Mumbai, July 19
“We are not aiming too high. We have a huge mountain to climb. Right now we are aiming at the play-offs and then take it further from there. The last season was disastrous but one has to move on. We have set small targets. We are confident of achieving them in due time,” says Ashok Shinde the new coach of Puneri Paltan who finished in the cellar last season.
His views were echoed by manager Kailash Kandpal who says, “We have a structure in place and the rebuilding process has started. The next two-three years will be crucial as we have decided not to rush. Slow and steady is our motto.”
Ashok, a battle scarred veteran knows what he means. He has been on the scene for almost three decades. He is a two-times Asian Games gold medallist who led the India side with distinction. Known for his intelligence and technique, he is sure to gradually make his wards understandthe importance of both. The first test for Ashok and his boys led by the imposing Wazir Singh will be against Telugu Titans on the morrow. On Tuesday, they will face a balanced U Mumba side that has already beaten the champions Jaipur Pink Panthers in the opener.
Against Telugu Titans, Ashok will be fielding his new recruit Yogesh Hooda to support Wazir in the raiding department. He has faith in the youngster whom he has coached in his club side Air-India. There is also another option for the Pune coach of utilising Pravin Niwale. The former Maharashtra and Mahindra raider is a smart operator and can be effective in small spurts. Ashok stresses he is fit and that he is sure he will deliver.
Puneri Paltan will have to stop the two most expensive players in the league
But Pune’s task is cut out. Wazir and company will have to contend with the Titan’s defence bolstered by the Iranians, Hadi Oshtorak and Meraj Sheykh. The former plays as a left corner while Meraj is an all-rounder. They are good, insists Ashok but they are yet new to the team and we hope that factor helps us to an extent. Ashok’s observations on defence carry weight. He is a product of Maharashtra where the stress is on a water-tight defence.
Telugu Titans, now based in Hyderabad, have depth in their attack. Rahul Chaudhari, last season’s ‘Raider of the Tournament’ operates with uncanny stealth. He is an Air-India boy. He has trained under Ashok who is aware of Rahul’s drawbacks. There might be a surprise in store for him he quipped. If the Punekars are able to get him early then it may demoralise him. But the Titans have Deepak Hudda another Air - India raider and he will be more than a handful for the rival defence.
The Pune team will be eager to see how their new recruits raider Mahipal, all-rounder Ravi Kumar (both Western Rly.), defender Vijendra (Northern Rly) shape up on the day. When coaxed about their encounter against U Mumba, Ashok was obviously guarded in setting expectation in the Maharashtra derby.
“They are a good side and we want to see the outcome of the first tie.” When asked if he is taking it match by match, Ashok replied “It’s the best thing to do while re-building. Achieve your short term goals and build upon them.”
The Puneri Paltan have revamped their entire persona with new uniforms and a new slogan, ‘Gheuntak’ but it remains to be seen whether they can follow their coach’s wishes.