Jan 24, 2012

Defensive problems for Team India

Coach Nobbs might be finding it difficult to select the 18 men team for Olympics Qualifiers due to plenty of options available, but there is a bigger problem lurking for Indian hockey team, 'Lack of defending options in the team.'
Sandeep Singh not an option anymore?

If we look back at the past two years, the best defender for Indian team was the 'midfielder' Sardara Singh, which is enough to tell the trouble which Indian team is facing. India surely has some other decent defenders but they are unable to reach the standard set by Sardar Singh. After the retirement of Dilip Tirkey in the mid 2010, Indian team has not found any player who can replace him on the field.

Let us look at the current bunch of defenders (probables for Olympics Qualifiers) of Indian team and look at the options that Indian team has in Olympics Qualifiers, which also tells about the defensive problems of Indian team.

First we have India's most experienced defender Sandeep Singh, who is also one of the important players in the team. His expertise in penalty corner conversion has shaken many teams around the world, but his defensive skills can also be called shaky. Sandeep made his debut for the senior team in the year 2004, his penalty corner skills have greatly improved, but his as far as his defensive skills goes, its always found wanting. He is certainly not a bad defender but he is also the most inconsistent defender in the Indian team and his mistakes have cost India few games in the past. Due to his vast experience, he should have been the wall of Indian defense, but due to his mistakes, even the coaches have to think before putting him on the field. In the past one year, Sandeep had less opportunities which just quite evident that he is not the solution to the problems of Indian defense.

Another penalty corner expert cum defender, Rupinder Pal Singh is another defender who is selected in the probable list of Indian team, but just like Sandeep Singh, he is also prone of making mistakes. Rupinder made a dream debut in Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2010, where he was the top goal scorer and one of the most promising defender, but one year on, his development seems to have stopped. He is making the same mistakes as other Indian defenders and has started gifting the ball to opposition (his gift to Julian Hykes, got SA the first goal in final test match). He is still young and has definitely a lot of time to improve, but mistakes like these can cost India another Olympics berth. For now, Rupinder Pal Singh would surely make it to the final 18 due to lack of options, but he certainly not the best option for Indian team.

VR Raghunath is the third experienced defender of the probables list and the most improved one among the three. His penalty corner skills as well as defending skills have certainly improved, but he still needs work to reach the level of Dilip Tirkey and Pargat Singh to become the heart of Indian defense. He has played well since his return, but his agility and decision making is still a cause of concern for Indian hockey fans. His show against South Africa was totally unimpressive and he looked like disaster waiting to happen. Plus his silly mistakes and his sending offs have caused problems for the team and Indian team has paid for it dearly.

Along with these top three 'defenders' of Indian team, the problables list also has some enexperienced players viz. Harbir Singh, Gurjinder Singh and Manpreet Kullu. Harbir Singh and Gurjinder Singh have impressed Coach Nobbs but their inexperience in the international level will resist Coach Nobbs in taking them in the team. Both players need to be tried and tested at the international level before selecting them in the team and Olympics Qualifiers is not the tournament to do so So if Michael Nobbs wants to go for youth, Manpreet Kullu is the only option he has. Manpreet has been with the Indian team in the past one year and has some international experience under his belt, but he also lacks the quality playing time as his experience has been limited.

The above six probables show the grim picture of Indian defense and with these option, we might be able to win the Olympics Qualifers (if forwards give a good show) but in long term, these players wont be able to save India, if they do not improve their game. Interestingly, out of six probables, three of the experienced ones are also the penalty corner specialist for India. What is the criteria for selecting defenders in Indian hockey? May be the penalty corner experts who can defend a bit. Looks like Hockey India is interested in breeding penalty corner experts (plenty in number) rather than developing defenders who can actually stand tall against the opposition (scarce).

There is a new going in the media that Dilip Tirkey is approached by Hockey India to take up the duties for defensive coach of India. Too little, too late

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