Hits and misses for India in the Azlan Shah Cup: Brilliant Ramandeep not in CWG squad
An assessment of India's performance in the Azlan Shah Cup, the players who excelled, and those who made it to the CWG squad.
A full-strength Indian team has been announced for the Commonwealth Games to be played in Gold Coast next month. The Azlan Shah experience, however, has been enriching for several young players who were exposed to the best in world hockey at a very early stage in their career.
Marijne's bold experiment: Who performed and who didn't?
A young Indian team fought valiantly but fell short on many counts at the recently concluded Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. The debate rages on as to whether coach Sjoerd Marijne was right in excluding some of his best players in order to prepare a young team for the future.
While India were fearless against mighty Argentina and Australia, the loss to Ireland in the pool match was embarrassing.
So, also was the failure to convert nine penalty corners in the match against England. No doubt, England goalkeeper, George Pinner made some great saves but if India had converted just a couple of drag flicks (or even one) and registered a win, the end result in the tournament could have been quite different.
No surprise then, that Australian drag flick specialist Chris Ciriello has joined the Indian camp as Analytical Coach.
The experienced SK Uthappa failed to display his exceptional talent in the tournament and Sardar Singh showed flashes of his old brilliance. Both players will not make it to Australia next month.
It was baptism by fire for some players with little, and others with no international exposure. Irrespective of the results, however, a few Indian players showed great promise and skill and provided a silver lining to the gloom of a fifth place finish.
Shilanand Lakra and Sumit Kumar showed great speed and skill up front with their ability to penetrate the opposition circle and create chances. Nilam Xess too displayed amazing stick work and is a huge find for India.
Four players stood out for India (in spite of some flaws) and made a huge contribution to the team throughout the tournament.
India has always played attacking hockey down the years and adores it's flamboyant and speedy forwards. Defense has never been India's forte and therefore amends are now being made. Not conceding penalty corners, in modern hockey, is just as important as scoring off them, as Gonzalo Peillat reminded India in their first outing.
Amit Rohidas was brilliant in defense against Australia and England. His ability to keep his stick grounded and run alongside the forwards in the circle without indulging in a tackle is so very similar to what veteran Australian defender Mark Knowles often does. He kept the Aussie forwards at bay and interestingly, Australia scored two goals when Amit Rohidas was sent off the pitch after having been shown a green and a yellow card.
Amit Rohidas scored twice against Argentina with powerful drag flicks, kindling hopes of India finding a new specialist in the penalty corner department. The young defender has made it to the Indian team headed for the Commonwealth Games.
Suraj Karkera and Krishan Pathak
In the absence of veteran, PR Sreejesh, the two young custodians had a huge task ahead of them.
Suraj Karkera and Krishan Pathak made some saves that can only be described as magical. In the match against Australia, Tom Craig's pass was picked up by an unmarked Daniel Beale who had only the goalkeeper to beat. Beale's strong reverse flick was blocked by a diving Pathak, as the ball ricocheted off his thighs and over the post.
In the match against Malaysia, Indian won 5-1 but the story could have been different had it not been for Suraj Karkera's acrobatic saves. Brothers, Fitri Saari and Faizal Saari looked menacing for Malaysia and along with Tajuddin Tengku created numerous chances with shots on goal but it was the sheer brilliance of Karkera which kept them at bay.
Sreejesh is back in the team headed for Gold Coast next month. Suraj Karkera has been retained but Krishan Pathak will miss out.
Ramandeep Singh: Brilliant and consistent
Ramandeep Singh was easily the most visible and effective player for India throughout the tournament.
With sizzling runs down the left flank, he kept the opposition defenders on their toes. Being aptly positioned in front of the goalmouth at the precise time to swoop down and deflect the ball into the goal is the trademark of a great forward. Ramandeep does this well, no doubt. Yet, more often than not, he finds his teammates in front of goal with witty and well-directed passes enabling them to score effortless goals.
Ramandeep Singh assisted Shilanand Lakra to score against England with a brilliantly directed pass from the edge of the circle. Talwinder Singh's shot was blocked by the goalkeeper but the debutante, Lakra latched on to the aerial deflection and tapped the ball into the net thereby scoring his first international goal.
Against world champions Australia, Ramandeep was brilliant throughout.
In the eighth minute of the first quarter, he made a deft interception and stole the ball from Aran Zalewski who was approaching the Indian half. Making his way down the left flank, he advanced towards the center but did not have a lot of options to pass as the other Indian players had not anticipated the move. Shilanand Lakra was the solitary player who had sprinted in to the Australian circle.
Ramandeep's brilliant pass beat three Australian defenders and found Shilanand Lakra right in front of goal. Andrew Charter made a brilliant save but the move exemplified what Ramandeep Singh is capable of. He was the architect of India's fightback in the last quarter and scored with a powerful reverse flick.
Ramandeep Singh excelled, yet again, against Malaysia and the last encounter against Ireland which India won 4-1.
A disappointing fifth place finish, apart, there are many positives for India ahead of the Commonwealth Games which will begin three weeks from now.
Ramandeep Singh has not found a place in the team but the talented striker is good enough to make a comeback soon.
Indian team for the Commonwealth Games:
Goalkeepers: PR Sreejesh and Suraj Karkera
Defenders: Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Kothajit Singh Kadangbam, Gurinder Singh, Amit Rohidas
Midfielders: Manpreet Singh (Captain), Chinglensana Singh Kangujam (Vice-Captain), Sumit, Vivek Sagar Prasad
Forwards: Akashdeep Singh, Sunil Sowmarpet Vitalacharya, Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Dilpreet Singh