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Harpal out, defence will be in disarray

India are struggling to find a team to play a practice match with before their first match against Malaysia on March 17.

india Updated: Mar 16, 2006 19:02 IST

"How isthe hockey team this time?" asked an anxious-looking follower of the Indian men's hockey team here on Monday. He is from Mumbai and has been staying in Australia for the last 16 years. But his avid following of the team has not waned. There was a sense of pride as well as concern hidden behind those words. As I was grappling to find the right answer, he at once added: "They should be able to convert more penalty corners."

Converting penalty corners? Indeed! Even before the team could take to the field at the Commonwealth Games 2006, it had its first major jolt when defender Harpal Singh was ruled out due to chicken pox. "It's a big setback for the team since he is definitely one of the best defenders in the team," said coach Rajinder Singh Junior. After missing the services of seasoned defender and skipper Dilip Tirkey, who is also out due to injury, the burden of handling the Indian defence will be on the shoulders of Kanwalpreet Singh and Co. "What can we do? He was well when we left India. We have suggested a few names for replacement to the Indian Hockey Federation, let's see what happens," said Singh.

The setback has not been restricted to Harpal's ouster. India are struggling to find a team to play a practice match with before their first match against Malaysia on March 17. The only one since their early arrival on March 6 was against New Zealand, that too for just 40 minutes, on Saturday. "We'd have appreciated if we had played more practice games here," said a player. And according to sources, players are not too happy with the management's failure to arrange one. "We are trying," said the Indian coach. But he was satisfied with the way the team has been shaping up. "Initially there was problem because of the different time zones and different food habits, the team was struggling, but now we have adjusted to it," said the coach.

"We have managed to draw against New Zealand and we are getting used to the conditions," said Singh. Even skipper Igance Tirkey felt the team was shaping up well. "We have done fairly well against the Kiwis and hope to do better as the time goes by," said Tirkey.

Well, if one thought those were some of the instances where the hockey team was struggling, then here's a rider. Some of the players were forced to attend the flag hoisting ceremony at the Games Village without the official uniform. "We don't have it," said a player. "The Indian Olympic Association had been telling us that it would arrive anytime, but till now we have got nothing."

Right now, however, all the players are happy to concentrate on their game.

First Published: Mar 16, 2006 19:02 IST