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 February 28, 2002 | 1230 IST

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Indian team in sombre mood

The seventh floor of the Concorde Hotel, in the bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, wore a deserted look this morning, with the odd strains of Hindi music being the only sign of any life.

It is the floor on which the Indian team, taking part in the 10th men's hockey World Cup, is lodged. Following last night's defeat to Malaysia, their second on the trot, the mood, quite predictably, is sombre.

"Last night, after the game, the junior players, in particular, were highly emotional. After all, they had tasted victories in the recent past. So, obviously, they were the worst affected by the loss to Malaysia,'' said a team official, who requested anonymity.

Coach Cedric D'Souza was bravado personified at the post-match press conference as he, quite typically, stood by his ''boys'', especially skipper Baljit Singh Dhillon. But beneath the veneer of calm, one could sense anguish, emotion and passion, on the boil, needing only a spark for the man to explode.

The players woke up late this morning and went through a light stretching session before breakfast. A scheduled practice session for the afternoon was cancelled.

D'Souza said, ''We felt that they needed to get away from hockey for at least a day. They have worked hard for the past few months, and the two defeats have obviously been a downer. So, today, we have given them time to reflect,'' he said.

''We came here with a goal and now that we cannot achieve it, we have to re-focus, set a fresh target and go for it. We have done the best we could, and you certainly cannot blame us for lack of effort,'' he said.

About the police protection he sought last night, D'Souza said, ''After the match the crowd was abusing us. So, I decided to ask for protection.''

On Tuesday, too, the Indian team was the target of crowd ire and it was learnt that a few missiles were hurled at the players, after the 1-2 loss to Korea.

Malaysia has a large immigrant Indian population and many more of Indian ancestry.

The coach and his assistant plan to go out for the day if only to keep away from the many telephone calls they are being flooded with.

"We will get back later today (Thursday) and start working on the next match which we should win at any cost,'' D'Souza said.

India meet England on Friday after a day's break.

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