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India hockey coach Joaquim Carvalho has sent a strong message to senior players, including veteran defender Dilip Tirkey, that their inclusion among the probables for the forthcoming Champions Challenge tournament in Belgium does not guarantee them berths in the final squad.
Carvalho insists that experienced players like Tirkey, Viren Rasquinha, Gagan Ajit Singh, Adrian D'Souza and drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, named among the 32 probables for the Bangalore camp, starting on May 23, will have to follow the new style of play that fetched the team a third-place finish in the just-concluded Sultan Azlan Shah tournament.
"Let me make one thing very clear. The invitation to these players to join the camp (in Bangalore) does not mean an automatic selection into the team," the former India half-hack said in an exclusive interview in Mumbai.
"If these boys can follow the same mantra which I have been following now, that is hard and aggressive running, and if they can match up to the pace [of the rest of the campers], then we have a fight for slots in the team. But I won't go by past reputation and laurels," Carvalho said.
The Champions Challenge tournament, for which the Indian team will be selected on June 2, is to be held in Boom, Belgium from June 23 to July 1. Other teams that will figure in it are Argentina, England, New Zealand, Japan and the hosts.
"They have to come and play according to the style that is being adopted now. There is a lot of change in our style of playing. It is now a mixture of the traditional Indian style and the European style," Carvalho said.
"We have been using the hard hits, the overhead balls -- used nowadays in international hockey -- and we are doing it now to telling effect. This made a lot of change (to the team's fortunes)," said the Mumbai-based 1984 Olympian.
Carvalho said that in order to jell well with the juniors, the experienced players would have to shed the mindset that they are seniors and stars.
"One other thing, the concept of seniors and juniors has to be removed from their head if they have to jell as a team.
"I will not tolerate the so-called star attitude. They have to play as a team, work hard. They have to prove they have it in them and that they are better than the youngsters in the camp," he said.
"They might have done wonders in the past but the present counts and I will insist on this," he emphasised.
He said the same formula would apply to Sandeep Singh, who was out of action following a freak bullet accident.
"He [too] has to perform and prove himself. I want fast movers and don't want people to stand and watch the proceedings either from behind or in the front. They have to be involved in the game and do hard running.
"Let's not go by past reputation and performance. He has to fight for his place along with Raghunath. Let them fight [for a place]; more the merrier!" Carvalho said.
Talking about the team's showing in Ipoh, Carvalho felt the capable bench strength made a lot of difference to the ultimate result.
"We had very good bench strength. That coupled with the effective changes we made led to less pressure on the players. The [lack of] physical fitness has always been the bane of Indian hockey. So we distributed the stamina, the strength, the skills very effectively among the players in all the matches we played [in Ipoh].
"We had skillful players and ball players with physical fitness. Just having skillful players and not doing hard running, not trying to steal the ball, not retackling does not help.
"I think that made a change. For all this to happen we did a lot of homework at the [pre-tournament] camp -- (team technical director) M M Sommaya, myself and the other coaching staff. That made a lot of difference," he said.
Carvalho said the standard of hockey in the tournament in Malaysia was pretty good.
"The opposition was good. Argentina, Australia, Korea and China. They were good. They were trying out a few players but the core team was always there," he added.
But the former international also felt that the Indian forwards still have the habit of hanging on to the ball a bit more than necessary and advised them to watch and learn from Australian ace Jamie Dwyer, the 28-year-old striker from Queensland who was a member of the Kookaburras' 2004 Olympic gold medal-winning squad.
"Our forwards need to release the ball at the right time, which is lacking. The Indian forwards will learn by watching (151-time capped) Dwyer on when to release the ball and also off-the-ball running in spite his small frame. I am going to show the young Indian players tapes of Dwyer," he said.
Carvalho felt that the Indian midfield needs to be more creative and solid while the forwards needed to show a bit of sharpness.
"Our wing play needs to be more solid though right half Gurbaj Singh was outstanding in the matches that he played. But in defence he was found a bit wanting.
"Prabodh (Tirkey) is a very good defensive left half but I would like him sometime to spring the element of surprise to the opposite defence. I want him to be a little faster on the ball when attacking," Carvalho said.
"The midfield needs a bit more solidity, fluency and provide surprise and fast attacks. They need to show little more creativity. And that is what we will work on now.
"As far as the forwards are concerned they need a bit more sharpness."
Carvalho said the Champions Challenge in Belgium is a good tune-up for the Olympic qualifiers early next year.
"The teams taking part in this tournament are all that will trouble you to the very core. These tournaments would give us the much-needed match practice, temperament, tournament play.
"They will also help in my analysis of the team clearer, what they are lacking," he added.
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