Wednesday 7 February | Kookaburras coach Colin Batch concedes selection for next month’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia is going to be fierce in a sign of things to come ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
Australia enjoyed a tough four-match Test Series with the Netherlands which concluded with a 6-1 win at Perth Hockey Stadium on Saturday.
The Kookaburras are next in action at the Azlan Shah Cup which runs from Saturday 3 March to Saturday 10 March against hosts Malaysia, Rio Olympics gold medallists Argentina, England, India and the Republic of Ireland.
The Kookaburras are expected to confirm the team for the Azlan Shah Cup early next week.
“Azlan Shah is always a very good tournament to play in,” Batch said.
“It’s challenging conditions. This year’s line-up with Argentina, England, Ireland, India and Malaysia is a very competitive one. We’re pleased to play those teams.
“We don’t play Ireland very often. We played Argentina in World League Four but it’s an opportunity against them. They’re a slightly different team again.
“It’s challenging coming up against different sides again. We’ve got the Asian teams, some European teams and a South American team.
“It’s really nice to get the opportunity to do that and it’ll be a tough tournament.”
Batch acknowledged the return from injury of Tom Craig, Trent Mitton and Flynn Ogilvie, who all missed the World League Final in December, along with strong performances of the likes of goalkeeper Andrew Charter along with relative newcomers Jake Harvie and Lachlan Sharp against the Dutch will make selection tough for the Malaysian trip.
“We want to keep progressing our group,” Batch said.
“Of course we’ve got to do selection for that and there will be some disappointed players.
“The competition for selection is very strong at the moment.”
Batch also reflected on the Netherlands Tests where the side edged the series on goal difference, after each side claimed one win along with two draws.
The Australia coach was delighted with the ability of players to step up, particularly given skipper Mark Knowles missed three games, having come down with illness ahead of the two Tests in Perth.
Batch said the side learned good lessons during the Test series, including closing out a game, having been 3-0 up against the Dutch in Game Three, only to draw 3-3.
Australia responded with a 6-1 win in the next match, closing out the game well after leading in similar circumstances in the third quarter.
“We weren’t happy with the way we finished some games at World League Four,” Batch said.
“We spoke about that even before the series started. We failed a few times but we keep learning from those situations, maybe it all came together on Saturday, I’m not sure.
“A lot of things worked for us on Saturday and the Dutch never gave up trying, but we had an answer.
“Being 3-0 up in the third game, Holland came back hard and levelled the score. We learned a lot from that. We tried to put some of that into place for the final game.”
Batch added he felt the opportunity to play the Dutch ahead of the Commonwealth Games, where the Kookaburras will chase a sixth straight gold medal, was ideal.
“We’re really pleased that Holland could come here and play the four test matches,” he said.
“We learned a lot right through the series and that’s the value of playing a quality side like Holland.
“Being 3-0 up in the third game, Holland came back hard and levelled the score. We learned a lot from that. We tried to put some of that into place for the final game.
“All the way through there’s some good lessons for us. We’re developing the team still.
“We’ve got a big year ahead of us. Azlan Shah is coming up soon, but there’s Commonwealth Games not too far away and we’re developing the group for that.
“We’ve got some exciting players, so we’re really pleased with the series. To finish on such a high note like we did on Saturday night is full marks to everyone.”
Kookaburras’ Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Fixtures:
Saturday 3 March 9pm AEDT – Australia v England
Sunday 4 March 11:30pm AEDT – Malaysia v Australia
Tuesday 6 March 9pm AEDT – India v Australia
Wednesday 7 March 7:05pm AEDT – Australia v Republic of Ireland
Friday 9 March 7:05pm AEDT – Argentina v Australia
Saturday 10 March TBC – Finals