From the publishers of THE HINDU

Yet another debacle

Sir, - It was a pathetic and lacklustre performance from India in the hockey World Cup in Kuala Lumpur. We won our first World Cup title in 1975 in the same place. This time the campaign began on a sour note, when we drew 2-2 with Japan, which was playing in the World Cup after many years. In fact, India escaped defeat as the Japanese led 2-0 at one time. In the next three matches - against Korea, Malaysia and England - we lost by the identical difference of one goal. In all these matches, India was quite dull in the beginning and our opponents took full advantage of this and slammed in the goals.

Then the Indian Hockey Federation dropped a bombshell, when it asked coach Cedric D'Souza to step down and in disgust the Indian team coach flew back home. The next two matches we won easily, against Cuba (4-0) and Poland (4-1). India played its best in the last league match in spite of losing 3-4 to Australia. In fact, we were up against the eventual finalist, before we squandered the lead. Ultimately, the team finished a disappointing 10th, one place down from the last World Cup finish of 9th in Utrecht, Holland, in 1998. All the pre-World Cup hype vanished in the start itself. Even against weaker teams like Japan, England and Malaysia, India performed very badly. These teams did not play great hockey to beat us. Against Malaysia, India missed a penalty stroke, thanks to captain Baljit Singh Dhillon who is considered the best in penalty stroke conversion in the country.

After winning the Dhaka Gold Cup against Pakistan in 2001, the juniors did the nation proud by winning the Junior World Cup in Hobart, Australia. Winning the inaugural Champions Challenge Cup in Kuala Lumpur also heightened the hopes of an Indian victory in the World Cup. But in the end it was a shocking performance.One of the reasons for this debacle is too much of dependence on junior players. Captain Baljit Singh Dhillon had a miserable tournament and he was found slow on a number of occasions. Experienced 'keeper Jude Menezes too had a bad tournament and he was rightly replaced by Devesh Chauhan by the new head coach C. R. Kumar, in the latter half of the tournament.Chauhan did a decent job. The junior brigade of Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur, Jugraj Singh, Sukhbir Gill, Arjun Hallapa still have a lot to improve.

The only solace was the performance of Dhanraj Pillay. In spite of being the oldest player, the experience forward has appeared in four World Cups, he was very athletic and effective. Even though he did not score more goals he was always a threat to the opponent's defence. He is still an asset and should continue to give such good performances in the future as the team is still short of men like him.

ARIZ K. BOKDAWALLA, AHMEDABAD A big disappointment

Sir, - The World Cup hockey preview was quite interesting and informative. I am a Bangladeshi and I know little about hockey and its history. This issue, February 23, gave me a valuable information about world hockey. I am sorry for the Indian fans since their team disappointed them. No one expected India to buckle so badly.

SOLAIMAN PALASH, DHAKA, BANGLADESH Simply remarkable

Sir, - Kudos to Zimbabwe for its splendid performance in the first one-dayer. Full marks to Douglas Marillier for his match-winning knock. India has a long way to go before the World Cup.

P. KANNAN, SRIVILLIPUTHUR A good number

Sir, - I was delighted to read the African Cup of Nations review (The Sportstar, March 2). It was interesting to note that the African Cup of Nations Championship is being held since 1957. The feature on the Bryan brothers by Kalyan Ashok was good. Lastly, the Cover Story "A tale of two giants" on Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar was fantastic.

Congratulations to the new and youngest world chess champion Ponomariov. The articles "A kid turns conqueror" and "The beginning of a new era" (The Sportstar, Feb. 16) by Arvind Aaron made good reading.

NIRMALENDU CHAKRABORTY, COOCH BEHAR Convincing win

Sir,-- Hearty congratulations to the Indian team for its 2-0 victory over Zimbabwe. It was heartening to see India win a Test series so convincingly. Sourav Ganguly is one captain who has stood by youngsters through thick and thin, helped them when they were raw and moulded them into match-winners. He is one captain who was able to humble the cocky Australians. He is a real 'Maharaja.'

M. AKHILA, CHENNAI Bring back Robin

Sir, - Now with Sehwag coming good, Sachin should move down to bolster the middle order which appears to be brittle. The selectors have experimented with a number of players like Badani, Yuveraj, Kanitkar, Sodhi, Martin, Kaif but couldn't find a replacement for Robin Singh who was dropped citing his age as the reason. Robin, apart from being a consistent batsman, is an agile fielder and a good runner between the wickets. He can also bowl some tidy overs. The captain and selectors should not overlook his abilities and should reconsider him until we find a genuine talent to replace him. Having Sachin and Robin in the middle order will definitely help the Indian team.

C. R. BALRAJ, MAVELIKARA, KERALA