| (Left)Baljit Singh Dhillon, Baljit Singh Saini
Chandigarh: Victory in the three-nation tournament in Sydney has put Indian hockey back on track but the battle ahead is tougher, said Baljit Singh Dhillon Friday.
“The tournaments coming up are going to be even tougher. All we need to do is to maintain the momentum gained from the win over Australia and improve on our weak areas,” said the former captain.
Baljit Singh Saini, another senior player, said while it’s obvious that the victory in Australia will lead to celebrations, it was important to focus on the bigger tournaments.
“Everybody is happy after defeating two world class teams, Australia and Pakistan, but our ultimate aim is to win the Athens Olympics gold and to break the Champions Trophy jinx,” Saini said. “It is not going to be easy and the recent win is only a first step in that direction. We will have to examine our weak areas.”
Speaking on the “weak areas” Dhillon pointed to defence. “We will have to improve our defence and try to avoid conceding unnecessary penalty corners towards the end of a match.”
He added that Jugraj Singh was emerging as a good penalty corner specialist, getting consistent with his drag flicks.
Star forward Gagan Ajit Singh opined that the present blend of young and old players was instrumental in beating the strong Australians.
“The juniors and seniors gelled well to form effective combinations that helped us a lot. We always try to pick up some good things from their skill and experience,” he said.
Gagan said the players will have to learn from the mistakes they made during the last Champions Trophy and try not to repeat them. “We have a good chance this time,” he said.
Asked what strategy was followed in the final against Australia, Saini said after their 1-2 loss to the same team in the final in Perth, the Indians decided to attack from the word go.
“Earlier, Aussies used to attack and we used to defend, but this time we put the pressure on them by playing an attacking game. Within 20 minutes we snatched the game from their hands by pumping in two goals.”
The trio agreed that playing against Pakistan was special and beating them was like a dream coming true.
“Off the field we are friends, but on it it’s like the two armies facing each other on the border,” said Gagan, a DSP with Punjab Police.
Dhillon said beating Pakistan meant a lot for India — be it in hockey or cricket or any other sport. “With Pakistan it is a do-or-die kind of situation. There is that extra urge to perform even better.”
On the upcoming fixtures, the players said the team would assemble in Delhi on Monday for a short camp before leaving for Germany on June 21 for the Panasonic Cup beginning June 27. The other teams in the fray are Germany, Spain and Argentina.
Two former players, Sylvainus Dung Dung and Manohar Topno, have urged the team to concentrate till the match isn’t over, adds a report from Ranchi. “No doubt India’s performance in Australia was good but the traditional weakness of allowing opponents to strike back and surrender healthy margins exists,” they said.
“This is due to complacency that has been plaguing the team traditionally,” the duo added. Both were defenders in the Eighties.
“Even during our days we used to get complacent after taking a big lead, assuming it would take us to victory. But one must remain alert till the final hooter,” said Topno, a member of the 1982 Asian Games silver-winning team. Dung Dung, a member of the 1980 Moscow Olympic champion team, said a number of goal can be avoided if defenders stay focussed till the end.
Thakur set for comeback
Meanwhile, striker Deepak Thakur, who missed the three-nation hockey tournament in Australia due to a leg injury, is all set to make a comeback to the national team after getting a call to attend the training camp ahead of the quadrangular Panasonic Cup in Hamburg, Germany later this month.
Thakur has recovered completely after sustaining a hairline fracture on the leg during the Bombay Gold Cup hockey meet earlier this year and is one of the five players who would be attending the training camp in Delhi alongwith the 20 players who represented the side in Australia. “The selection of players for the Hamburg tournament will be made on either June 17 or 18. We are unlikely to make much changes to the side that played in Australia,” Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) sources said on Friday.
India, who will leave for Germany on June 23, will kick-off their campaign in the three-day tournament with a match against Argentina on June 27.
Besides Thakur, the other four who would be attending the seven-day camp starting on June 16 are V.S. Vinay of Indian Airlines, Prabhdeep Singh of Punjab Police and Namdhari’s Harpal Singh and Deedar Singh.
Though India will play only one match each against the other teams in fray — Argentina, Germany and Spain — the tournament will be their last chance to fine-tune their skills for the six-nation Champions Trophy starting in Amsterdam in August.
June 27: India vs Argentina, Spain vs Germany.
June 28: Argentina vs Spain, India vs Germany.
June 29: India vs Spain, Germany vs Argentina.
Devesh Chauhan, Kamaldeep Singh, Dilip Tirkey, Kanwaljeet Singh, Jugraj Singh, Ignace Tirkey, Bimal Lakra, Vikram Pillay, Viren Rasquinha, Prabodh Tirkey, Baljit Singh Saini, Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Singh Dhillon, Gagan Ajit Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Tejbir Singh, Tushar Khandkar, Mukesh Kumar, Arjun Halappa, Sandeep Michael, Deepak Thakur, V.S. Vinay, Prabhdeep Singh, Harpal Singh and Deedar Singh.