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Hockey team will do well: Aslam Sher Khan
Onkar Singh in Delhi
Former hockey Olympian and ex-Member of Parliament Aslam Sher Khan is confident that the Indian hockey team will do well in the forthcoming Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, next month.
Speaking to rediff.com, the 1972 Munich Olympics full back felt things are looking up for Indian hockey and, if all goes well, the boys should make the semi-finals.
"I have met the boys and spoken to some of them. The way they talk about the preparations for the Olympic Games, it looks like the worst phase of Indian hockey is over. There was a phase between 1996 and 1998 when we would fear if our hockey team would even qualify to play in major tournaments. But there has been a turnaround in Indian hockey for the better in the last two-and-a-half years. I am sure that our boys will do us proud this time around," declared the man who wrote the controversial book 'To Hell with Indian Hockey' and once even burnt hockey sticks to protest against the politics within the Indian Hockey Federation.
However, he refused to acknowledge that the IHF has anything to do with the marked improvement in the team.
"The players have worked hard and that is why the Indian team has a new look. But unfortunately there has been no change in the administration and the attitude of those who manage the affairs of the Indian hockey. I wish there is some kind of accountability in the game not only for the players but even for those who control Indian hockey," he lamented.
He went on: "The reason why there is a drastic boost in the morale of the Indian hockey team is simple. When we were going through a bad patch nothing seemed to be going right for us; our best efforts did not produce the desired results. Now with couple of hockey titles under their belt, the Indian hockey team is looking more confident than it ever did in last one decade.
"We won the Asian Games. We won the four-nation tournament in Australia. Some of the juniors in the Indian team are coping well with their seniors and have been having good performances in international matches. With senior players like Dhanraj Pillay in the team, the youngsters will be able to emulate the good performances of their seniors. Then we have (Mohammad) Riaz, Ramandeep (Singh). The captain (Ramandeep) of the team is performing well and has been giving consistent performances. If he manages to put in little extra then the team will definitely benefit from his efforts," he said.
He criticised the Indian Hockey Federation for sending the team so early to Australia. "I personally do not approve of two things: one, sending the team too early in the name of familiarizing with the climatic conditions of the host country. Whenever we have sent in the team early, we have invariably performed below our capability. This tradition started with the Montreal Games. By the time the Games began we were already feeling stale. There was too much of mental pressure to perform. Then we do not get the kind of food that we eat. This makes a tremendous difference to our performance.
"Secondly, I do not like the IHF's decision to send more players and not just 16. Once before we had sent in extra players and when the final eleven was selected then two fit players were left out of the team and an unfit Govinda was played instead. We all know what happened to the team during the tournament. It is alright to have standbyes in India but it is not good to keep a sword hanging on youngsters till the last minute and then suddenly announce the team. It will discourage those who are left out and leave a bitter taste in their mouths," opined Sher Khan.
And what's his view about employing foreign coaches to train the Indian hockey team?
"There is no point in having a coach who is appointed on the basis of the conditions imposed by a particular state hockey federation that promises to give its vote to a set of officials during the elections of the IHF, provided the man of their choice is made the coach of the Indian hockey team. If the Bhopal hockey association links its vote to the name of Aslam Sher Khan then I can also be a coach. We know how a particular person who was not even a good player was appointed as coach of the Indian hockey team. Since foreign countries are controlling the game and they decide which kind of turf the game should be played on, those nations have a better idea of how to play on those surfaces.
"For instance, the kind of surface on which hockey would be played in Australia is not even available in India. Hockey is no longer being played on Pollygrass as was being done earlier on. So foreign coaches can tell you where you lack and where you score over others. I for one would not dispute the appointment of foreign coaches," he said.
Which are the four teams that you would like to see in the semi-finals?
"I think Australia, being the host country, would naturally be one of the four teams. The other three teams could be Holland, Germany and the fourth place would be taken up by either India or Pakistan, depending upon how well they perform. But I must stress one thing that all the teams which are playing in the tournament should not be taken lightly. And that is why I would say that our first match against Argentina would be of great importance. We should convert as many penalty-corners as we can to win the games," he stressed.
Will India win the gold? "When an Indian team leaves the Indian shores it's goal is gold. But it all depends upon how we fare. I would say that we would have to put in our best to achieve the long eluding gold medal in hockey," he concluded.
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