Winds of change blowing right for Indian Hockey

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Updated: February 25, 2007 09:27 IST
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Kuala Lumpur:

Change it is said is the only thing that remains constant. Civilizations, empires and economies all undergo change. However, Indian Hockey, miniscule in comparison, seemed to solidly challenge this concept. The game for long appeared to be static - content to dwell on the distant past and too rigid to challenge the future. Fortunately, in recent times the winds of change have been blowing right and doing the right things for our national game. A fresh new team, a series of wins and Castrol, a genuinely committed sponsor have set the tone for better things to come. Will the induction of youth infuse freshness and invoke greater passion? Can this new found zest drive us to win the most coveted prize in Hockey? As the story unfolds here over the next few days, we would get definitive answers. For the moment, however, the team has made one to sit up and take notice. To be Junior World Cup runners-up and winners at two successive tournaments and also wear the crown of Asian Games champs at the senior level is no mean feat. It is interesting to note that a sprinkling of each of the three victorious teams make up the composition of the current squad. The other morale-booster to the team and Hockey in general has been a full time sponsor in the shape of Castrol who have pledged their support for a few years. The team it appears has been paced beautifully by coach Cedric D'souza to stay focussed for the big event. Acknowledged as one of the leading tacticians in the game, Cedric has given exposure when possible, experimented to promote versatility and protected the team from prying eyes when needed. Kuala Lumpur would, however, be the acid test. Seven league matches in the span of ten days is as difficult a schedule as it can get. And in the humid conditions the only solace one may have is that the European teams would have it tougher than us. It will be Cedric, skipper Baljit Dhillon and the tested Dhanraj Pillay who would have to steady the ship in the testing waters that is the World Cup. The team's asset is that there is no over dependence on anyone. The quick "give and go" has thankfully replaced the individual dribble, giving a better balance to the team's attack. Dhanraj may not operate in his customary role down the middle but from a wider, more withdrawn position on the right. Along with Baljit Dhillon and Deepak Thakur, he would be the man India would continue to look towards for flourish and the critical strike at goal. Sabu Varkey who is capable of some searing runs himself, will play the role of schemer, providing the fodder for the hitmen in front. Set to play the 4-4-2 formation the team will have the luxury of players overlapping from midfield and at the same time have depth in defence. Baljit Saini and Sukhbir Gill down the right and Arjun Halappa down the middle have the guile to tease and torment. Playing the spoiler in a left half or defensive centre half position would be Thirumalvalavan who has the mobility and experience to man these vital positions. In deep defence Dilip Tirkey and Lazarus Barla have young Kanwaljit Singh as an able ally although all three may not be on the field at the same time. Custodian Jude Menezes has grown in stature with every tournament and he has shown that he can handle pressure situations. A dilemma that India could face here is that their most potent weapon could also prove to be their nemesis. Jugraj Singh has excelled in earlier tournaments with his superb conversion of penalty corners. India given their share of ball players are capable of forcing penalty corners at will and Jugraj's prowess with the drag flick can be a winner. Questions continue to be asked, however, about his agility in field play and whether this could present the opposition a chink to exploit. The team management would have to tactfully utilise his strength and provide him with adequate cover in vulnerable areas of the field during normal play. India's main opponents in the pool for a place in the semi-final would be Australia, South Korea and hosts Malaysia. In the other pool Germany, Holland, Spain and Pakistan fight for two other semi-final berths in what promises to be Hockey World Cup's 'pool of death'. Germany, winners of the Champion's Trophy in November, would have to be bookmakers pre-tournament favourites with Holland and Australia following closely. With all teams so closely matched, the only safe prediction would be that the winner on a given day would be the team that scores more goals! Victory for India would be a stupendous achievement and accelerate the changes in the game we have begun to see. (PTI)

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