Into the home stretch this weekend, the MCC-Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament has offered only a mixed fare in part one. This is largely on account of the combat between teams of unequal strength, save for a match or two.

But the big question relates to the quality, which suffered due to the worn-out, perhaps over-used, artificial pitch at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium. Veteran players and coaches acknowledge this for a fact.

Maintenance factor

The time is ripe for replacing the surface and improving the level of maintenance, if this facility is to match the other excellent infrastructure in the city under the control of the Sports Development of Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT).

The line-up for the semifinals, which will be played on Saturday, reflects the stature of the teams. The outfits include a fair number of experienced national and international stars under popular coaches such as Dhanraj Pillay, Ramesh Parameswaran, A.K. Bansal and Sabu Varkey. The contests are expected to go beyond the plane of mediocrity.

Quite a few renowned stars had exhibited their class and calibre during the league stage. Olympians Deepak Thakur and Prabhjot Singh along with V. Raghunath had performed with distinction for IOC which won all its four matches.

Vikram Pillay, V.S. Vinaya and Arjun Halappa were mainly behind the success of Air India until it went down to IOC in the crucial Pool B encounter to determine the top team in the zone.

Diwakar Ram and Mandeep Antil were prominent players for ONGC, while Tushar, Punadlik Bellary and Amir Khan caught the eye for BPCL.

Among the teams that failed to make the grade, a lot of praise should go for Railways under the coach Balwinder Singh.

At least three youngsters, Chengling Sana, Sanjay Bir Singh and Victo Singh, impressed with their energy and efficiency. Karun Baskaran was another who performed with credit for Customs. Army XI, the former champion, failed to take off from its first encounter.

Local teams

Inevitably, the performance of the local teams — IOB and ICF — came under scrutiny. While IOB improved in the later stages — it even beat Army XI — ICF was pounded by the opposition. That it conceded as many as 31 goals in four matches against the seven scored underlines the fall of a redoubtable State outfit that used to make waves in all-India tournaments such as the Bombay Gold Cup, Agha Khan and inter-Railway championships.

Semifinals: ONGC vs Air India (4 p.m.); IOC vs BPCL (6 p.m.).

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