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Hockey team needs winning start
March 15, 2006 13:52 IST
Last Updated: March 15, 2006 22:15 IST
After a string of poor performances, the Indian hockey team is looking forward to starting its campaign at the Commonwealth Games on a positive note when they take on Asian rivals Malaysia at the State Netball Hockey Centre in Melbourne on Friday.
The Games should be a right platform for India as they attempt to get into momentum for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Later this year, keeping in view the tougher qualifying norms, India will have to play exceptionally well to win one of three International Hockey Federation (FIH)-recognised tournaments to be eligible to participate in the Olympics.
Going into the quadrennial event in Melbourne, the new-look team should not be very low on confidence after beating arch-rivals Pakistan, in Pakistan, in the recently-held series between the two countries.
This would have provided some optimism to the team apart from the much requisite experience it has. As maintained by captain Ignace Tirkey, Pakistan should be the biggest stumbling block for India as it tries to make it to the semi-finals.
Pitted in the same group, both the traditional rivals see each other as a thorn in the flesh and the rivalry should provide an intense contest.
The sensible-sounding Ignace also underscored the importance of a victory against the Kuhan Shanmuganathan-led Malaysians, who are 'capable of springing surprises,' in the first match.
The opening encounter therefore assumes a lot of importance.
After the two crucial matches, India have comparatively easier outings against Trinidad and Tobago and South Africa. While the West Indians are considered a non-entity in the sport, the Africans, despite their minnows' status, have some able players in their ranks.
India have been handicapped by the illness of defender Harpal Singh, who is down with chicken pox, but, an equally-able William Xalco, who has been summoned, should make a good replacement.
The heartening factor about the team is its balanced look, a right mix of young and experienced players.
At the same time, their inability to score off chances inside the striking circle affected the ultimate results in the bilateral series. But the solution to the biggest problem seems to be lying in the team's well-balanced identity as the inclusion of an able finisher like Deepak Thakur and a playmaker like Viren Rasquinha in the team is expected to pay dividends.
On the front of penalty-corners, on which both coach Rajinder Singh and Ignace have been laying importance, India will try and gain as much as possible through the effective drag-flicks of Sandeep Singh.
So far, the Indian men's hockey team has participated only in the 1998 edition of the Commonwealth Games, held in Kuala Lumpur, and finished fourth after losing to England.