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Emphasis on strengthening domestic base

By S. Thyagarajan

CHENNAI, JAN. 10. This may be the year of the Junior World Cup where India defends the title at Rotterdam in June-July, but hockey activity involving the seniors will also remain in focus in the same intensity as it was in the Olympic year.

But there is a heartening change. The emphasis this time by the Indian Hockey Federation is on strengthening the domestic base. The conduct of junior and senior national championships in the three months following the conclusion of the Premier Hockey League (PHL) at Hyderabad is to be given the importance they need.

The senior National championship for the Rangaswamy Cup is scheduled a few weeks after the PHL. It will be on a zonal league-cum-knock-out pattern with the final rounds scheduled in New Delhi. Meanwhile, the IHF is also preparing a detailed calendar for the year, the highlight of which will be shaping the junior squad into shape for the World Cup.

Former international, Harendra Singh of Indian Airlines, has been named coach for the juniors. It must be mentioned here that Harendra Singh was the chief coach of the team that won the Junior Asia Cup at Karachi although he was out for a few months. The juniors are likely to get some international exposure before the World if the Malaysian Hockey Federation goes ahead with a six- nation event in early June.

Australia tournament

Meanwhile, India has accepted an invitation to take part in the annual twin four-nation tournaments to be hosted by Hockey Australia from June 6 to 15. The venues will be announced shortly. Last time it was Canberra and Sydney. Besides India and Australia, the Olympic gold medallist at the Athens Games, Korea and Spain, the recent winner of the Champions Trophy, are expected to take part. The tournament in Australia will be the first step in India's preparation for the Champions Trophy to be hosted in Chennai in December 2005.

Stadium facilities

Before embarking on finalising the details for the prestigious Sahara-Champions Trophy, the Indian Hockey Federation is keen to ensure that the facilities at the Radhakrishnan Stadium are upgraded to meet the stipulations laid down by the International Hockey Federation. Work on re-laying the turf is in progress, where the priority seems to be the installation of floodlights. There is hope that everything connected with the stadium will be ready by the middle of March by which time the FIH delegate is expected to visit and certify the infrastructure.

The Competitions Director of FIH, Dennis Meredith, is likely to be here for inspecting the facilities before giving the green signal for the IHF to go ahead with the Champions Trophy. The IHF is also toying with the idea of testing the infrastructure with a tournament for the Chief Minister's Gold Cup in April, involving six nations. It is proposed to invite Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Korea and Pakistan. If the exercise does not succeed, then there will at least be a four-nation tournament as a test competition.

The Tamil Nadu Hockey Association and the Indian Hockey Federation have already obtained the sanction for the Chief Minister's Gold Cup from the authorities concerned.

A hockey tournament under floodlights is not far away, if the proposals underway are to be taken at their face value.

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