Monday, November 29, 1999

We have identified a pool of players: Harendra

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New Delhi, May 16 (IANS) India's national hockey coach Harendra Singh said the Azlan Shah Cup victory has come at the right time to lift the sagging morale of the team after their eighth-place finish in the World Cup at home.India retained the Azlan Shah Cup hockey title, winning it for the fifth time, after they were declared joint winners with South Korea as heavy rains washed out the final Sunday.Harendra, however, said that too much should not be looked into the win as all the teams, including India, were fielding experimental sides in the tournament.'It will certainly boost the morale of the team. But after every win we tend to forget that we have to improve as a team. We have a long way to go,' Harendra told IANS from Ipoh, Malaysia.'We won the tournament last year also, and too much should not be read into this victory because all the teams were fielding experimantal sides. Yes, a title triumph is always good. It motivates us to improve and perform better and it is good for the game in the country.'So, it is a step in the right direction.''But we need to improve vastly if we have to compete and do well against the top European sides. We have to keep working on every aspects of the game.'Harendra said the positives from the tournament is that the country has identified a pool of players who could form the core of the team for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games this year.'We wanted to try out new faces after the World Cup. And the selectors did the right thing by including fresh players. We experimented with the players and the results have been very good. We have identified a pool of players and we would like to test more youngsters so that we are fully prepared before the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.'This was the Indian team's first international outing since the World Cup at home, where they finished eighth and the senior players in the side drew flak for their disappointing show.The team responded well under skipper Rajpal Singh in the tournament. Their defence and penalty corner conversions were the weak points, but the free-flowing mid-fielders played a vital role.Experienced Arjun Halappa was the fulcrum in the midfield with Bharat Chikkara and Vikas Pillay playing their part. Gurbaj Singh and Prabodh Tirkey controlled the flanks superbly. Also, the forward line of Tushar Khandker, Shivendra and skipper Rajpal put up an admirable performance.Harendra said players like Bharat Chikara, Rupinder Pal Singh, and Amit Prabhakar have performed well in the tournament.'We need to be better in penalty corner conversions, but we have scored more field goals and it is a good sign. We have to be more solid in defence but we experimented a lot with defenders and the results were good,' he said.

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