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Off-field issues a major worry

Every time the Indian hockey team takes the field, the twice-gold medallists and runners-up in Busan, they pull crowds, reports Ajai Masand.

india Updated: Dec 03, 2006 23:28 IST

Every time the Indian hockey team takes the field, the twice-gold medallists and runners-up last time in Busan, they pull crowds.

This time around, however, even avid followers of the game are not willing to bet on the Indian team to reach the final. There is South Korea, India's nemesis, a new-look Pakistan that remains a threat, and China, preparing in right earnest under their Korean coach.

Even before India start their campaign against Bangladesh at the Al Rayyan Stadium, off-field controversies would surely be weighing on the minds of the players as well as the team management here.

Ever since coach Vasudevan Baskaran took over from Rajinder Singh (Jr), his team has been lurching from one controversy to another. The result is, this could be his last assignment as chief coach if the country does not win a superior medal — or, more importantly, fails to qualify for the Olympics.

The way he sat as a mute spectator while assistant coach Harendra Singh did all the shouting lent credence to the fact that it was Harendra who called the shots. India start with a whole lot of new faces like Ajmer Singh and Gurbaaz Singh with 'renewed hope'. “Our performance has been good but somehow it has not shown in the results,” is what Baskaran said on the eve of the match.

However, an 11th place finish at the World Cup at Monchengladbach (Germany) and finishing sixth at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne is sure to dishearten even the most avid hockey aficionado. There are many here who want the Indian to win, but reality is that the Indians are nowhere near their peak.

At best, they look a rag-tag team. All said and done, India may still reach the last four, with only Korea being worthy rivals in their group. Bangladesh and Oman may be easy meat but India may have to work a bit harder against China.

Baskaran has already made it clear that his team would play a more attacking game with a 5-3-2 set-up, and that is the reason he says Rasquinha was dropped at the last minute.

"We want an attacking midfielder, and not a defensive one," was his take three days back. How well this strategy works will only be tested against South Korea. Till then, we wait.