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2018 Asiad: Balanced team but forwards a concern (7/10/2018)
--K. Arumugam
To me, Indian men's national hockey team has only one target in the busy 2018: retain gold status at the Asian Games and thus book direct ticket for the Tokyo Olympics. Solid show in Breda is a bonus but wont be a substitute for what is required at Jakarata in two months' time. The Champions Trophy success will have a meaning in retrospective sense only with obtaining top honours in the coming Asian Games. World Cup waiting in Bhubneswar is a showpiece event. Whether India will do well or not will not merit as much debate as that of Jakarta.

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The Jakarta team has been released the other day. This is the best combination, no doubt on that.

I have long been holding a view that Sardar Singh's presence is sine qua non for any Asian Challenge. He is a master motivator, his experience and changing roles as per the demands of the game is something that the Indian teams cannot do away with.

Indians are top ranked in the Asian circuit. this will work in their favour. Its a happy augury for India that every other team in Asia tries to match it.

Having acknowledged this status of India, the point that needs to remember is the difference between India and the rest in Asia.

Every challenger to India has shown vast improvement in the recent times. It needs no further elaboration. What strikes further is how the recent continental contest went into the recess of history.

India may the holders of all three top notch Asia titles: Asia Cup, Asian Champions Trophy and Asian Games.

The scoreline of semifinals and finals of latest edition of these these events show how close these have been. India even won the last Asian Games on shoot - out, which could have gone either way on any other day.

Therefore, it is important for India not to be complacent. Its wise to read the Breda results with restraint.

With respect to the team that has been selected, return of Rupinder Pal Singh lends solidity to the defence but whether it also adds to the goal scoring abilities of the team is a moot question. Rupinder Pal Singh of late finds wanting in penalty corner drills. With Harmanpreet Singh and Varun Kumar being adept at the same art, PC department for India is safe. Birendra Lakra underperform, but there is Surender Kumar who is outstanding at present. Amit Rohidoss perhaps gets his slot as all rounder rather than as defender.

One can lament on leaving out Kothajit Singh, but the question is that who you will drop to accommodate him?

I don't discuss here anything on goalie and captain PR Sreejesh simply because everything concerning him is settled, needs no reiteration. He is simply superb.

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India has liberty to try out youngsters in the midfield what with Manpreet Singh, Sardar Singh and Chinglensana are settled trio here. Young Simranjeet Singh is lucky to have been selected but none can leave out Vivek Sagar Prasad. He is again an impact making, exciting and gifted player. His rise is worth.

While I express immense satisfaction upto this, the doubts cloud when the question of forwardline is looked at.

SV Sunil is extremely good, and an asset especially at wings. Everyone expect him in the forwardline is a suspect.

Mandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh have got enough experience with them to bulldoze any defence, but are not reliable. Despite vast experience and international exposure, they have the habit of scoring one or two spectacle goals in 4,5 tournament which hog video limelights in this era of social media. This have given the duo a sense of great scorers but it has often been found that they are much wanting in high voltage matches. The duo may even be described as Coach Eaters, as their failure upfront led to some poor results which cost career of coaches, starting from Michael Nobbs.

Dilpreet is young, and much like Vivek, made his international debut at senior level this year. He is an unselfish forward akin to Sunil. He as of now has no fancy for fabulous scoring acts! Indian forwards can click in the knock out state only if Mandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh play a controlled game, give up excitements, stop fancy for spectacular goals at the cost of missing sitters.

Trapping long balls inside or on the periphery of circle, eye on long crosses which could have been ideal situations for deflections, unnecessary turning of body before effecting shots at goals are the grey areas of the duo.

There are at least half dozen forwards in the core-group as good as Akashdeep Singh if not better. His scoring abilities don't commensurate with the kind of exposure he has got till now.

Now that he has been selected, and the coaches have reposed faith in him, he should focus on delivering at Jakarata in crucial matches.

By and large, this is the best possible combination despite some reservation on the composition of the forwardline.

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