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Better than before but penalty corners still worry

India's approach is unlikely to be tested by Bangladesh, but they will need to raise their games after that, writes Ajai Masand.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2006 02:58 IST

As a bunch of young volunteers lugged a huge ice-box filled with mineral water for the Indian hockey players — sweating profusely after a practice match against Japan that lasted the full duration — one could feel a sense of relief that, at last, the game was finally being played in the 'lush green' of the Al Rayyan Stadium and not on the murky turf of the Indian Hockey Federation in New Delhi.

There was a feeling of respite that, finally, India had managed to beat a rival — that too by a handsome margin of 6-1 — and that this could be the starting point for the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games champions to start their quest for a gold here too.

Of course, the problem of penalty-corner conversion — and its taker — continued to dog India, with the new-look Indian team converting just one of the three they earned. But there was hope — the team looked quite at ease with the surroundings and the coaches happy with their wards. And that ubiquitous 'gag' was not there on the players, officials, et al.

"Finally, we managed to get some serious match practice today after the World Cup in Germany," said chief coach Vasudevan Baskaran. "This was the first real test for us as we played Malaysia for just 40 minutes (a couple of days back)."

Conceding indirectly that penalty-corner conversion was still a vexing issue, he said: "We would be relying more on on-field goals than penalty-corner conversions."

"Raghunath has improved 15-20 per cent from the time he played in the World Cup. And we are better off in the PC conversion department here," said assistant coach Harendra Singh.

Baskaran refused to talk about the controversial dropping of midfielder Viren Rasquinha at the last minute, only saying, "There is room for everyone to stage a comeback. Why talk about it here, we can talk about that after the Games."

"We have to be emergency-oriented here as we have only 16 players, among whom two are goalkeepers and one is a defender… So the options left with us are limited," said Baskaran.

However, Harendra was more forthcoming on the issue, saying: "Viren is basically a defensive midfielder while we needed an attacking midfielder."

On how Shivendra Singh (who scored the maximum goals for India at the World Cup in Germany) was shaping up, Baskaran sad he had come a long way from what he was in Germany, but said that "he needs to be firm on his final approach."

India's approach is unlikely to be tested by Bangladesh when the two teams clash here on December 4, but they definitely will need to raise their games after that.