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Bansal: I am Proud of My Boys (5/21/2008)
Delhi-based Ajay Kumar Bansal is a grassroot coach. He found Dilip Tirkey at the Bhawani Shankar High School, Sundargah (Orissa) and many such jewels in the Air India Academy. A couple of under-16 title wins later, his boys stunned three Beijing bound teams in the Azlan Shah Cup before it reached the finals after a gap of 12 years. At domestic level, he led Orissa Steelers to two Premier Hockey League titles (Premier Division 2006 and Super Division 2007). Interestingly, his own Orissa Steelers’ boy Mario Almada scored a brace of goals in the final to deny India the Azlan title. The successful coach speaks to HT on Azlan Shah success story.

There were lot of problems in the beginning?
Yes, I wanted particular set of boys to come from Australia, but due to some mix up from touring team, I got a different set.

Did it affect your preparation?
What is preparation? It’s funny. 9 players from Sonepat, 9 from Australia. See, it is not good to collect players on the eve of the tournament. But now that is past, I only wish I have got Tushar Khandkar, my choice always.

You could have easily asked him to report at Ipoh as he has returned from Australia?
Yes, I could have. Even the selection Committee suggested this. Since hockey was having so many negative things and many controversies, we all thought we won’t add one (laughs). That is, in that case I needed to send one player back from Ipoh; whoever he is, will feel bad.

Then what is the secret behind the Ipoh success?
On the basis of mental strength, and the good performance in the first match though we lost it narrowly 3-4.

Sandeep Singh has been shy of coming to Indian camps, how could you manage to bring him for your camp?
First I convinced the previous management. After that I used the good office of his elder brother Bikramjit Singh, who is my Air India Academy boy. I needed a good defender, as I already had a drag flicker (Diwakarram) with me. I selected Sandeep as a defender, his flicks are bonus points.

Was it so simple to bring him back into the team? Certainly it was. Once I made my intension of calling him for my camp, he called me and was ready to leave Bombay Gold Cup midway to join us at the Sonepat camp. He also gave up Germany league, which was to start on April 17.

Was it because of Sandeep Singh you did not use VRaghunath much in the Azlan Shah Cup?
You tell me how can I have three drag flickers in a match and do justice to them all?

Did you expect India would do so better here in Ipoh?
Not exactly, but we knew in ur hearts of hearts that we will have good show because we finished fourth in the Monchegladbach 8-Nation and then silver here in Kuala Lumpur 8-nation.

Was the presence of Richard Charlesworth helped the team any way?
A lot. He gave us vital inputs during halftime and in the team meetings. He brought his own equipment, shoot all the matches all by himself. This helped us lot.

Which was the best match the team played and the most satisfying one?
We played marvelously against Argentina in the final, and the most satisfying of course is defeating full pledged Pakistan side.

Can you name any player you are impressed so much?
The whole team first and then SV Sunil, Diwakar Ram and Adrian D’Souza.

This Azlan Shah was preparation for Junior Asia Cup in July. How far the tournament used that way?
Very much. I played all the players and gave them enough chances.

What would you need in the future?
A good video team, software analysts, matches against competent teams, a strong junior and development team -- so that a consistent national team can be formed.

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