KUALA LUMPUR: Hockey goalkeeper S. Kumar is racing against time to recover from a hamstring injury, which he picked up in training two weeks ago.
The 27-year-old was cleared to resumed full training last week but he has not featured in any of the friendly matches against the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
The doctor at the National Sports Institute (NSI) had advised the team not to field Kumar in a match just yet. Coach Wallace Tan said that they still had four matches against China next month to test Kumar.
Kumar will have to fight hard to retain his status as the number one goalkeeper. The other two goalkeeepers fighting for places in the final squad of 16 for the Doha Asian Games in December are Mohamed Khairul Nizam and Roslan Jamaluddin.
“I am disappointed over not being able to play in the matches against the AIS. I felt that I could take the field but the coach prefers to wait until the doctor gives me the clearance,” he said.
“I'm looking forward to playing in my second Asian Games. We won a bronze in Busan in 2002. This time the target is the gold medal and I want to be part of the team to help achieve it.
“I am training hard on my own to and hopefully I can be fully fit to return action by next week.”
Kumar made his national team debut in 1998 and was the second fiddle to Mohamed Nasihin Nubli and Roslan for the first few years. He got his first big break when he got into the team for the 2002 Busan Asiad.
He was also in the team for the two failed campaigns – the Olympic qualifiers (Madrid 2004) and World Cup qualifiers (China 2006). On both occasions, he was the number two to Roslan.
With Nasihin having quit the scene this year, the Tampin-born Kumar has taken over as the number one goalkeeper.
“I have been to a number of international tournaments now and I am prepared for the crunch. I am confident that I can handle the task in Doha,” he said.
“I hope I will be able to show my form and not suffer any injury in the friendly matches in China.”
There are now 26 players in the training squad and the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) plan to name 22 on Thursday for the trip to China. Kumar can count himself him for the matches against the Chinese.
Two of the earlier four matches ended in draws (1-1, 2-2) and the national team were beaten in the other two (2-3, 0-1).