Thursday, June 14, 2012

A seasoned, balanced India

EXPERIENCED DUO: As expected, striker Gurvinder Singh Chandi (in picture) and defender Ignace Tirkey are back. But this would be of token value unless they can translate their experience into results. Photo: S. Subramanium

ANY dissection of India's 16-member hockey squad for the London Olympiad is superfluous. Apart from minor changes, the core stays. The selectors have refrained from indulging in any fanciful exercise.
   Gurvinder Singh Chandi and Ignace Tirkey are back. That was expected. The duo enhances the experience quotient. But this is of token value.
    Unless it is translated into improving consistency, the international cap figures will reflect only a statistical calibration.
    Appalling inconsistency cost India a higher finish at Ipoh.
   The fluctuations were startling. They ranged from brilliance to blasé. Coach Michael Nobbs went through painful moments.
    There is now a greater balance. Chandi and Ignace can bridge the loopholes.
    Both are seasoned with enough international exposure.
    Competition at the Olympic-level is more than an exhibition of individual skills. Success depends on how well the forces are marshalled to overcome the opponent tactically.
More resilience

To accomplish this, the team must strive to elevate its defence and attack notches above than what was noted at Ipoh.
    Importantly, more resilience is needed in the area of defence which crumbled even before meagre force.
   Goalkeepers Chetri, who leads the team, and Sreejesh require more support from the defenders. Of the two, Chetri displays composure and confidence. Sreejesh, on the contrary, is prone to be erratic and desperate.
    In the defence, a lot rests on Ignace, who, along with Sandeep Singh, figured in the 2004 Athens Olympics. A wing-half turned defender under Nobbs, he thrives on his inherent proficiency in trapping and tackling. His penchant to dribble out of trouble from the circle has been exemplary.
    The same cannot be said of Sandeep or Raghunath. They do not come off well in interceptions. But, both possess lethal penalty corner hits. Sandeep, especially, is the danger man for any goalkeeper.
Sheet anchor

It is on the cumulative strength of the midfield that the entire team is pegged. Sardar Singh is the sheet anchor in this. His improvisation is charming to behold. Accuracy is the essence of his approach.
   With such an outstanding pivot, the half-line can work wonders, provided the response from the rest is matching.
   The efficiency levels of Gurbaj Singh and Birendra Lakra are attractive enough to improve the quality in this line. Sidelining Kothajit raises eyebrows; so does the retention of Manpreet Singh.
   The efficacy of the midfield is again linked to the cohesion and thrust of the frontline.
   Everyone in the attack is as good as the other. But the weak point is the finish. All of them were guilty of frittering away chances during the last tournament.
   Tushar, Sunil, Shivendra and Chandi are delightful ball players. But flunking at the goal-end after fashioning a sparkling surge is heart-rending. Scoring opportunities will be very few in high-profile competitions involving well-structured set of defenders.
   Tucking in goals against them require cent per cent perfection.
    How much sharpness can Nobbs inject into the attack in the time remaining before the Games is difficult to visualise.
   The preparatory camps, as well as the tours to France and Spain, provide a splendid opportunity to fine-tune every layer.
   The players cannot grumble for want of opportunities or financial rewards. Now, it is time for them to match the hopes and aspirations of the hockey fraternity praying for a semifinal berth in London.
   The team: Goalkeepers: Bharath Chetri (capt.), P.R. Sreejesh. Defenders: Sandeep Singh, V.R. Raghunath, Ignace Tirkey. Midfielders: Gurbaj Singh, Sardar Singh, Birendra Lakra, Manpreet Singh. Forwards: S.V. Sunil, Gurvinder Singh Chandi, Shivendra Singh, Danish Mujtaba, Tushar Khandker, Dharamvir Singh, S.K. Uthappa. Stand-byes: Sarvanjit Singh, Kothajit Singh.

The Hindu