India are the big draw at Milton Keynes

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The Independent Online
Hockey

The pounds 9.5m National Stadium at Milton Keynes will open its international gates tomorrow when the England teams play host to India's men and France's women.

The invitation to India, with a series of Olympic medals stretching from Amsterdam in 1928 to Munich in 1972, should set the turnstiles clicking. After hitting rock bottom in the 1986 World Cup in London, when they finished 12th and last, they have clawed their way back and were last year playing in the elite Champions' Trophy in Berlin where they finished in fifth place - one place ahead of England.

Encounters with India of late have been very close, with the last four ending in draws. The most recent was 3-3 against Great Britain in the Olympic qualifier in Barcelona. The Indian team shows just two changes to their Barcelona squad, one of which is their reserve goalkeeper, Ashlu Ballal.

The captain, the 31-year-old Pargat Singh, from the Punjab Police, with over 200 international appearances, is their most experienced player while the centre-forward Dhanraj Pillay, who had a season in the National League with Indian Gymkhana, is their most exciting.

Unfortunately England are without four of their successful Barcelona squad. The captain Jason Laslett is recovering from a broken ankle, Simon Hazlitt pulled a hamstring in Tuesday's Army Cup final, Russell Garcia, Barcelona's player-coach, has not been released by his Spanish club -and Rob Thompson is getting married today.

The Great Britain players have been excluded from the England women's squad which is captained by Jane Smith for the first time, but should be too strong for a French side lacking several familiar names.

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