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Rajinder must be careful about selection
August 14, 2003
The 25th Champions Trophy has created another important place in the dictionary of world hockey. This being a premier tournament for all hockey-playing nations, it is expected to witness graceful hockey skills, an exhibition of fine goalkeeping, strong mid-field play and, most importantly, the adaptation of playing six games by all the players in nine days, testing the capacities of endurance and speed.
Olympic champions The Netherlands and World Cup champions Germany will be equipped with the European style, and the two giants from Asia -- Pakistan and India -- will be hoping to enthrall the crowd with stick work, while the most fancied side, Australia, is expected to a play fast and open hockey.
Argentina, the sixth team in the fray, will try to match each of their opponents, which could mean a hockey feast for the year 2003 at the famous Wagener stadium in Amstelveen.
The Indian Hockey Federation has sent the team well in time to acclimatise to the breezy climate in Holland after a preparatory camp in Lucknow under hot and humid conditions.
But now the onus lies on Rajinder Singh, who should first select the best 16 from the squad of 18, and there should not be any compromises on this.
All the present players have been together for the last five months and this has given the team an advantage over the other sides. Added to this, the two victories have made the players to believe in themselves. If only the players focus and perform consistently in all the matches, no side can match this confident-looking Indian team.
This team has many strong points and can be said to be one of the best to represent the country in recent years. Goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan, after the Sydney Olympics, has performed consistently, both in the Asian Games and also at the last Champions Trophy in Cologne, Germany. He has shown great confidence so far and stand-in custodian Kamaldeep Singh can perform equally well.
In the deep defence, the prolific performer will be Dilip Tirkey, who has gained confidence from his showings in the matches he has played so far for the country. Kanwalpreet Singh, the tall defender, has reduced his errors. These two players will be defending the 25-yard line with aplomb.
Unlike the past, the current Indian team is flooded with so many outstanding mid-fielders that if they continue to combine well in all the matches, India can go from strength to strength. Players like Vikram Pillay, Viren Rasquinha and Ignace Tirkey have good ball control, quick interception, which will be an advantage to our forward line.
Veteran Baljit Singh will be supporting the mid-field with his tactical display. The performances of the midfielders at the Busan Asian Games and also at the last Champions Trophy has made the mid-field formidable. Hopefully, they will continue to perform at the same level.
Skipper Dhanraj Pillay, who is playing a new role as withdrawn forward, will be a marked man by any team. I still feel he is the backbone of the Indian forward line. Baljit Dhillon, another highly skillful forward, can trouble any defence on his day. The other young forwards, like Gagan Ajit, Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh will support Dhanraj and Dhillon.
With almost the entire team equipped with more efficiency, it is to be seen how well the consistency rate builds-up during the Champions Trophy. This will be very vital for the Indian team.
The most important player, Jugraj Singh, who is now a specialist in penalty-corners, will form the nucleus of this team.
The team won two tournaments in a short period but I feel there are still some grey areas which other teams would like to exploit.
The biggest weakness will be the unwanted tackling by Kanwalpreet and Jugraj which has cost very important matches in the past. Even the long passes played by the Europeans go unnoticed by the deep defence, which has failed to do the close man-to-man marking in this situation.
Even in the mid-field, though they are very strong in joining the attack, they succumb to pressure by not playing from their zone, especially Vikram Pillay and Viren. Bimal Lakra's lack of communication while defending will have to be taken care of.
In the forward line Gagan Ajit, Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot should not think of scoring through fancy reverse hits as this may cost the Indians dearly.
However, the Indian team, with more strength and self confidence can always upset the Netherlands on the opening day provided they don't commit unforced errors and dont receive yellow cards. On the other hand, the hosts will be playing with the support of a holiday crowd and they are likely to expect the Indians to commit mistakes.
Their strong point will be long hit passes and the penalty-corners.
In the Indian team, the players to look out for will be Jugraj Singh, Dhanraj Pillay and Gagan Ajit Singh.