Will Prabhjot Singh and Deepak Thakur emerge as Air India’s nemesis once again? The two stalwarts had led the attack superbly when their team, Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), handed Air India one of their worst defeats --- a 6-0 pasting in the Obaidullah Gold Cup at the same venue here last month.
Now, Prabhjot and Thakur are part of the Karnataka team and will try to create roadblocks for Air India once again when the two teams clash in the quarterfinals of Hockey India Senior National Championship here on Thursday.
Negating their influence would be Air India defenders’ primary task, as both are very experienced, and giving them a chance may leave Sameer Dad and his team ruing their mistakes.
“Yes, we didn’t have a good match against them in the Obaidullah Cup. The entire team failed to click that day and we just didn’t play hockey. But tomorrow is a new day. We have played them in the past too and know how to beat them,” said Gavin Ferreira, the Air India coach.
Both teams got off to indifferent starts in the Nationals, but while Karnataka were at their best in the last league match against Chandigarh (7-1), Air India had to quell a tough challenge from Uttar Pradesh to advance. Indeed, Air India seemed to be on their way out, but they recovered in time to scrape through 3-2.
Ferreira will also have to re-jig his line-up a bit as seasoned midfielder Prabodh Tirkey has suffered a hamstring injury and is likely to sit out. Vikram Pillay is suffering from a niggle, while Gurbaz Singh is down with an upset tummy.
However, both are expected to be ready for the quarterfinals. The team had a two-hour training session on Wednesday morning at the Aishbagh Stadium, working out different combinations.
Karnataka coach BJ Kariappa said his boys are fit and raring to go. “It will be tough but we have the experience and expertise to put it across Air India,” he added. While the spotlight will be on the Air India-Karnataka clash, the other match of interest will involve Jharkhand and Railways, with the former favourites to advance.
Though Railways started with a big win, they have not looked so clinical in the remaining matches. Punjab are expected to have an easy outing against Bihar in the first quarterfinal, while Haryana look set to seal the other semifinal spot by beating Orissa in the last match on Thursday.
With coaches and teams raising concerns over the scheduling, the organisers have reworked the match schedule to have maximum matches in the evening, making it convenient for the fans to come and watch.
Three of the four quarterfinals will now be played in the evening, while the first, between Punjab and Bihar, will be played at 7 am.