Even as the country’s hockey afficionados are expecting nothing less than a medal from the Olympic-bound Indian team that left for a series of foreign tours before the all-important London Games on Sunday, coach Michael Nobbs is not even thinking that ‘far ahead.’
Skipper and goalkeeper Bharat Chetri’s Team India head to Europe, where they will play two Tests in France before moving to Spain, where they will play two Tests each against the host nation and South Africa in Santander, followed by a three-nation event that includes Spain and Great Britain.
In an interview with MiD DAY, Nobbs preferred to dwell on the immediate challenge at hand rather than think about the Games. “These preparatory tours are all the more important because only if we have prepared well, can we expect to do well a the Games,” he reasoned.
In this final leg of preparatory tours to France and Spain, will you be stressing on results, or will you be happy to try out variations and experimentations ahead of the Olympics?
The first leg of the tour will just be a warm-up and the extra players will play in those games. The Spain part of the tour will be to narrow down and play only the 18 for this part of the tour, unless injury precludes this. We will still be trying things out as we are still a work in progress and there is still a lot to do.
Don’t you think having two goalkeepers in the final 16 is a luxury, especially since we could use those extra legs against tougher teams?
No, I don’t think so because the recent South African tour resulted in the SA goalkeeper dislocating his shoulder and they required their second ’keeper. If they didn’t have a second ’keeper, they would have lost the final as an ordinary player would have been forced to don the pads. The other reason is that both our goalkeepers are very close in ability, and in every tournament one is in better form than the other and against some teams they perform better too. In the last tournament Bharat won every game he played and was better than PR Sreejesh while in the other tournament Sreejesh was better. We also have excellent fitness levels to sustain two ’keepers.
Yuvraj Walmiki was high on your list of promising players, but suddenly didn’t fit into even the list of 22. Fitness is not a problem considering physio David John certified him fit in Pune recently only after which he went to Malaysia for the Azlan Shah. Why was he not picked then?
Yuvraj had a very major injury after the Olympic Qualifiers in New Delhi and if we hadn’t done the rehab properly he would most assuredly have ended up with a chronic hamstring problem for the rest of his playing career. This resulted in major muscle deterioration and requires three to four months of heavy work. He hadn’t had this although he was physically fit he was nowhere near match fit or at the same level of development as the other players on the team. He, as with all players, was given a chance to press for Olympic selection and he struggled in all the games that he played. He is on a program to regain his position in the team and will be available for the next selection.
Sardar Singh is our key man. Considering that, is there a strategy being worked upon to ensure he is not over-utilised before the Olympics?
Yes, Sardar is one of our important players and we already have a strategy in place for that.
The team’s forwardline has been guilty of missing way too many scoring opportunities in recent times. What steps have you taken to rectify this?
That’s our main problem and it’s not an easy problem to fix. This is a time issue rather than let’s just fix it. When you play lower ranked teams, you have many chances to score and you can be flippant and reckless. However, the top teams pose a different challenge as they are better and they don’t give you as many opportunities to score and are clearly better at defending. We are working hard in this area and will continue to do so up to the Olympics and beyond as this is the area where we will need to be good to make it to the top of the ladder.
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