Saturday, September 2, 2006

Uphill task

SQUAD OF 2006

Adrian DíSouza, Bharat Kumar Chetri, Dilip Tirkey, Kanwalpreet Singh, V.S.Vinaya, Nitin Kumar, Vikram Pillay, Ignace Tirkey, Prabodh Tirkey, Viren Rasquinha, Gagan Ajit Singh, Tejbir Singh, Rajpal Singh, Tushar Khandeker, Shivendra Singh, Arjun Halappa, Hari Prasad, V.R. Raghunath/Vikramjit Singh/Jugraj Singh.

Chief coach: V Baskaran. Coach: Harendra Singh.

GROUP RIVALS

Germany (September 6), England (September 7), South Africa (September 9), Korea (September 11), Netherlands (September 12).

Playing hockey on Astro-turf is not like playing hockey on grass. Skill has given way to speed, technique, tactics and fitness. The European teams invented scoops, sweeps and drag-flicks to suit hockey on Astro-turf. The idea is to get goals without much exertion as maintaining the same tempo on Astro-turf, from start to finish, is a taxing job. Now you make long hits, and thereís somebody inside the "D" to do the scoring. Thereís no dribbling with the ball to score goals. No skill show.

But if we have to survive and shine in hockey then we will have to follow the tactics of the European teams. The players must have "super fitness" to counter the speed of players from Australia, Holland and Germany. The Europeans are also far superior in their tactics.

Though the Indian squad for the World Cup at Monchengladbach (Germany), to be played from September 6 to 17, comprises young and energetic players, I donít see them making much headway. I will consider it as a great achievement if they manage to make it to the last-four stage.

Sandeepís absence

The freak injury to drag-flicker Sandeep Singh is a big blow to the teamís hopes. Jugraj Singh was not in the camp, and I donít think he would be an effective replacement for Sandeep. I see a role for Raghunath, who is young and talented, and has been playing well. He played in the South Asian Games and did quite well. Vikramjeet Singh is too young, and can wait for his turn.

No high hopes

Frankly, I donít have high expectations from this team, but coach Vasudevan Baskaran is an experienced hand and I am sure he would extract a good performance from the boys.

I saw the matches of India in the Azlan Shah Tournament in Malaysia where they played exceptionally well to finish third. If they can perform with such consistency then they may be able to create some impact in Germany.

Still, I feel even a semifinal place for them is wishful thinking.

Forward play is very important, but India lacks the punch. We are bad starters and poor finishers. The first five minutes and last 10 minutes are very crucial for us, and the Indian players should learn to be on their toes during these periods.

In our time, the goalkeeper was tested rarely, now the custodian is under trial every two minutes. So the defence and goal-keeping are two vital areas in which the team management should invest a lot of attention. Eventually, the entire team has to work hard, like a well-oiled machine, to taste success. There is really no short cut to the throne. India can hope to make it to the second stage only if they can at least beat Korea, Holland and South Africa. Or maybe England. Otherwise, it will be a no-win situation.



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