Hockey team bats for blue turf in run-up to Olympics
Having failed to adapt to the blue turf during the Olympic hockey test event in London recently, India hockey team is keen to play more on the surface to get adjusted to it ahead of the Games, says ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh.
Having lost all their matches in the test event -- to World champions Australia, Olympic champions Germany and hosts Great Britain -- the team is now eager to get accustomed to the blue turf at the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, followed by the four-nation tournament at Santander, Spain.
"We are going to play in the Azlan Shah Cup (in Ipoh, Malaysia), which will be a blue turf again. Later, we will travel to Spain and France for two Test matches, so it will be a good experience," said the defender, the team's main hope for goals from penalty-croners.
During the Olympics test event at the Riverbank Arena in the Olympic Park, the venue for the Games hockey tournament, the turf came under criticism as it seemed slippery.
Image: Sandeep Singh
Ric Charlesworth called the turf 'the worst surface in the world'
Sandeep admitted that it was tough initially to get adjusted to the surface but said as the players got used to it the performance improved.
"Playing there was quite different. The main stadium is bumpy and slow. Top teams in the world, like Germany, Australia and England, have the blue turf so they had an advantage," he said.
"For us, the Test event was our first ever outing on a blue turf. Initially, establishing eye contact on the ball was not simple. The surface is bumpy and ball trapping was difficult.
"Australian coach Ric Charlesworth also criticised it and termed it "the worst surface in the world". However, after every match, we improved," Sandeep, who signed up as brand ambassador of 'Tilaknagar Industries' along with teammates Sardar Singh, S V Sunil and Shivendra Singh, added.
Insisting that a small error on the blue turf can prove expensive, Sandeep said: "Other teams have been playing on blue turf for six months and thus were more experienced. But our end result says that we were not too far behind.
"The surface is such that one small error in trapping or a misjudgment can prove to be dangerous."
Sardar Singh informed that the Indian team's camp has been shifted to Ludhiana, where a similar blue-coloured turf is being prepared.
"In Ludhiana, blue turf is being prepared. Once the work is complete, we may shift there and practice. The team is gelling well and our strongest point is our fitness. Our performance has improved and we competed at the same pace as the opponents," Sardar said.
Image: A general view of the blue turf at the LOCOG Test Event for London 2012 at Riverbank Arena - Hockey Centre
Photographs: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
'We committed minor errors in London'
Ace forward Shivendra said playing strong teams, which will also take part in the upcoming Games, at the Olympic hockey test event was crucial in the team's build-up, as the players could measure up their rivals.
"It was very important that we played the big teams because we hadn't faced them in more than a year. All the teams brought their main players, so that gave us a lot of confidence and a fair idea as to where we stand compared to them," said Shivendra, who has come off an injury lay-off.
S V Sunil said though the team committed some minor mistakes, overall the performance was good.
"We committed minor errors in London but overall our performance was satisfactory. We will train harder and plug the loopholes before the Games," he added.
Meanwhile, Sandeep expressed happiness over the corporate support coming in for the national game.
"We are encouraged by Tilaknagar Industries Limited's support to Indian hockey players. This kind of support will help the growth of the national game. Sportspersons are dependent on corporate sponsorships.
"As more money starts flowing into the game, more and more youngsters will be encouraged to take up hockey full time," said the Arjuna award winner.
Image: Great Britain's Simon Mantell battles for the ball with Sandeep Singh atthe Olympic test event in London
Photographs: Paul Gilham/Getty Images