House mice turn tigers

VIKRAM PILLAY (in action in Rawalpindi) exemplified India's resilience in Pakistan.-AP VIKRAM PILLAY (in action in Rawalpindi) exemplified India's resilience in Pakistan.

Stand-in skipper Ignace Tirkey is understandably proud of the strength of character of the Indian team on Pakistani soil, winning one match and drawing the other two, after the drubbing it received on the Indian leg, writes KAMESH SRINIVASAN.

You can call it the PHL effect. Pakistan was at home on Indian turf, in the Indo-Pak six-Test hockey series. While the Pakistanis, led by the brilliant centre-half Muhammad Saqlain, made history on the Indian leg by winning all the three matches, Ignace Tirkey and his boys showed an appreciable degree of mental toughness to bounce back and return undefeated from the Pakistan leg.

"I am very happy for the boys. I am proud that after three losses, our morale did not go down," said captain Ignace Tirkey, who was leading in the absence of Viren Rasquinha.

Ignace was not playing his best hockey, especially in the first couple of matches. But, he did not fall short in terms of leadership or motivation.

"I had the confidence that we would do well," said Ignace. "I talked to the boys and told them to forget the first three matches and start afresh. We kept improving with every match. The team had the zeal to fight it out till the end. That is a good sign and is quite heartening." Ignace is understandably proud of the strength of character that the team demonstrated on Pakistani soil, winning one match and drawing two.

Though India was without star players like Gagan Ajit Singh, Deepak Thakur and Viren Rasquinha, the team under coach Rajinder Singh Junior was able to pull together as a cohesive unit. Of course, the forward line was struggling to strike a note of harmony. "We were missing chances and committing mistakes. If we correct that we can win tournaments," Ignace said about the malaise in Indian hockey.

The skipper said that the series would help the team handle Pakistan in the first match of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

"It has helped us become match-sharp and we have tried out new combinations. With some of the established players like Viren and Deepak returning to the fold, we are going to be a tough team in Melbourne. Deepak, particularly, was scoring a lot in the PHL. If he strikes the same form we will get many goals," said Ignace.

Vikram Pillay exemplified the courage shown by the team by playing his heart out despite getting injured on the jaw early in the series. Quite appropriately, he brought the curtains down on the series with a spectacular goal that brought about the equaliser (3-3) at Rawalpindi, a remarkable effort after India had trailed 0-3 at one stage. Of course, Tejbir Singh was the livewire in the forward line and Sandeep Singh was able to strike a couple of penalty corner goals, though the team struggled to force a goal in a couple of matches.

The good thing about the whole series was the fabulous crowd response that was encouraging for the game in both the countries.

For sure, there is still hope in Indian hockey, despite all the setbacks in recent times.

For more success, the coaches, players and the federation need to work in harmony, pulling their weight together rather than trying to show their power to each other.

THE RESULTS

Chandigarh, February 17: Pakistan 2 (Tariq Aziz, Shakeel Abbasi) beat India 1 (Tushar Khandekar).

Chandigarh, February 18: Pakistan 3 (Rehan Butt 2, Tariq Aziz) beat India 1 (Sandeep Singh).

Jalandhar, February 20: Pakistan 2 (Tariq Aziz, Muhammad Saqlain) beat India 1 (Tejbir Singh).

Lahore, February 22:

India 1 (Tejbir Singh) drew with Pakistan 1 (Tariq Aziz).

Faisalabad, February 24: India 2 (Rajpal Singh, Kanwalpreet Singh) beat Pakistan 1 (Imran Warsi).

Rawalpindi, February 26: India 3 (Sandeep Singh, Tejbir Singh, Vikram Pillay) drew with Pakistan 3 (Tariq Aziz, Muhammad Saqlain, Shabbir Khan).