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Last Word: Ipoh investment will yield dividends (3/11/2018)
--K. Arumugam
Australia asserted its class. England established its enterprise and energy. Argentina is still on ascending trajectory. This is the message of medal winners of the World Cup year’s Azlan Shah edition that went into recess of history this week. What does one read from the performance of the young Indians?

It’s a half class full or half class empty kind of thing. Or something beyond this?

Diehard followers decry fifth finish. Seasoned watchers sense a good augury for future.

Recall of Sardar Singh after a long spell of resting was watched with curiosity, if not anxiously as much as the debutantes did.

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Malaysia media observed that India has sent a second team. Indians would not agree fully but at the same time will concede many stars were rested keeping Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in mind.

Indians who did duty at Ipoh is definitely a young and raw team. Stalwart stars like Akashdeep Singh, Manpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and PR Sreejesh were not part of the team. They will be integral part of the team any day.

Only five players – Sardar Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Talwinder Singh, SK Uthappa and Surender Singh – were from the chip of the settled Indian cream, the experienced lot.

Therefore, any analysis of Ipoh outcome should keep this mind. Even such a team consisting of debutantes and recent Jr World Cup faces could stretch full strength England to a fighting draw, fight back against Australia when chips were down, and give a run for their money for Rio goldies Argentina.

On the other hand, there is an icing on the cake, 5-1 victory over the hosts. Beating Malaysia in Malaysia had been a worrisome thing for India in the last three decades. 1998 CWG, 2002 World Cup and many such defeats in Sultan Azlan Shah Cups come to one’s mind.

But it was another day. Even a second string Indian team can beat such a rising outfit as Malaysia 5-1, is more than what one asked for from this team.

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Certainly, the loss India suffered against Ireland in the last league match when stakes were high, drew lot of ire. It is basically a feeling of pity that the team lets itself down rather than a proper outlook. Die-hards were angry, but their anger is not justified beyond a point. Yes, it was crucial, a win would have given the team a chance to play at least for the bronze, which the team deserved it. But it did not happen. India went down 2-3. It had 18 minutes to level the score but all efforts met with failure. At the same time, we should concede the fact that no European team is going to let their chances down when the other team misfires as does India that evening.

India in fact lost the medal race not on this Ireland day but when failed to convert eight penalty corners against England!

The second string team lost to World No.2 team Argentina narrowly, stood upto the might of England (1-1), beat Malaysia comprehensively, lost to Australia with a decent scoreline (2-4) speak for themselves. Sardar Singh’s boys also avenged their league loss to Ireland in the play off.

By and large, the team inspires future. There are many takeaways.

Not often does one encounter a top notch forward from the area that is known for producing defenders: Dilip to Dipsan. We are talking about Shilanand Lakra. He is surely a potential prospect, who can shape up better than the likes of Talwinders and Satbirs if not Mandeep Singhs. His goals had a rare stamp of aesthetics, accuracy and acumen. The one scoop that he effected after collecting a short rebound from goalkeeper, who was covering with hawkish the acute angle, that hit the top corner of the sidenetting in the Malaysian match is a delight to put it simply.

We will hear more about him in the near future.

Young Simranjeet Singh may not have got enough time on the field, but when got chances he definitely grabbed them with both hands. The way he got two penalty corners against Ireland when India needed a goal to level the score, warrants special mention.

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Ramandeep Singh can walk with pride after Ipoh. He played as a feeder in the first two matches before switching back to his usual striker role. On both roles, he came out colourfully. He has proved his worth beyond doubt, and can be a match winner in the crucial year 2018 where stakes are high.

Ramandeep Singh is the Indian hero in Ipho. Next comes Surender Kumar. He is going strong, and asserts. His tackles are eye-openers, and his all round capabilities reflect his high energy and top fitness level. Sumit unfortunately was off colour in crucial junctures and Sumit Kumar is not a push over. He has in him many things to shine in future.

Suraj Karkera is far superior to Krishan Pathak under the cage.

Then comes the crucial question of Sardar Singh. At his patented midfield position, he is perfect. He is not a match winner but not a spoiler too. Its his game that helped India maul Malaysia. This reinforces this writer’s oft repeated view that Sardar Singh is a must for India maintaining its present Asian supremacy. Without Sardar Singh in the line up we would not have accomplished what we did in the last Asian Games and Asian Champions Trophy. He rescued India on crucial junctures, leading to ultimate success. Sardar Singh is needed for our quest to retain Asian Games this year.

The solid game of Ramandeep Singh and Surender Singh augurs well for India. This cannot be said of SK Uthappa, another senior player who did duty in Ipoh.

Its chief coach Sjoerd Marinje’s decision to send such a team to Ipoh. His decision should be respected. This is an investment which has definite gestation period before yielding dividends. Ipoh gave India many moments of joy. Positives outweigh some hiccups the team suffered.

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