N Mukesh Kumar, Three-time Olympian
India have been placed along with Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, New Zealand and Belgium in Group B at the London Olympics. A sturdy set of midfielders and a strong defence are necessary for any team’s success. As India prepare for their revival in world hockey, Australian coach Michael Nobbs would like the team to get off to a sound start. That would be the top priority. It is for this reason the team should jell as a good combination to get into a winning mode.
The midfield always plays the vital role and possession of the ball is important. Therefore the midfield combination of Sardar Singh, Gurbaj Singh, Birendra Lakra and Manpreet Singh have to make a big impact from the first game. The game is won or lost in the mid-field. They have to initiate the attacks and at the same time help the defence.
In modern hockey, the forwards too come back to assist the defence. The rolling substitution too has seen players coming in and going out for rest. But one player who would be there for the entire duration would be Sardar, who according to many,is one of the best players of the world.
Sardar is the fulcrum of the team. His distribution of the balls, the first-time passes, the dodges and the nippy runs are a treat to watch. His deep precise passes can rip open any defence. India will depend a lot on Sardar’s form. He is the key.
Gurbaj, who was hampered by injuries, has made a comeback of sorts. He is also an important member in the midfield. Aggressive and fast, Gurbaj can be dangerous. He has the ability to create moves with defence splitting passes. Birendra Lakra is a tireless worker while it is a big challenge for Manpreet.
With over 246 internationals, Ignace Tirkey will play in a new role in defence. Given his cool temperament and safe tackling Tirkey has a huge role to play. He has come back to assist Sandeep Singh and VR Raghunath, who are better known for their drag flicks. Tirkey, who works hard, has to shoulder a huge responsibility. The defence should be tight and the opponents, apart from goals, will look to manufacture penalty corners by pushing the ball to the legs.
Sandeep and Raghunath are India’s match- winners in drag flicks. They have been deadly and the Indian forwards need to get the penalty corners. In the last few matches, the forwards fared badly on this count. If given a chance, Sandeep and Raghuanth can bring cheers to the Indian team. I’m sure they might be working with different variations otherwise it could be a different story.
Finally, goalkeepers Bharat Chetri and P Sreejesh will have to lift their performance under the bar. Skipper Chetri has been effective in tight matches. He has stood tall in many of the crucial matches and Sreejesh has been on a learning curve.
As told to N Jagannath Das