New Delhi, Nov. 22: Veterans Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Singh Saini and Baljit Singh Dhillon and others like Tejbir Singh and Didar Singh, who were rested for the Afro-Asian Games will be recalled for the Azlan Shah Cup camp to be held in Hyderabad from December 8. India will clash against Germany in the opener on January 8.
This was stated by national goalkeeping coach A.B. Subbiah, who is here for the 40th ONGC-Nehru hockey tournament.
Interestingly, Subbiah is not here spotting talent, as one would expect. He is the goalkeeper for Indian Airlines, which has qualified for the semi-finals. Subbiah, who first played for Indian Airlines in the Nehru tournament in 1987 and in the Junior Nehru tournament in 1985, is thus the longest serving player in the country at present.
With the cancellation of the proposed five-Test series against The Netherlands, India’s next international hockey assignment, then, is the Azlan Shah Cup in Kuala Lumpur from January 8-18 next. Incidentally, the Indian Hockey Federation is looking for another European country to replace The Netherlands for a Test series in January-February next year.
The list of probables will include the entire gold-medal winning squad from the Afro-Asian Games. Thus, defender Harpal Singh, penalty corner expert Len Aiyappa and Arjun Halappa and Prabodh Tirkey, all of whom impressed in the Afro-Asian Games are now in contention for the Azlan Shah Cup and the pre-Olympics.
Despite his pre-occupation as IA goalkeeper, Subbiah is keeping a watch on promising players at the meet. However, he was quick to add that with the focus on the Olympic qualifiers in Madrid next March, the coaches are not too keen to tinker with the squad. He said another drag flick specialist is being sought and Punjab and Sind Bank defender Jatinder Pal Singh may be drafted in.
Subbiah and skipper Pillay both feel India are in a relatively easier pool in the Olympic qualifiers. With seven teams to qualify, India is clubbed with Pakistan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Belgium and Canada in pool B.
Experienced defender Dilip Tirkey is glad that India has avoided The Netherlands and Spain, who are both in Group A.
On current form, Subbiah is confident India will qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics. He said, “our aim is to win the pre-Olympics in Madrid , as it will give us a psychological advantage in our quest for an Olympic medal.”
The seven-team tournament is being played on a round robin league basis and India, winners in 1985, 1991 and 1995, have a tough schedule of six matches in eight days.
Jan. 8: India vs Germany
Jan. 9: India vs Pakistan
Jan. 11: India vs Malaysia
Jan. 13: India vs Australia
Jan. 14: India vs South Korea
Jan. 16: India vs Spain
Jan. 18: Final