Refusing to blame players' fitness levels for India's disappointing performance in recently-concluded Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, team physio Shrikant Iyenger, however admitted that there is a scope for improvement as far as fitness is concerned.
Five-time champions India finished a lowly sixth in seven-nation tournament and the a number of former players chose to blame poor fitness level of the team for the debacle.
"It will be wrong to say that we lost the tournament because of fitness issues. There were many other reasons. But it is true that we have to improve our fitness level to be at par with other big teams."
"Modern hockey is all about fitness and no team can ignore that," Shrikant told 'PTI Bhasha' from Raipur.
Shrikant, who will also submit a report on India's show in Azlan Shah Cup like other support staff, opted to defend the players while pointing out that weather, scheduling of the matches and loss against Pakistan were the major reasons behind the team's flop show.
"Our players did not play international hockey for almost five months prior to Azlan Shah. Other teams have strong club culture and they have been playing club hockey. Body takes time to get conditioned while de-conditioning is much faster and easier. Plus some key players were out because of injuries and some were not in top form," he said.
The physio also claimed that Indian team will be much fitter before Champions trophy and Olympic qualifiers to be held in December and February in Delhi.
"If you see individually, each player is much improved fitnesswise now. But we have keep working hard on this aspect. I can guarantee you that we will see a fitter Indian team from Champions trophy onwards. The fitness level will be better than that was in Asian Games."
Indian team's performance in second half was major worry in almost all the games in the Azlan Shah Cup but physio dismissed the suggestion that players did not have the stamina to play to the best of their abilities for full 70 minutes.
"We played badly in second half in only the last three matches (against Pakistan, New Zealand and South Korea). But we managed a draw against world champions Australia who are the best as far as fitness and skills are concerned. So, it proves that our players do not lack stamina."
"We had to play six matches in the gap of only three days while other teams got enough break between the matches. Weather in Malaysia was also draining, which caused a lot of fatigue," he said.
Insisting that loss to Pakistan turned out to be a major disappointment, Shrikant said India got under psychological pressure thereafter.
"The loss against arch-rivals Pakistan was also a major factor. We were under psychological pressure after that. And it was hard to recover. No physio or trainer can do anything about that."
When asked whether he has all the modern equipment, which are required to train the national level players, he replied in positive.
"We have GPS, heartbeat monitoring system but we received them just before the Delhi Commonwealth Games last year. Now we are using those in the camps on regular basis. There are some more equipment needed but for training purpose. I have everything which former coach Brasa (Jose) and Harendra Singh have demanded," said Shrikant.