Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Save Azlan Shah Cup from becoming sideshow

Comment by Jugjet Singh

GERMANY, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia .... these were some of the teams that used to play in previous editions of the Azlan Shah Cup with full-strength sides.

But sadly, the past few seasons saw this prestigious tournament becoming a blooding ground for their young players, and the organising committee is actually condoning it.
I have witnessed this Invitational meet turn from an exciting world class event, which was almost on par with the Champions Trophy, to what it is today -- an avenue for experiment.

And the experiment does not stop at the players alone, as it looks like the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is also using it to train foreign officials and umpires, with the latter making a mess of the tournament.

When the late Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) secretary S. Satgunam was alive, India had wanted to send their second team to play in the Azlan Shah Cup a year after the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games in 1998.
After reading the faxed team list, this scribe was fortunate to witness Satgunam pick up the telephone and give an ultimatum to the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) secretary Jyothi Kumaran.

Satgunam had then said: "You have given me a list of your second team and this is very unbecoming of IHF. Fax me your best in one hour, or I am pulling the plug on India and inviting the reserve team instead."
Inside 30 minutes, IHF faxed the names of their their best 18.
Egypt, the whipping boys, were invited specially by Sultan Azlan Shah and that is his prerogative.

However, allowing world champions Australia to field only four players who helped them win the title in New Delhi is unbecoming.
Pakistan had 12 Junior World Cup players, while India fielded 11 World Cup players, South Korea and China also took this opportunity to try new hands.
Malaysia, with many players on the injury list, also had a diluted team for the 19th edition.
From the outside, it looks like the proximity to the World Cup, and being held in May instead of earlier in the year, has taken the glamour out of this edition, but the organising committee should take this as a lesson, and if they have to, hold it later in the year so that the best players can represent the invited teams and return the glamour that was conspicuously missing.

Perfect balance in the wings

Players of joint champions India and South Korea celebrate with officials. — Picture by Ikhwan Munir

MALAYSIAN players set a new benchmark in the just-concluded Azlan Shah Cup, and with re inforcement from the injury list and those playing abroad, a well-balanced side is expected to play in the Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Three young players who were given the chance by coaches Stephen van Huizen and Tai Beng Hai also rose to the occasion, and should make it more difficult for other aspirants to join the national side.
Marhan Jalil, 20, Izwan Firdaus, 21, and Azreen Rizal, 21, were given ample time in the seven matches, and they were a joy to watch.

"I believe new standards were set by the young players and now, those who are recovering from injuries and playing abroad would have to fight for their spots in the national team," said chief coach Van Huizen.

Among those on the injury list are brothers Kelvinder Singh and Harwinder Singh, while Jiwa Mohan is playing in Australia and S. Selvaraju in France.
"It was a fruitful tournament, and we missed the distinction of being named as joint-champions just on goals scored. Now, the focus will be on playing international friendlies, and then the Commonwealth Games before the all-important Asian Games," said Van Huizen.

The Asian Games will offer one ticket to the 2012 London Olympics, and South Korea, India and Pakistan would be the main hurdles.
Malaysia held South Korea to a 1-1 draw, Pakistan to 3-3, beat India 5-2 and China 2-1.
"However, the results will have no bearing when we play in the Asian Games as all three Asian stalwarts fielded experimental and young sides.

"A better picture will emerge when we play against Pakistan and India in the Commonwealth Games. Malaysia should also have the best available then, and after that I would be able to plan for the Asian Games," said Van Huizen.
The oldest Malaysian player was S. Kumar, but the 31-year-old showed great agility and was named as Goalkeeper of the Tournament.
"Kumar is among the best in the world, but we do not have a pool of back-ups who can take his spot in the future.
"Also, I do not have depth on the bench to rest my four defenders during matches, and they had to play for 70 minutes in most matches and that's when the mistakes crept in."
Defenders C. Baljit Singh, Madzli Ikmar, Amin Rahim and Razie Rahim were in super form, but made many mistakes in the closing minutes of matches as they had to play for 70 minutes without rest in most matches.
And among the strikers, Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin, 24, finally found his touch while 19-year-old Faizal Saari indicated that he has the potential to become the deadliest striker for Malaysia, in a few years' time.