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February 9, 2000


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Opting for continuity

Cedric D'Souza

The Azlan Shah tournament is probably the only tournament in the world where teams do not have to foot their bills. By footing bills, I mean in its entirety. The organising committee, wholly supported by the Sultan of Malaysia, provides all the teams to and fro air fare, local transportation, upper class hotel accommodation and a variety of cuisine that suits the palate all.

This year the number of teams has increased to seven, thereby making it a nightmare for the tournament officials to make a draw that is satisfactory and acceptable to all. The seven participating teams are Malaysia, South Korea, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Canada and Germany. The draw has come under fire from the Pakistan Hockey Federation officials. They feel that their team has not been given sufficient rest between matches. They have officially taken up the matter with the tournament organisers as well as the Asian and international hockey federations.

The draw shows that Pakistan will play repeat matches in 24 hours or less than that time period. "Technically these are unfavorable draws for the Pakistan team which will be playing three matches without having proper rest," said Brig. (retired) Manzoor Hussain Atif, secretary, PHF.

Defending champions Pakistan play South Korea on February 17, India on the next day, New Zealand on February 20, Malaysia on February 21, Germany on February 23 and Canada on the following day, which means that team is without the necessary rest when it takes on India, Malaysia and Canada.

The PHF secretary said such a draw will hamper the performance of his team because his players will suffer from fatigue, having to play matches on consecutive days.

In reply to the PHF's grievances, the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) said that they will not be making any changes to the fixtures as they were endorsed by the International Hockey Federation (FIH).

S Satgunam, the MHF secretary, said that the Pakistani complaint took them by surprise.

"In a tournament involving an odd number of teams, one or two teams may have to play matches on consecutive days twice or even three times," said Satgunam. "Here it happens to be Pakistan and Germany. I have sent them a reply on the issue, outlining the process of the draw."

The seven-nation tournament also finds Germany in similar plight, playing two matches in three days (see draw below).

"We have followed the procedures set by the FIH in drawing up the fixtures. For Atif's information, the rules state that a team must have a 22-hour rest before the next game. It's not 24 hours as many presume it to be," said Satgunam.

But that's far as the draw goes. Now, let's take a look at the Pakistan and India teams for the tournament.

The Pakistan team is a blend of youth and experience. It has a new captain in goalkeeper Ahmed Alam. Notable inclusions are the return of Kamran Ashraf and defender Malik Shafqat. The team has been selected for the Azlan Shah as well as the Olympic Qualifiers which will be held in March at Osaka. The biggest setback to the team is the absence of Sohail Abbas - their prolific scorer who has one of the hardest flicks during a penalty-corner - who is down with a groin injury.

India has just selected two teams, the senior team for the above mentioned tournament and a second string for the Egyptian tour from February 13 to 19.

There is little change in the senior team which toured Europe a month ago. It seems that the IHF has preferred to have continuity, which is a good sign. It will surely encourage the youngsters as they gain valuable experience in preparation for the big test in September the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The new inclusions to the side are Lazarus Barla, Balit Singh Dhillon (both having recovered from injury) and Baljit Singh Saini, who has returned from his honeymoon. These players will definitely strengthen the team and improve its chances against some of the top sides that will be on view. It all depends how coach Bhaskaran and Bansal, his assistant, motivate the players at crunch times.

I hope the team management has rectified the mistakes that occurred during the European tour, the main areas being fitness, holding on to the ball, capitalising on opportunities, set-plays and possession. Looking at the teams in the fray and the experience factor that we have over the others, I would go on to predict an Indian victory. A victory here will certainly boost the morale of the team as well as bring about a refreshing confidence and belief within themselves. More importantly, it will send a message to the world that we have the capacity and the capability to get back on the winning rostrum.

To captain Ramandeep Singh and coach Bhaskaran, I wish the team every success in this crucial outing and hope it will help towards future Olympic preparations. With just six months left for the Games, there will be a lot of coaches around studying and analysing the teams on view. Which means that the team management will have to exercise restraint and caution whilst playing, not laying all their cards on the deck and preserving trump cards and strategies that will be used at Sydney. In short, it will have to use the usual cloak and dagger theory to ensure survival at this level of competition.

The Indian team:
Goalkeepers: Jude Menezes (Bombay), R V S Prasad (Services).
Defenders: Dilip Tirkey (Indian Airlines), Lazarus Barla (Indian Airlines), Dinesh Nayak (Tamil Nadu).
Midfielders: S S Gill (Bombay), Baljit Singh Saini (Punjab and Sind Bank, Thirumalvalvan (Tamil Nadu) and Ramandeep Singh, captain, (Punjab).
Forwards: Baljit Singh Chandi (Punjab and Sind Bank), Mukesh Kumar (Indian Airlines), Mohammad Riaz (Indian Airlines), Dhanraj Pillay (Bombay), Baljit Singh Dhillon (Punjab), Samir Dad (Indian Airlines), Senthil (Tamil Nadu), Gagan Ajit Singh (Air India) and Deepak Thakur (Air India).

The Azlan Shah fixtures (local time):
February 16: India vs Germany (4.05 pm); Malaysia vs Canada (6.05 pm); South Korea vs New Zealand (8.05 pm).
February 17: Germany vs Malaysia (4.05 pm); Pakistan vs South Korea (6.05 pm); New Zealand vs Canada (8.05 pm).
February 18: Pakistan vs India (6.05 pm).
February 19: Malaysia vs New Zealand (4.05 pm); Canada vs India (6.05 pm), Germany vs South Korea (8.05 pm).
February 20: Pakistan vs New Zealand (6.05 pm); Canada vs Germany (8.05 pm).
February 21: South Korea vs India (6.05 pm);, Pakistan vs Malaysia (8.05 pm).
February 22: Canada vs South Korea (4.05 pm); New Zealand vs Germany (6.05 pm); Malaysia vs India (8.05pm).
February 23: Pakistan vs Germany (6.05 pm).
February 24: Canada vs Pakistan (4.05 pm); Malaysia vs South Korea (6.05 pm); New Zealand vs India (8.05pm).
February 25: Rest Day.
February 26: Final (7.35 pm).

Cedric D'Souza

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