing will be goalkeeper S. Kumar and defenders Razie Rahim and Baljit Singh, all stalwarts with the national team.
The three are on the injured list, and coach K. Dharmaraj had to dig deep into the junior ranks to find six other replacements.
Malaysia are last year's silver medallists, while champions Australia will be gunning for their eighth Azlan Shah Cup in the 23rd edition.
The other challengers for the title this year are South Korea, Canada and China.
Malaysia will rely on Faizal Saari and national junior Shahril Saabah to replace No 1 flicker Razie.
The other juniors who helped Malaysia finished fourth in the New Delhi World Cup and drafted into the Azlan Shah Cup squad are defenders Faiz Helmi Jali and Izad Hakimi, midfield duo Fitri Saari and Meor Azuan Hassan, and forward Firhan Ashaari.
However, all the juniors have played for the senior side in other tournaments and are not wet behind their ears.
Raging favourites Australia are serious about winning their eighth crown.
"The Azlan Shah Cup is our last tournament before the World Cup and the squad have been picked with that in mind," Australian coach Ric Charlesworth said on http://www.hockey.org.au.
"We've selected based on a range of objectives, including load management. We've got athletes who have played in the Oceania Cup, World League Finals and Hockey India League and we need to look after them with both the World Cup and Commonwealth Games coming up.
"Some, like Jamie Dwyer, were rested for the World League Finals but now need to come back and play with the group."
FRIDAY: Australia v China (6pm), South Africa v Malaysia (8pm).