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Pimpale, the perfect pivot

Ashish Magotra | April 29, 2004 21:47 IST

Sitting on the sidelines during the recently-concluded Bombay Gold Cup hockey tournament in Mumbai was an enlightening experience.

A player charged towards the opposition goal, dribbling his way past three players before coming to a sudden halt and changing direction to supply a pass that eventually earned his team a goal.

The speed and dexterity of the boy was astonishing. Out of sheer curiosity, I asked around, "Who is the young chap?"

Girish Pimpale'Girish Pimpale,' said one of the regulars. 'He represented India during the recent India - Malaysia Junior Test series.'

The match ended and I eagerly awaited my chance for a tete-a-tete with the youngster, who, after representing Don Bosco High School, Matunga, in central Mumbai, honed his skills at Nobody's Sports Club before turning out for Mumbai Customs in the professional ranks.

Four years with the Customs saw him being noticed by Indian Airlines, one of the best teams on the domestic circuit.

According to the former India Olympian Mervyn Fernandis, who is chief coach of Indian Airlines, the 20-year-old has a bright future.

Pimpale hails from Dadar, an area in central Mumbai famous for producing India cricketers Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaksar and Ajit Agarkar, to mention a few. But very few hockey players have made their way up from there.

Besides playing in recent junior Test series against Malaysia, Pimpale also toured Egypt and Poland with the junior India team. His good showing on those tours, particularly in Poland, where India emerged champions in the six-nation tournament, and his ability to find the right gaps and release the ball quickly earned him a place in a depleted senior India team for the last edition of the Azlan Shah tournament, in Kuala Lumpur in January.

The quick transition from junior to senior ranks does not faze him.

 "I know I am still young, but I know I am also good enough to play with senior players," he says.

Pimpale prefers to play in the forward line. But with the senior Indian team having the likes of Parbhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur, Gagan Ajit Singh and Dhanraj Pillay can he find a permanent place there?

"The thing is all these players are very good finishers. But they lack the skill to distribute the ball and create goals. I am a hard tackler and am hoping to be the link between the midfielders and the forwards," replies Pimpale with a degree of confidence.

Today hockey is a game that revolves more around the fitness of a player than individual skill.

Pimpale agrees. "Fitness is paramount in the game these days. If you are not fit you will not survive."

He studies at Khalsa College, situated just opposite the school he went to, but hardly has time to attend lectures. His busy schedule allows him very little time in Mumbai. When he is not traveling from one tournament to another, he is busy practising.

"The commando camps that the Indian hockey teams have before any tournament are great fun, but they are also tough. We have an hour of running and then we do strengthening exercises. We receive motivational talks and even get to do some shooting. It is supposed to increase our killer instinct," he says.

Pimpale realizes that confidence on the ball is what matters most.

"You show a sign of weakness and the opposition will be upon you in a jiffy. You have to be confident on the ball. You have to know when to keep and release the ball. Baljit Singh Dhillon [former India captain and member of the senior team], for instance, tends to hold on to the ball for too long. You can't do that these days.

"Even before you get the ball, you must know what you want to do with it."

Sound thinking from one taking his first steps in the big league.

Indeed, the lad, who counts Australia's Brent Livermore and Jay Stacy [FIH player of the year for 1999] among his favourite players, certainly knows what he wants.

At the just-concluded fifth Junior Asia Cup, he scored four goals and played a major role in India winning its maiden title. In fact, he was the perfect link between the defence and forwards; every attack revolved around him. Without doubt, he is one to replace some of our ageing stars.

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