By Pargat Singh
If I have been criticising our Indian hockey system I had good reasons to. Coach Jose Brasa has only helped me justify my viewpoints.
I read in the newspapers that Brasa has admitted Deepak Thakur is not fully fit to play the World Cup. There are doubts over Sandeep Singh's fitness as well. This is indeed alarming. How could the selectors pick unfit players for the World Cup?
Deepak's performance on the pitch is there to see. He is a pale shadow of what he was. One of India's finest strikers of the ball, the burly youngster could barely move in the match against Spain. If he was unfit, he should not have played.
I am wondering if Brasa is under pressure to play certain players! Any well-meaning coaching will never accept an unfit player on his roster. Did the players undergo fitness test before their names were sent to the FIH? The media should be asking a few tough questions to the hockey bosses, who are extremely quick to shout against Shivender Singh's ban. How long will they play the cover-up game?
We have a long list of national selectors. There is representation from the government side as well as the Hockey India side. I think we have the longest selection panel in the world! With a half-a-dozen ‘wise' men picking the World Cup team, one wonders how injured players can make a national side. The Indian team is not a private property, it is a national team. The hopes and aspirations of millions of hockey lovers are on it. I feel the management has let the nation down by allowing unfit players.
If we didn't have a player to replace a Deepak Thakur, that doesn't speak well about our system. Why didn't we pick a player from the junior national side? I am sure it would not have impacted our performance in the World Cup very much. Brasa surely must be getting disgusted with the system already.
Let's talk some hockey now. Shivender will be back against England today. He is an opportunistic striker of the ball and that should augur well for India. We should see more attacks, hoping that there is a steady stream of passes from the mid-field. Innovation in the preparatory zone will be key and the ball must be released early.
England will be tough nuts to crack. They are the most improved team in the World Cup and their unbeaten streak (three wins on-the-trot) is showing that. I am seeing them after the 1988 Olympics which they won. This is a much better team, tactically superior and extremely focused.
England are getting better with every game. They are now at 85 per cent of their capability and the best thing is that they are not only depending on set-pieces. Against Pakistan, two of their goals came from well-crafted moves and not the hit-and-deflect types. This means they have a definite plan to build and score field goals.
More importantly, England are defending well. Their defenders are like mountains and they have shown that with a cool mind, even the best of penalty corner takers can be thwarted. They have controlled the pace of the matches and England have been in full command in all the games they have played.
India are fully capable of lifting themselves a few notches. We can still finish among the top 6, having finished a dismal 11th in the last World Cup four years ago in Germany. Only a good performance in the field will help our hockey grow and look beyond a dishonest administration.
(Former 2-time Olympic captain Pargat Singh is covering the World Cup exclusively for www.espnstar.com)