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India looking for revenge
June 03, 2003 17:54 IST
After a week of riveting hockey, the teams renew their rivalry in the second leg of the three-nation Hockey Australia Men's Challenge, which gets underway with a match between India and Australia in Sydney on Wednesday.
The match at Wollongong offers India the perfect opportunity to avenge the two defeats they suffered against Australia in the first leg of the tournament in Perth.
The Indians lost to Australia in a league match and then in the final, where they conceded two goals in the last five minutes to lose the match from a winning position.
But India's overall showing last week was commendable as they beat arch-rivals Pakistan and also Australia 'A'.
India coach Rajinder Singh sounded optimistic about the challenge ahead when he said his boys are ready to take on the mighty Australians, who are likely to make few changes to the side that played the Perth final on Sunday.
"I am expecting a major change in the Australian side, which I feel will be very different than the one we played against in Perth."
But he was quick to add that the players are keen to perform well and continue experimenting in Sydney as this will be their last chance to fine-tune their skills before the Champions Trophy in Amsterdam in August.
"We played well throughout the tournament in Perth. We were unfortunate to lose the final but the team's showing improved with each outing," Rajinder Singh said.
"Here we will be sticking to our task of trying out new combinations and strategies with an eye on the Champions Trophy and next year's Olympics," he added.
Despite finishing second, the first leg gave the Indians the opportunity to try out new combinations to strengthen their defence, which was till now considered a weak link.
Former captain Dilip Tirkey showed his class in the matches against Pakistan and the final in the company of Kanwalpreet Singh and Jugraj Singh. The much-improved performance of the defenders denied the Pakistanis from forcing a penalty-corners till the 50th minute. The defence also hardly gave any space to the rampaging Australian strikers either in the final.
The veterans, including skipper Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Singh Dhillon, shone in Perth, scoring at crucial moments.
Rajinder was pleased with the showing of the seniors in the side, saying the veterans gelled quite well with the youngsters.
"It was good to see the veterans and seniors playing in tandem. Their performance here augurs well for the future of Indian hockey."
Despite emerging stronger after the Perth meet, the chief coach said he will be making some changes to the side for Wednesday's match.
"I am still thinking about whom to drop, but I know two or three players are feeling the fatigue and need rest," he said.
Though the chief coach declined to go into details regarding the changes in the side, sources close to the team said three young players -- Tushar Khandekar, Sandeep Michael and Prabodh Tirkey -- are likely to play in tomorrow's match.
After tomorrow's opener, India's next match will be against Australia 'A' on Thursday.
On Saturday, India take on Pakistan, who open their campaign in the tournament tomorrow against Australia 'A'.
The Pakistani side, without penalty-corner expert Sohail Abbas and former captain Mohammad Nadeem, who were dropped from the side on disciplinary grounds, have been quite disappointing in the tournament which could serve as a jolt to their preparations for the six-nation Champions Trophy, which will also feature Australia, Germany, Holland and Argentina besides India.
Nothing has gone right for the struggling Pakistanis, who came to Australia after winning the prestigious Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia in March, as they suffered defeats in all their four matches in Perth.
The second leg schedule:
June 4: Australia vs India, Australia 'A' vs Pakistan
June 5: Australia vs Pakistan, Australia 'A' vs India
June 6: Rest Day
June 7: India vs Pakistan, Australia vs Australia 'A'
June 8: Australia 'A' vs 3rd placer; Final: 1st vs 2nd.