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The Rediff Interview/Rajinder SIngh
'God willing, we'll lift the Champions Trophy'
August 11, 2003
Chief coach Rajinder Singh is confident about India doing well in the six-nation Champions Trophy hockey tournament, in Amsterdam, Holland, from August 16 to 24. His optimism stems from the team's showing over the last few months, during which it won two tournaments in Sydney and Hamburg.
"We have done well in Australia and Germany and won the four-nation tournaments at both places. The boys are shaping up and playing well consistently. If we manage to keep our penalty-cornor conversion rate to seventy per cent or above we should do reasonably well in the Champions Trophy," Rajinder Singh told rediff.com chief correspondent Onkar Singh, in an exclusive interview in his room at the Intercontinental Hotel, in New Delhi, hours before the team left for Amsterdam on Monday.
What kind of performance do you expect from your team at the Champions Trophy?
We have prepared ourselves very well for the Champions Trophy. Our camp in Lucknow has given us an excellent opportunity to reassess our level of preparedness. After our victories in Australia and Germany the morale of our players is very high. They are brimming with confidence. I expect our team to perform well in this tournament.
Which teams are you expecting a tough fight from?
All the six teams which are taking part in this tournament are champions in their own right. We will have to play all the matches to the best of our ability. We cannot afford to take any team lightly. Argentina, in particular, is one team which is capable of upsetting the best teams on any given day. All the league matches will be played as if we are playing the final.
How come Didar Singh was selected in place of Arjun Halappa?
I do not know whether it was decided that any particular senior player had been selected or not. I along with the other coaches who selected the team had kept a close eye on Didar Singh, the young prodigy from Punjab. He played excellent hockey right through and impressed all of us. He is a very good player and could play for the Indian hockey team for the next ten years. Arjun Halappa played for the Indian team for so many years but he could not deliver.
How good is our forward line now as compared to five years ago?
Let me make it clear that before I took over as coach of the Indian hockey team, we are playing the European type of hockey, where total defence is more prominent. The emphasis now is on playing attacking hockey. By adopting European hockey, Indian players had forgotten their skill to dribble and dodge rival players. We need to play aggressive hockey and dodge the opponents; we have to be fit and sharp. We did have some problems while switching over from one type of hockey to the other. We are playing aggressive and attacking hockey for the last one-and-a-half years and the results are for you to see.
What is the conversion rate of penalty-corners into goals?
It is no use converting penalty-corners into goals in training. What counts most is your conversion rate during the tournament. In last two tournaments we had a conversion rate of 60-70 per cent. If we can convert 70 per cent penalty-corners into goals then we have done our home work well.
The President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, invited the team to tea last month. What impact did this meeting have on your players?
We felt honoured. It was a rare honour for the Indian hockey team as it never happened before. The meeting not only boosted our morale but it also sent a message to the younger generation that hockey is being revived in India in a big way.
You had a week-long break in Barog, in Himachal Pradesh. What was its impact on the players?
The Barog camp was a welcome break for all the players who had been playing hockey for almost six months at a stretch. Besides enjoying the hills of Himachal Pradesh we spent time looking at the video recordings our own team and other teams. We also used this opportunity to build stamina and mental toughness -- two things essential for a player during the matches. Such breaks are good for the team but such breaks should not be far too many and too often.
What change has come about in the team after Dhanraj Pillay took over as captain?
Hockey is a game where the role of the captain is limited to the toss only. It is essentially a team game where the contribution of all players is as important as that of the captain. Players of the junior World Cup are the ones who are contributing to the good performance of the Indian team.
What is the role of the coach in this success?
The guidelines of the coach are laid down by the Indian Hockey Federation. Sitting on the sidelines, the coach is in a good position to judge which player to substitute, and at what time; where to improve the game; which players are playing better. The coach has to assess the strong and weak points of his team and then ensure that the strong points are strengthened further, and also cement the weaknesses and turn them into strong points. The coach has to decide when to play half court and when to play full court. He should be able to capitalize on the weaknesses of his rivals. If he can do that then he is a perfect coach.
How fit are the Indian players?
I would say that they are second to none at the moment.
Germany is not sending its top team for the Champions Trophy... comment?
Germany is a strong team. Germany has decided to rest some of its senior players because they have the European Cup coming up a week after the Champions Trophy. Maybe, they do not want to expose their best players in this tournament. Even if the Germans send a team which does not have the cream of its players, still it will be a difficult team to beat.
What about our chances against Pakistan?
There is no difference between a Pakistan 'A' team or 'B' team. It will be a difficult team to beat. Our match against Pakistan on August 22 will be one of the most important matches in the tournament and we are confident that we will win the match.
What about our chances against other teams?
We play Holland in our opening match on August 16. Then we play against rest -- that includes Australia, Argentina, Germany and Pakistan. All the six teams in the fray are the top six sides of the world. It will be a keen contest for the title. Our forward line, comprising captain Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Dhillon and Deepak Thakur is in good form; also midfielder Baljit Saini and defender Dilip Tirkey are playing well. God willing, we will click and lift Champions Trophy.