Big task on hand

ANJAPARAVANDA BOPAIAH SUBBAIAH, the goalkeeping coach of Indian hockey team, is keen to script some more fabulous moments in the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics. He has a reason to be confident. India won four of the five international tournaments in the last seven months after he took over to man that specialised yet crucial area this January. That goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan along with the captain Dilip Tirkey are nominated for the prestigious `FIH Player of the Year' award from India is a proof of Subbaiah's great contribution to the game. The sight of Subbaiah, standing behind the goalposts at the Gachibowli hockey complex to give invaluable tips to the young `custodians' of Indian hockey's future catches the imagination of the hockey fans. He displays the same bubbling enthusiasm, which he showed during his 285 international appearances including two Olympics, three Asian Games and one World Cup in a chequered career from 1988 to 1998. It was a pleasant surprise when the Indian Hockey Federation president K.P.S. Gill and K. Jyothikumaran (secretary of IHF) entrusted him the onerous task of shaping the destiny of Indian goalkeeping. "Yes. It was a big challenge and I am glad that the results are pleasing over the last few months. It is not that I want to take the complete credit. For senior coach Rajinder Singh is doing an exceptional job. But, I am really happy that I was told to take up a specialist's job," he explains. What exactly made him take up the assignment? "After Ashish Ballal, India did not find any goalkeeper who was consistent over a period of time, despite the availability of talent. So, first we decided to focus on Devesh Chauhan and Bharat Chetri," says Subbaiah.

This 37-year-old, Indian Airlines officer reminds the whole concept of the IHF is to have a pool of four to five best goalkeepers who will don the national colours when the need arises. "Yes, it is true that we also try to convey that no one can take his place for granted. Everyone should be on their toes," he says .

That Subbaiah has almost moulded the raw talent into real match-winners is evident by the fact that India has now five goalkeepers - Devesh Chauhan, Bharat Chetri, Kamaldeep Singh, Adrian D'Souza and Kuttappa.

What will be his focus during the preparatory camp for the Azlan Shah Trophy next month? "Defending penalty-corners and intercepting the cross balls in which the Australians and the Pakistans are really good at. Essentially, these youngsters are being trained how to counter the drag-flicks of the penalty-corner experts," he says.

The best part of the association with these youngsters is that it is an on-going process to improve and since they are all really hard working, my job has become easier, he compliments his wards.

In fact, Subbaiah has even accepted the assistance from K. Sai Baba, general secretary of Sports Coaching Foundation (Masab Tank) to spare the bowling machine, which the former wants to use for more effective training during the camp. "It is of great help," acknowledges Subbaiah.

What exactly does a coach do during a big match and how does he try to lift the morale of the goalkeeper after a few costly lapses? "Well, that has happened against Pakistan in the recent Asia Cup final. Since I was not permitted to go along the sidelines, I slipped into the crowd behind the bar, raised my voice to advice to him to rush to the top of the `D' to block those penalty-corners. And, it worked wonders for after one such effort, Devesh was a totally different and brilliant goalkeeper playing a key role in India's win after a gap of two decades," he recalls with justifiable sense of pride.

It is not just on-field training that Subbaiah monitors during those two-hour exclusive goalkeeping sessions. It extends to the video classes as well .

"In fact, during a major tournament when India is not playing, I try to take our boys around to watch the other big matches and pick the finer points to be more effective when we face them in the next games," says the articulate former India goalkeeper. Like many, he too feels that coming through the qualifying tournament in Madrid (March first week next year) for the Olympics should not be a problem if the recent run of success is any indication. "Essentially, this is the best team that India has in recent memory - a perfect mix of experience in the form of Dhanraj Pillay, Baljit Singh Saini to name a few in this camp and all the 13 members of the victorious Junior World cup squad who now form the fulcrum of the Indian strikepower," he explains.

The big smile on his face as he leaves for another coaching stint out there in the middle is a reflection of not only his intense desire and commitment but also the sheer enjoyment he experiences while imparting his duty.

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