National C’ships: PSPB to take on Air India in semis

The other semifinal would see defending champion Railways take on Punjab.

PSPB has in its side a potent player in Junior World Cup winning captain Harjeet Singh.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

For all the big names in their respective ranks, two of the biggest institutional teams in domestic Indian hockey – Air India and Petroleum Sports Promotion Board – have been less than impressive in their victories so far in the 8th National men's Hockey Championships here.

On Saturday, only one of them would advance as the two sides take on each other in the semifinal, with both hoping that the performance matches the reputation they carry on the domestic circuit. Between the two, PSPB would certainly be favourite by virtue of its marginally better outing in the quarterfinal and the fact that it has seven current national campers in its ranks including junior World Cup winning captain Harjeet Singh.

That, though, hasn't translated into action, with High Performance Director David John, who has been watching all the games here expecting to pick youngsters for the developmental side, clearly disappointed with the fare on offer.

Banking on experience

Air India, on the other hand, has relied mainly on Mohd. Faraz's impressive conversions during penalty corners to survive in the competition this long. With most of the names in its ranks past their prime, the organisation hasn't recruited since 2007 and is managing with youngsters on stipend who keep leaving for better opportunities. Other than Adrian D'Souza under the bar, most senior players have played more on experience than fitness or a plan.

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That may well be its USP. PSPB was guilty of missing chances by the dozen in its quarterfinal win against Chandigarh and was found wanting every time it was challenged by an enterprising youngster from the opposition ranks. Air India may not have the pace but it has players who can play within their limitations and, with a comprehensive structure, can trouble PSPB.

The other semifinal would see defending champion Railways take on a Punjab side that again has been good in patches. Punjab’s international players – Gurbaj Singh, Dharamvir Singh and Gurvinder Singh Chandi among others – have been unable to step up the pace or put up a dominating show.

With three of the four semifinalists being institutional teams (two more — Canara Bank and PNB — have joined the A Division after reaching the final of the B Division this year) Hockey India needs to take a hard look at both the format of the national championships and the standard of the game in states.

The semifinal line-up
  • Railways vs Punjab;
  • PSPB vs Air India.