Spanish coach, Jose Brasa, and the Indian team confront a litmus test in the seven-match hockey series against Canada starting on Friday. Coming as the tour does after the moderately successful visits to England, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands a couple of months ago, the Canadian furlough carries a filament of significance in fine tuning the strengths for the World Cup in Delhi.
It is difficult to analyse the India-Canada hockey relationship without touching the negatives. Canada propelled a revolution in the 1976 Olympiad at Montreal that witnessed the introduction of the synthetic pitch. For the first time, India missed a podium finish.
Since then, the downfall has been steep and devastating. The Indo-Canadian trust took a nosedive in the context of the protest lodged by Canada of a “fixed” match against Malaysia in the Olympic qualifier at Barcelona in 1996. The matter was debated and dissected at the highest FIH forum before India was bailed out.
So much has happened in the intervening period of 33 years. From being a non-entity, Canada is now a pan-American force in the true sense, making the grade for the Olympics at Beijing, and now for the New Delhi World Cup, both at the expense of Argentina.
The expatriate Indians have contributed, and continue, to enhance the image of Canada, but what needs to be acknowledged is the healthy synthesis of the best systems worked out by expert coaches, even a couple of Indians — the outstanding one being Shiaz Virjee. The current coach, Alan Brahmst, is a veteran of many a battle and master tactician as well.
India is fielding a 22-member squad for the series. Four changes have been made from the team that toured Europe, Ignace Tirkey, Prabodh Tirkey, Ajitesh Rai and V.S.Vinay giving way to Dharamvir Singh, Danish Mujitaba, Swaranjit Singh and Amir Khan.
Roshan Minz and Bharat Chikara, are back in the team, However, the nucleus comprises the seasoned set, Sandeep Singh, Gurbaz, Vikram Pillay, Mahadik, Tushar Khandekar, Rajpal Singh, Halappa and Prabhjot Singh.
Canada, a well balanced outfit, will lean on experienced Ken Pereira, Rob Short (both with 238 internationals to their credit), Wayne Fernandes, and Rajeev Deol, apart from a few under-20 players. Alan Brahmst feels the series will go a long way in helping Canada prepare for the next World Cup.
Statistician and chronicler, B.G. Joshi, offers a few interesting facts and figures relating to the India-Canada contests. World Rank: India 12, Canada 11; Last played: Azlan Shah tournament (Ipoh) India won 3-1; Total matches played: 25 — India won 16, Canada 7, Drawn 2.
Canadian player, Ranjeev Deol, an Indian from Kenya, figured for Canada in the last Olympiad at Beijing. His father, Surjit Singh Deol, played for Kenya in three Olympiads (1956-64). It is the first instance of father and son figuring in Olympics for two different countries.
The programme: Victoria (October 9, 11); Vancouver: (October 14, 16, 18, 22, 24).