Monday, June 24, 2013

Report Card of Indian men's hockey team's world league campaign

This piece was published in Sportskeeda  

PR Sreejesh: The Kerala boy, who got married recently, was outstanding throughout the tournament. Manning a defence which consistently wilts under pressure, is never easy and Sreejesh deserves all the credit. The manner in which he kept Spain at bay in the second  half, nullifying as many as five short corner efforts besides other routine saves, just shows why he is such a vital cog  in the team's wheel.

PT Rao: The reverse goalkeeper kept warming the bench as the first-choice Sreejesh was in rollicking form. Rao, who had a great 34th Champions Trophy when Sreejesh was out with a hamstring injury, will have to wait for his opportunity.

Sardar Singh: He shouldered the midfield responsibility admirably, but lacked support from the other medios, which to some extent diluted his utility in that position. The world hockey knows him as one of the one of the best centre-halfs around, but questions will asked about his ability to come out all guns blazing against top teams like Australia and Netherlands, especially when the chips are down.

Vokkaliga Raghunath: The Indian vice-captain plumbed the lows in the initial stages of the tournament after his phenomenal defending skills in the 34th Champions Trophy in Melbourne last year. He was not in the starting line-up in a few matches and one is not sure whether it was a tactical move by Nobbs. The burly fullback subsequently did pull up his socks and was superb in the play-off games against France and Spain. He did not regularly get penalty corner opportunities but made it count when he got them, scoring twice in the tournament.

Rupinder Pal Singh: He was a pale shadow of the fullback he was at the 34th Champions Trophy and 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. He kept committing repeated blunders inside the Indian ‘D’ either getting dispossessed or conceding penalty corners. However, he was pretty good with his short corners, twice slamming home in the tight game against Ireland, including a face-saving goal for India to avoid an ignominious defeat.

Harbir Singh: The Uttar Pradesh Wizards defender got limited opportunities to show his wares, but when he was on the pitch looked assured in defence. He needs to work on his temperament – needlessly he earned the wrath of the umpire during the quarterfinal against Australia in an off-the-ball incident and was suspended for the game against France.

Sandeep Singh: The comeback story of the Haryana DSP was a tad disappointing. Sandeep mostly played in an overlapping position and spent less time guarding the Indian citadel. He failed to register a single penalty corner goal in the tournament, though he looked like scoring one against France, it was disallowed by the third umpire following a video referral. His lone bright spark is the goal-creating cross for Mandeep Singh in the game against Spain.

Birendra Lakra: A big disappointment for India. The talented midfielder looked out of sorts in defence and sprayed a lot of mispasses besides getting repeatedly dispossessed. Considered a key player of the side, he was rested for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup but he will be dejected with his showing in Rotterdam.

Manpreet Singh: He has been one of the most improved players in recent times. The midfielder not only rushes forward with conviction but also throws himself around as if his life is depended on it. He is also a key figure during penalty corner situations in the Indian ‘D’ – his goal-line save against France is a striking example of that.

Kothajit Singh: The Manipuri lad had a quiet tournament. He did not have extended stints on the pitch for reasons best known to Nobbs. He scored a crucial third goal against New Zealand but beyond that he had little else to show for.

Gurmail Singh: His inexperience came to the fore. Gurmail was regularly guilty of faulty clearances in defence. His mid-field play left a lot to be desired. The nerves of the big stage might have got to him. Even when he was rushing forward, he seemed to be running out of ideas.

Dharamvir Singh: The big man also had a disappointing tournament. He was not at his incisive best during the tournament and his ten minute suspension against Australia at the start of the game for arguing with the umpire was a dampener. Of course, he set up Sardar Singh for his goal against France, and later Mandeep Singh against Spain but overall a big let-down for India.

Nithin Thimmaiah: The gangling forward may not have found his name on the scoresheet but he oozed a lot of promise for the future. The fact that he got extended playing time indicates the faith Nobbs reposes in him. He looked good upfront without being devastatingly effective.

SV Sunil: He was rested for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the break seemed to have done a world of good to him. Sunil’s attacking moves had more purpose than before. Often considered wayward, his aimless pacy runs were a thing of the past as he used his burst of speed judiciously to deliver a telling impact on his opponents.

Akashdeep Singh: The youngster may be roundly criticized for his penalty shoot-out gaffe against Spain, but he had a decent time upfront. He showed his talent with a fine reverse hit opening goal against Ireland before coming out with a crucial equalizer against France when pressure was on India to get back on level terms.

Chinglensana Singh: He impressed with his positive energy and can be groomed for the future. The Manipuri lad dished out his goal-poaching skills when he dispossessed Kiel Brown when he was trying to make a routine clearance and sounded the board. He brilliantly set up a nice move paving the way for Sunil to score his first and only goal of the tournament against France.

Shivendra Singh: His comeback tale seems complete. The experienced forward showed what he brings to the side when he scored a fine deflection goal against Ireland before coming up with a similar effort against Spain. The Air India striker appears to have done his bit to retain his place in the side.

Mandeep Singh: He may not have played for an extended period but he invariably made his presence felt on the pitch. The Ranchi Rhinos striker produced the crucial second half equalizer against New Zealand before coming up with a two-goal blitz in the second half against France, not to speak of his goal against Spain. He has been easily the biggest find of HLW.

Picture: Courtesy: Sportskeeda


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why was Indian women’s hockey coach Neil Hawgood ‘smiling’ during 1-7 drubbing at the hands of Germany?

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Players take pride in playing for the country. Coaches, too, need to feel the same at all times even if they do not belong to the native country (a foreigner coaching a national team).
Indian women’s hockey team’s Australian coach Neil Hawgood  raised quite a few eyebrows when he was flashing a broad smile at the Indian bench  after the national team was handed a 1-7 pasting by 5th ranked Germany in their last league game of the Hockey World League in Rotterdam.
One is not sure what prompted Hawgood to break into a smile – even some of the team’s support staff were seen grinning –  ok, if they were cracking some jokes then it was definitely not the right time for it as his team had cut a sorry figure on the pitch against the rampaging Germans.
Mind you, Hawgood is no ordinary hockey coach or even an average hockey player in his heydays by any stretch of imagination.
The tall Australian was part of the Kookaburras, which finished fourth at the 1988 Seoul Olympics – in fact, Hawgood scored five goals in seven matches in that mega event and also served coaching stints in England and Scotland.
He served as assistant coach of the Australian women’s team at the 2006 and 2010 World Cup and at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He was also assistant coach with the men’s team from 2001 to 2004.
So for someone who has played and coached hockey at the highest level with distinction, it is hard to read Hawgood’s unbecoming behavior. It is also hard to fathom why some of the support staff were seen giggling towards the end of the play.
One has to thank the Ten Sports cameraman for showing the Indian coach smiling even as the national side was subjected to humiliation by Germany. The incident puts into focus the ‘accountability’ aspect of Hawgood as national coach. Had it not for the Ten Sports cameraman, his unbecoming behaviour would have go unnoticed.
Hockey India appointed him in the middle of last year and to be fair to Hawgood, he hasn’t done anything of note with the girls.
The Australian’s first assignment was the Champions Challenge Cup held in Ireland in September 2012. The Indian eves finished a poor seventh among eight teams.
There was no improvement in the national team’s performance when it embarked on a tour of New Zealand for a six Test series. Indian eves lost the series 0-5, failing to win even one game and even suffered a 2-7 shellacking in the first Test.
The Hockey World League Round 2 event in New Delhi was the only event that the team fared well. Without taking anything away from the girls, the national team was hardly tested as Japan was the only team who looked competitive.
India’s Hockey World League campaign in the semifinal round in Rotterdam only underpins Hawgood’s inability to lift the team’s fortunes. 0-7 and 2-7 heavy defeats at the hands of  New Zealand and Germany as well as a forgettable 1-1 draw with lower ranked Belgium spells out the state of Indian hockey.
Hawgood’s credentials as a coach has definitely taken a beating after his stint with the Indian women’s hockey team.
His ‘smiling ways’ after the defeat against Germany only throw uncomfortable questions about his coaching job.
Even if you take out his performance parameter, one wants to know if he really has pride and passion to lift Indian women’s hockey or he just wants to enjoy his salary and leave the sport in doldrums.

Picture: Courtesy 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Interview: We aim to break into top-8 in Asia, says Indian men’s basketball captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi

Indian men’s basketball team is on a high after qualifying for the 27th FIBA Asian basketball championships slated to be held in Manila, Philippines from August 1-11.

The ‘Young Cagers’ put up an impressive performance in the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) qualifiers. The Indian hoopsters first drubbed Nepal 109-26 in their first league match before getting the better of Afghanistan 64-46 to seal the lone qualifying spot from the South Asian region.

The national men’s team captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi led his boys from the front and helped the team sail past the SABA qualifying hurdle. The Varanasi lad took over as captain of the Indian men’s basketball team at the age of 18 and remained at the helm since.

Born into a teaching family -  his father is a teacher while his mother is a principal in a Varanasi school – Vishesh us pursuing his BA through the distance education route.

He talks about India’s prospects in the upcoming 27th FIBA Asian basketball championship and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. India performed well in the SABA qualifiers and made it to the 27th FIBA Asian basketball championships. You thoughts.

We are happy to have qualified for the Asian championship. We won both our matches quite comfortable although Afghanistan gave us a run for our money. The real challenge lies ahead and we got to keep working hard and stay focused.

Q. The SABA qualifiers was India’s newly appointed coach Scot Flemming’s first major assignment. The team fared quite well in his first assignment.
Well, since it was only a three-team affair, and only one berth was up for grabs it was not easy. We played quite well as a unit. There is still room for improvement. Scott Flemming has been doing all the right things to life our game and we are getting to learn all the time.

Q. Talking of the 27th FIBA Asian basketball championships, India’s performance in the last edition was pretty disappointing as we finished 14th among 16 teams. How do you asses our chances this time around?

I think we are improving as a side all the team. We are placed in Group D alongside Kazakhstan who are ranked above us (47th) and Bahrain who are ranked below us (75th) with one more team joining us from the SEABA qualifiers. We believe we have the team to progress to the second round. If we can make it to the quarterfinals, it will be a big boost for us.

Q. Who do you think are going to be the strong contenders for 27th FIBA Asian basketball championships?

China is obviously a strong team and are the defending champions – they have been dominating the Asian championship for a long time now. Iran is another robust opponent and so are the likes of Lebanon, Jordan, Japan and Korea.

Q. You became the senior men’s team captain at the age of 18 – something that doesn’t happen always with a cager. Your thoughts.

I feel very honoured to become the senior men’s team captain at such an early age. It was really a special movement for me and my family.

Q. Were you worried about handling the senior players in the side when you took up captaincy at the age of 18?

There is pressure when you are the captain of the national team. I was just 18 when I was named the captain and was bit worried about the senior players. But they were very cooperative and made things comfortable for me. They supported my decisions and gave me a lot of love as a younger brother.

Q. When did you make your first international debut?

At the junior level, I made my debut in the 2006 FIBA Asian basketball championship held in China, while I made my senior international debut at the 2007 Asian Basketball invitation tournament 2007( Penang Chief Minister’s Cup) held in Malaysia in 2007.

Q. Throw some light on your major achievements as national captain.

I led the national side played to gold medal triumph in the 1st Asian Beach Games held in Bali, Indonesia in 2008. I was the flag bearer for India at the 3rd Asian Beach Games in Haiyang,China. I was the Most Valuable Player at Basketball without Borders in 2008. It was the biggest achievement at the international level. I also captained the Indian men’s cagers in the 2010 Asian Games at Guangzhou – it was after a long gap of 28 years that the Indian basketball team was participated in the Asian Games. The Asian Games were a great experience for me. We showed great improvement as a team. The Indian men team defeated Afghanistan in their first game of the tournament, a pre-qualifier that allowed us to enter the main group stage of the competition. The team also celebrated Indian basketball team's first-ever win at the Asiad We also won a silver medal in 11th South Asian games in Dhaka in 2010 under my captaincy.

Q. When did you join Railways? You won three national titles for them – so it must have been a very fruitful journey?

I joined the Indian Railways as a T.E. in Western Railways in April 2008. I was a member of the Railways team which won the national title on three consecutive occasions.

Q. You left Railways and moved to ONGC. Any particular reason for that?

There was any such reason for me to leave Railways and join ONGC. It was the big opportunity for me. ONGC is also one of the best professional teams in India.

Q.  Indian basketball team is ranked 58th. What do you think is needed to bridge the gap and come close to top teams like US, Spain, Argentina, etc?

We have to keep working hard. We would aim to break into the top-8 in Asia and put up a throw good challenge against the top Asian teams.

Picture: Courtesy Sportskeeda

Sunday, June 9, 2013

It's important to start well, says Indian men's hockey team vice-captain Vokkaliga Raghunath

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Indian men’s hockey team is readying up for the first FIH Hockey World League semifinals beginning in Rotterdam on Thursday. And one man, whose robust defence as well as his goal-scoring prowess would be looked forward to is vice-captain Vokkaliga Raghunath.

The burly fullback has carved out a reputation for himself for his power-packed drag-flicks as well as his incisive defending. And his skills would be put to test when India launches its campaign against Ireland on June 13. “We’ve worked really hard in our final camp in Bengaluru. We hope to seal our 2014 World Cup berth in Rotterdam itself although we also have a second chance of qualifying in the Asia Cup,” he says in an exclusive interview.

The Indian team had went on a tour of the Netherlands a month back, and Raghunath believes it would augur well for the team. “Certainly it will help us. There will no such thing as acclimatizing to the conditions. We know what to expect and it will surely benefit us,” the 25-year-old defender says.

Raghunath, who has played over 130 internationals and scored 94 goals, is extra delighted to see drag-flicker Sandeep Singh in the national fold. “Sandeep is a good friend of mine. He brings so much experience to the side and is a class act with his drag-flicks. We also have Rupinder Pal Singh – our drag-flick department definitely looks healthy as one of us can always trouble the opposition whenever we get a penalty corner,” he says matter-of-factly.

The mantle of vice-captaincy was entrusted to him for the 34th Champions Trophy and since then he coped well with the new responsibility. “I don’t think it’s a responsibility because when I’m on the pitch I play like any other player. I play behind Sardar Singh who is a great inspiration for me, there is so much to learn from him. I feel lucky to be playing alongside one of the world’s best centre-halfs,” he eulogies his captain.

The team will miss the services of Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Danish Mujtaba on account of injuries. Raghunath feels the team has the wherewithal to fill the void. “Both Gurwinder and Danish have done well for us in recent times, but both being injured there is little we can do rather than look forward with what is available to us. I think we have the players to make up for their absence,” he quips.

The Indian Oil employee says the recall of Shivendra Singh will stand the side in good stead. “Shivendra has so much experience and is always dangerous in front of the opposition goal. Sunil also have good experience and then we talented youngsters like Mandeep and Akashdeep – I’m pretty confident that our forwardline will fare well in Rotterdam,” he remarks.

India are placed in Pool B alongside hosts Netherlands, Ireland and New Zealand. “It’s very important to start well, we will be looking to do that. All teams will be tough to beat and no team is unbeatable on any given day. We are backing ourselves to fare well,” he oozes optimism.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

National recall was unexpected, says Indian centre-forward Shivendra Singh

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

A pall of disappointment descended on Shivendra Singh’s playing career when the national hockey selectors wielded the axe on him after India’s calamitous 2012 London Olympics campaign (the men in blue returned with a wooden spoon).

The inaugural Hockey India League gave him an opportunity to make a case for a national recall, but he suffered an ankle injury during the league, which subsequently forced him out of the first leg of the national camp comprising 34 probables in Bengaluru resulting in him missing the exposure tour of the Netherlands.

Shivendra overcame all the fitness issues and impressed head coach Michael Nobbs and all the other members of the team management during the second and final leg of the national camp in Bengaluru, and forced his way into the national team for the upcoming FIH Hockey World League semifinals (round3), which begins in Rotterdam from June 13.

No wonder, Shivendra is chuffed at his national call-up. “I’m happy to stage a comeback to the national team. I have really worked on my game, especially on my trapping and speed and it has paid off now with my national recall,” the Indian centre-forward says in an exclusive interview.

The 29-year-old forward, who is employed with Air India, braved the odds stacked against him when he sustained an ankle injury during the Hockey India League while playing for Jaypee Punjab Warriors. “I hardly played in the HIL. I fractured my right ankle and it was frustrating to sit out as it was a good opportunity to prove myself and make a comeback to the national side,” he sounds a note of regret of getting injured without taking any major part in the league.

The ace forward who has appeared in 180 internationals and scored 80 goals, says his mental toughness helped him to tide over the tough phase. “I had put on weight as I was not playing or adequately able to do my workouts due to my ankle injury. Injuries are part and parcel of a sportsperson’s life and I just have to take it in my stride. I think my mental strength helped me to come out of this phase.”

The Gwalior lad admits the national recall came as a bit of a surprise for him. “Since I did not play much in the Hockey India League, I did not have much to show in terms of performance, so I was really not optimistic about staging a comeback. I guess the head coach and the team management were impressed with what they saw during the second leg of the national camp and picked me in the side,” he reasons.

He lavishes praise on head coach Michael Nobbs for assisting him with his inputs. “Michael Nobbs has really helped me with my inputs. I think I have improved my speed and trapping than before and hopefully it will help the Indian team.”

Hockey runs in the Shivendra household. His wife Nishi, is a former international woman player (she played during the 1999-2004 period and is also a forward like Shivendra) – even she is happy to see him mark a comeback to the Indian team. “Nishi is really happy to see me back in the national fold. She takes a lot of interest in my game. We both worked together in Railways before I switched to Air India,” says the man, who wears the headband as per his wife’s wishes.

Shivendra is the most capped player in the Indian team ahead of the likes of captain Sardar Singh, Vokkaliga Raghunath and SV Sunil.
He has enormous responsibility of spearheading the Indian forwardline. “I know there is lot of responsibility on me and Sunil to assume the forwardline responsibilities. We have to guide and help our young forwards like Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Chinglensana Singh so that they can give off their best. I would spare no effort in helping India make the HWL semifinals,” he says bullishly.

The Indian centre-forward is counting on the best wishes of his team-mates ever since the news trickled in that he made it to the national team. “I’ve got a lot calls and smes from my team-mates and former players. It feels good to know that they are people who stand by you at all times. I hope to live up to the expectations of our hockey fans and return home with a decent performance in Rotterdam; that will make my comeback a successful one,” he concludes.

Picture: Courtesy Jagran Post