The mood is euphoric. India is flying high. Topping the table with 10 points, and enjoying the luxury as the only undefeated team among the seven after four games till Tuesday, India's position is enviable indeed.
Look at the winning sequence. A desultory draw followed by a three-in-a-row victory sequence against Pakistan, Korea and Australia. But a lot remains to be done.
The final spots are still open. India needs to tread with caution. Complacency at this point can be disastrous.
Malaysia, the next opponent on Wednesday, is no easy prey on home turf. The team needs at least one victory — the last match against Egypt on Saturday — to sew up a berth for Sunday's final.
As the defending champion, India has performed with credit, notwithstanding the sloppy show in the opening tie against China. Now that can be relegated as an aberration.
The blend of experience and expertise with the exuberance of youth is rewarding enough. Seasoned stars Arjun Halappa in the mid-field, and Tushar Khandekar, Shivendra Singh and skipper Rajpal Singh in the attacking line have confirmed their stature.
Halappa, in particular, has been the fulcrum as the pivot. His skill inspires the enterprising Bharat Chikkara, the talented Vikas Pillay and the comeback star Prabodh Tirkey in the intermediate phalanx.
The frontline harmony is often affected by the inept displays of Sarwanjit Singh. He shows utter lack of confidence as centre-forward. Despite this frailty, the attackers have produced a few superb goals, thanks to the excellent work of Rajpal, Shivendra and Tushar.
Among the youngsters, Mandeep Antil is graduating gradually into this league. His stick work and body dodges bemuse rival tacklers. After a somewhat hesitant start, Ravinderpal Singh picked up a fair measure of confidence as did Daniah Mujtaba.
The deep line of Sardar Singh, Mahadik and Rupinder is perceptibly vulnerable. Goalkeepers Chettri and Sreejesh have handled the pressure well.
Chettri, it must be mentioned, is playing to his potential as he always does. The selectors should help him rebuild his confidence. His show against the Koreans was perhaps morphed by the victory margin.
Area of concern
One area of concern is the incompetence in the conversion of penalty corners. It is a blunder beyond comprehension to field a national team in an international competition without an expert drag-flicker. And to experiment variations in a tournament after insufficient practice in camps is an invitation to disaster.
So far the drills, described as indirect conversion, have been deplorable, with the sweeper near the post pushing the ball straight into the goalkeeper's pads.
Coach Harendra Singh conceded this as an unexpected failing. There is as yet no remedy, although he indicated one among the seniors might be deployed for the drag-flick in the forthcoming matches.
However, the absence of a drag-flicker seems to be a blessing. There have been more field goals from the forwards. A successful drag-flicker could have given the victories a bigger margin.
Everything points to India earning a spot in the final, unless calculations go drastically wrong in the next two games.
The following is the position of teams: India, Played 4, Won 3, Drawn 1, Lost nil, Goals scored 12, Goals conceded 8, Points 10; Korea 4-2-1-1-14-7-7; Australia 3-2-0-1-9-5-6; Malaysia 4-1-2-1-10-6-5; Pakistan 3-1-1-1-11-9-4; China 3-0-1-2-6-12-1; Egypt 3-0-0-3-0-15-0.
Wednesday's matches: Australia v Pakistan (1-35 p.m.); China v Egypt (3-35 p.m.); India v Malaysia (5-35 p.m.).
Keywords: Sultan Azlan Shah