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The Rediff Interview/Viren Rasquinha
'Sandeep's absence is a huge blow'
August 24, 2006
Even two months of non-stop training has failed to dampen hockey ace Viren Rasquinha's enthusiasm one bit. Back in Mumbai after successive camps in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, a South India tour complete with lots of meals comprising idlis and dosas, the mid-fielder admits being exhausted but well-prepared for the upcoming World Cup in Germany, from September 6 to 17.
India have won eight Olympic gold medals, the last at Moscow in 1980, but just one World Cup, in 1975 in Kuala Lumpur. Though the current team isn't making any claims of changing that record instantly, it goes to the event with detailed preparation.
Rasquinha's journey to Germany couldn't have begun on a better note, as he was honoured with the Arjuna award on the eve of team's departure.
The 26-year-old spoke with Special Correspondent Deepti Patwardhan on winning the Arjuna and India's chances at the World Cup.
Congratulations on winning the Arjuna award.
It is a matter of great honour and pride for me. Whatever I am today is because of my parents; nothing would have been possible without their support. I am also grateful to my teammates, because hockey is primarily a team sport. Also, I would like to thank my employers Indian Oil, because they've been really supportive and given lots of benefits and incentives.
I am disappointed that I will not be able to receive the award personally [the Indian team will leave from New Delhi on Thursday for the hockey World Cup, starting in Germany on September 6] but my full focus is on the World Cup right now.
How has the team's preparations for the World Cup been?
The training camps that we had for the World Cup were the best I've participated in. First we had the 24-day camp in Bangalore. It was mainly for endurance and strength training. Our new trainer [Derek Knox] did a fantastic job. He simulated match conditions for the last 15 minutes, when you're lungs are burning and legs are tired and have to really push hard.
We also had theory classes, where we sketched strategies for each team we'll be playing. It was purely a fitness camp and we didn't touch a hockey stick for the 24 days. So when we went to the skills camp in Hyderabad, the boys were hungry to play some hockey. We had team drills there, which focused on co-ordination and communication between players.
We trained hard but at the same time, the coach [Vasudevan Bhaskaran], assistant coach Harendra [Singh] also made sure that we had fun.
The team also had some match practice in Chennai?
We played three back-to-back matches there, where we put all that we learned during the camps in practice. It also tested how we would hold up physically, because the World Cup is going to be a rigorous schedule.
Were there any areas you were looking at specifically during the camp?
My problem has always been endurance. I trained a lot in that area, and Knox is the best trainer I've worked with. Yes, the camp has raised fitness levels in the team, but people should not expect miracles from him.
When it comes to the game, I am looking to improve my attacking skills. I realized that I was playing too much defensive, but as a mid-fielder you have to create more opportunities for your forwards as well.
I even scored a goal during one of the games in Chennai, where, I think, I was playing as centre-forward for the last ten minutes. It's after five years that I've scored a goal (laughs)! I've scored goals in juniors, but not any in international hockey at the senior level. I actually got a standing ovation for that goal [in Chennai]. The boys were so thrilled; it was one of those rare occasions, so they wanted a party.
So there's one more reason you are looking forward to score in the World Cup.
(Laughs again) You always look forward to these things, but it's been a little difficult coming.
What difference has the new team management, under coach Bhaskaran, brought in?
Bhaskaran and Harendra are both very good at man-management. They are good at getting out the best out of players, individually. They have created an excellent atmosphere in the team and gained respect of all the players. They have brought in a better game plan and we are enjoying the game.
I think these were some things that helped us finish with a bronze at the Azlan Shah tournament recently.
Also, they plan the practice sessions very intelligently. They insist on intense sessions, where you learn new things all the time, rather than long, casual sessions.
India's forward line has been the weak link in the recent years...
It has been a problem area, but right now the forwards are looking good. They were very good during training. Gagan [Ajit Singh] has a huge role to play in the World Cup. And he is looking aggressive and confident.
Even the rest, Tushar [Khandekar] Rajpal [Singh], Shivendra [Singh] are playing well; the only thing they lack is experience. But I don't necessarily see it as a disadvantage because they are hungry to perform.
What is the realistic placing India is looking at in Germany?
It's too early to talk about that. As players we have to ensure that we convert the hard work on the field, but to predict a podium finish or something is not right.
It's my first World Cup and I am obviously excited about it. The best part is always when the teams line-up and the national anthem is played. I've played international hockey for some time now and been part of such occasions before, but every time it happens you get goose bumps.
I think the first two matches will especially be crucial. We play the opening match against hosts Germany and that's going to be tough. They will have the crowd behind them and, as we saw in the football World Cup, Germany will be riding the wave of support.
We play England immediately the next day, which is going to be challenging, physically, especially since they will be playing their first match.
How is the mood in the team after the Sandeep Singh's unfortunate accident?
It is a big shock for us. The mood is very somber, because he was a key player. I for one have seen him from the day he entered international hockey; I've seen him mature into a very good drag-flicker, a world-class drag-flicker. It is a big blow for the team; a tough time, but now is the time when we have to emerge stronger.
If you remember, even after Jugraj's [Singh] accident in 2003 the team was written off. But we came back to win the Asia Cup. I am not claiming that we will win the World Cup this time, but it will definitely help us perform better.More Interviews