There is a perceptible veneer of optimism among the Indian hockey team management after the Champions Trophy. The fourth place in the eight-nation event at Melbourne is being viewed as a sort of recovery from the disastrous outing at the London Olympics where the team finished last.
Exuding confidence that the team would perform with credit matching its stature as the defending champion in the upcoming Asian Champions Trophy at Doha from December 20, the assistant coach and Olympian, Mohammad Riaz, commended the quality of the youngsters’ performance at Melbourne.
While he did not wish to single out anyone for extra praise, Riaz underlined the commitment shown by the players. “This was very evident at Melbourne,” he said.
Riaz conceded that the squad’s strength was the midfield where skipper Sardar Singh was proving to be world class. He also praised the utility value of Birendra Lakra who “rose to the occasion whenever asked to assume a particular position or role.”
Kothajit and Manpreet filled their roles perfectly, Riaz observed. He, however, admitted that the frontline’s consistency and finish needed to undergo a sea change for the team to be more successful. Riaz was confident youngsters like Walmiki, Nithin Thimmiah and Uthappa would improve quickly to lend a helping hand to Sunil, Danish and Chandi. Asserting that there was no substitute for hard work, Riaz was happy that the new set showed no qualms in taking on a heavy workload.
He was particularly impressed by the enthusiasm and energetic displays put in by deep defenders Rupinderpal and Raghunath.
On the technical side, Riaz felt a lot of thinking and study had gone into handling the rolling substitution, taking into account the pattern adopted by the rivals. He was optimistic that India would finish the year with a feeling that competitive hockey had a lot to offer for the aficionados.