Australia looking for four in a row

Indian coach Jose Brasa and captain Rajpal Singh in high spirits.-PTI

The sweep of gold medals in the three previous editions notwithstanding, the Aussies have been very careful that nothing should go amiss this time, too. Their form has been outstanding since the Hero Honda World Cup in Delhi. At the same time, no team in recent months seems to have performed as well as the England women. A bronze in the Champions Trophy and the World Cup are excellent testimonials. A gold in Delhi will not cause any surprise, writes S. Thyagarajan.

Jose Brasa believes the Indian team for CWG-10 can beat any opposition. His optimism is motivational. That's the one powerful weapon for coaches.

If Brasa had succeeded in persuading the selectors to have the same group for the European tour, that was part of the preparatory exercise, the gains would have been substantial. But, given the single-track mind of our selectors, such logic can hardly be sold to them.

With no podium finish to boast of in the two previous appearances, or any significant successes in the last decade, India's medal prospects are in the realm of guesswork.

Admittedly, the team picked is perhaps the best in terms of experience and expertise. But to what extent this will be a capital against the likes of the reigning champion, Australia, Pakistan, and even, Malaysia, which are in the same pool, is best left to conjecture.

Even if one were inclined to view the case of Prabhjot Singh sympathetically as the chief coach does, the Indian squad looks well balanced. Restricted to a choice of 16, the selectors chipped out one goalkeeper, putting pressure on a single goaltender, Bharat Chettri.

This is in line with the trend across the globe wherever the list is limited to 16 players. The relevant question is the alternative in case Chettri is injured or needs to be substituted even briefly. The Aussies are training Luke Doerner, the drag flicker, for the job. Vikram Pillay has some experience in this regard.

Veteran Arjun Halappa is the fulcrum. His professionalism and proficiency have been tested with success on numerous occasions. With Gurbaj on the right and Prabodh on the left, the midfield is a force to reckon with.

Similarly, the attack will be woven around Shivendra Singh. On the comeback trail after an injury, Shivendra should lend the frontline the sharpness it requires. Tushar Khandekar and Rajpal Singh also have it in them to enhance the power, precision and perfection upfront.

No assessment is complete without the mention of the gangling Sandeep Singh, easily a match-winner. Quite understandably, his success rate is determined by the strength and consistency of the frontline sallies.

The sweep of gold medals in the three previous editions notwithstanding, the Aussies have been very careful that nothing should go amiss this time, too. Their form has been outstanding since the Hero Honda World Cup in Delhi.

Remarkable was their unbeaten streak in the Champions Trophy at Monchengladbach where the team recorded a cent percent result. They won all the six matches with enviable élan. The master tactician, whose appetite for success is insatiable, Ric Charlesworth, is not one to take any chances, be it against England, Pakistan or India. All the names that are associated with triumphs for Australia are there in the squad.

Jaime Smith, who is playing his third CWG, Mark Knowels, Luke Doerner, and Edward Ockendan are part of the CWG-10 squad. But the player to watch is Christopher Cirello, whose penalty corner shots were a treat during the last Azlan Shah tournament. Steeped in trouble on more than one front and haunted by the defeat against India in the World Cup, Pakistan is striving to resurrect its image under the Dutch coach, Michel van den Heuvel. Bringing back the veterans is one option, but the view on this score seems divided what with the tantrums of Sohail Abbas ceaselessly remaining in focus in the national media.

Australia's Luke Doerner and Edward Ockenden bristle with professionalism.-RAJEEV BHATT

Malaysia is another entity caught in the grip of an uncertain metamorphosis. It won a silver medal on home turf in 1998, when hockey came on the CWG stage, and ended up with a bronze in 2006. Devoid of stars in the calibre of Mirnawan or Kuhen Shanmuganathan, Malaysia perforce fields an experimental squad without any medal pretensions.

England is a major force .The return of the Mantel brothers, Simon and Richard, accentuates the strength. The backbone is Ben Hawes with the mercurial Ashley Jackson providing the sting to the attack. The Kiwis are the next best in Pool B unless South Africa or Canada perform beyond expectations.

Having won a gold medal in 2002 and a silver in 2006, it is the Indian women who should corner greater attention than the men.

Surinder Kaur and her gallant team-mates should safely make the semi-final. The in-form Rani Ramphal will be the cynosure. The only hurdle could be the defending champion, Australia, in Pool A.

No country in recent months seems to have performed as well as England. A bronze in the Champions Trophy and the World Cup are excellent testimonials.

A gold in Delhi will not cause any surprise.