Eager to make a turnaround

India will be eyeing their first Commonwealth Games hockey medal

Eager to make a turnaround

Flawed team selection, scandals, selfish administrators and lack of proper infrastructure have pushed the national game to a deep abyss. Indian team’s reluctance to leave behind worn-out methods too added to the woes as they struggled to match the power game of Europeans on astro-turfs.

Subsequently, nations like Australia, Holland and Germany surged ahead of India and the other one-time giant from Asia, Pakistan. Now, the Europeans consider only South Korea, who dishes out a speedy brand of hockey, as a genuine threat from the Asian region.

So, what’s the significance of India’s campaign in the men’s event of the upcoming Commonwealth Games? More than the now clichéd talk of recapturing the lost grandeur, the CWG offers them a chance to bag their first-ever medal in the competition and instill a semblance of belief into the hockey lovers.

India’s best performance in the CWG thus far has been a fourth-place finish in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 when hockey was added to the Games for the first time. A podium finish in the CWG will also add to the team’s confidence ahead of the Asian Games in November.

However, the lead up to the Games has not been rosy all the way. Though they emerged joint-winners along with South Korea in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, India’s outing in the World Cup earlier in the year was a disaster, with chief coach Jose Brasa coming under severe criticism. But national coach Harendra Singh said the performance in the World Cup was an eye-opener. “We have been training very hard in Pune for a while now. We have targeted some specific flaws in our game that were revealed during the World Cup. We will approach the CWG with a changed method,” Harendra said.

Former Indian captain Ajit Pal Singh sounded confident of India’s ability to clinch a medal in CWG, but said the team should find a way to tide over the problems nagging their game.

“I believe this team has the skill to beat the best in the world, like they showed in the Azlan Shah Cup and a grab a medal in the CWG. But there are some technical errors in their game as they are prone to conceding soft goals, particularly towards the end of the match. This can come against us in a close match where the outcome is mostly decided in the last few minutes. So, we need to find a way to overcome that fragility,” Ajit Pal said.

Harendra too concurred. “Even in the World Cup we lost a few closely fought games. We are working on that aspect in the coaching camp and we are also focusing a lot on the fitness of the players. They need to be in top shape to compete against teams like Australia, who play speedy hockey,” he said.

India have been drawn in Pool ‘A’ with Australia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Scotland while Pool ‘B’ features England, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Trinidad & Tobago. India is scheduled to play Malaysia in its opening game on October 5, Australia on October 7, Scotland on October 9 and Pakistan on October 10.

“This is a tough group but that’s a motivation for us to do well. The boys are confident and they have put behind all the controversies behind them as they realised that ultimately what matters is the performance on the field,” Harendra said.

Indian team: Goalkeeper: Bharat Chetri; Defenders: Sardar Singh, Sandeep Singh, Dhananjay Mahadik, Gurbaj Singh and Prabodh Tirkey; Midfielders: Arjun Halappa, Vikram Pillay, Ravi Pal, Bharat Chikara, Danish Mujtaba and Sarvanjit Singh; Forwards: Rajpal Singh (Capt), Tushar Khandkar,  Shivendra Singh, Dharamvir Singh.

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