Amid much fanfare, the team for the FIH Hockey World Cup was announced in New Delhi. Initially, Hockey India was planning to bifurcate the talent of the team. For them, Asian Games is the most important event of the year. Gold there would give them a direct ticket to Rio ’16. They considered their chances in the World Cup to be slim. Also, according to them, the Commonwealth Games carry lower weight. So in order to establish a wider talent pool for Asian gold, management was planning to go with a half-strength team for the World Cup.
But better sense prevailed. The team selected for The Hague is first rate, though there is some scrutiny as always.
In goal, Sreejesh has emerged as a rock of Gibraltar. He has made some outstanding saves in recent years and it is this area where we really have world class talent. Harjot is young and learning quickly. Sreeejesh will surely be the first choice of coach Walsh.
Defence is effective and young. Kothajit and Gurbaj are experienced. Both the drag flickers of the team (Rupinder pal Singh and V R Raghunath) do their duties in the wall of defence. Against quality attacks of the other teams in the fray, the defenders will be busy and will have to bear extra load.
In midfield, we have a quality player named Sardara Singh. He might be forced to go deep against the top attackers in the world since he has been doing it for quite some time now. Manpreet has been captain of the national junior team for a long time, and is a bright young player to complement Sardara. Jasjit is the most surprising inclusion. He was a mediocre player for the Uttar Pradesh Wizards in this year’s Hockey India League. The boy from Sansarpur village near Jalandhar has been termed an ‘All Rounder’ by Roelant Oltmans. According to him, he will be used as a defender as well as a drag flicker.
In forward line, S V Sunil has lightning speed; he will prove handy in making counter attacks. Ramandeep has good dribbling skills, Akashdeep is buoyed with confidence. He was the ‘Youngest player of the tournament’ in HIL recently. Nikkin passes the ball well. Mandeep Singh is fit after his injury and is back in action. He is a natural predator and if he is in full cry, India can beat any opposition in the world. He showed that in January in Delhi in the match against Germany.
Danish Mujtaba is not fully recovered from injury. The exclusion of the Walmiki brothers and Lalit Upadhyay raises more questions too.
Former Indian coaches Bhaskaran, Gerhard Rach, Rajinder Singh and Michael Nobbs were defenders in their playing days. But Terry Walsh was an attacker in the Australian side. He has laid down a lot of emphasis on an attacking mentality. The team is scoring goals and in their recent European tour, lost matches after giving a tough fight to better opposition.
Coach Jude Felix and Oltmans have to labour hard in making a strategy for each match. The pool is tough. In such a group, a good start is required. To reach the semi-final, India has to register at least 8 points. The team will open their campaign against Belgium on the opening day. At least a draw is necessary to keep the morale high and momentum going for rest of the tournament.
The team was selected in front of the winning members of the 1975 World Cup squad. Hope it will give tonic to them. Coach Walsh has set a target of finishing in the top 8 of the tournament. The team will play two practice matches against Argentina (May 25) and South Africa (May 28) before the ultimate show. Hope for the best and ‘Chak de’!Published 17 May 2014, 11:34 IST