Forward line has to be penetrative

M. M. SOMAYA

CHAMPIONS Trophy 1982 was a gruelling tournament. We survived on the strength of exemplary fitness, played attacking hockey to rattle opponents and made them wary of us.

India's bronze medal in Amsterdam came due to three factors. The team management thinking was steady, no wavering once a decision was taken by coaches Balbir Singh Sr and Balbir Singh Jr. Instead of trying to do too many things, focus was on doing simple things correctly. The second element was India's open attacking style of play, the quality of playmakers and dribblers (Mervyn Fernandes, Mohd Shahid, Zafar Iqbal) in the squad able to splinter defences on the move, keeping S. S. Sodhi busy in centre-forward position. Rajinder Singh Sr's ability to convert penalty corners was an asset. And the third factor was giving the team more teeth.

India in Champions Trophy 2005 needs to have a more penetrative forward line, capable of pushing at rival defences and pressurising them. That is not happening with India of today being content in midfield play. India has to attack in numbers, break open defences if we wish to dominate. Prabhjot Singh and Gagan Ajit Singh have the calibre to take on defences, we have to get Arjun Halappa and Rajpal Singh into the attack more frequently for the forward line to acquire quality. The last time Indian attacks had width, class and pace was when Dhanraj Pillay and Sabu Varkey used to team up, and later when Pillay and Baljit Dhillon supported Prabhjot, Thakur and Gagan. The same cannot be said of the current bunch. The present Indian midfield can be considered on par with the 1982 batch, with players such as Ignace Tirkey, Viren Rasquinha and Vikram Pillay capable of providing the backup for the attack. India's deep defence of Kanwalpreet Singh, Sandeep Singh and Harpal Singh may not be secure against speedy attacks. I hope they prove me wrong, but Dilip Tirkey, a proven defender and one of the world's best, will have to make up for deficiencies in the defence with help from goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza. Spain and Australia will be favourites this time, Pakistan a fascinating team to watch.

(As told to Nandakumar Marar)