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Interview
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Mukesh Kumar Interview (4/20/2009)
--ESPN Sources
“It is a good sign for Indian hockey”

Former Indian hockey star Mukesh Kumar talks exclusively to espnstar.com on India’s Azlan Shah triumph.
By Sudeer Mahavaadi

Q: How can the Azlan Shah Cup win boost for the revival of hockey in India?
Ans: Well I personally feel delighted. India played good hockey, no doubt, but I also felt that some of the teams did not field their full strength squads.

India did not begin well. When a side like Egypt could hold India to a 2-2 draw you can imagine how hard other teams are working at the international level.
We may have beaten Pakistan 2-1 in the semis and Malaysia, the hosts in the final but it was a struggle for us. But I was happy with the way Sandeep Singh led from the front. That is why he was declared the Player of the Tournament. He is one of my present favourites. You need a captain like him. He was well supported by Halappa, the goal-keeper, Baljit Singh, Prabojit Gurbit and Dileep Tirkey.
It is a good sign for Indian hockey. This is just the kind of medicine we needed. But they should not get carried away by this win and be overconfident. The Asian Games are coming up and then the all important Commonwealth Games next year and the World Championship would follow. So, we still have a lot to achieve.

Q: What were the strengths and weakness you observed in the Indian team?
Ans: Well I was happy with the overall performance. There continue to be areas where we can still get better. Those days were different when Dhanraj Pillai and I could combine well.
Combination is important in hockey. I think our forward line seemed better. I was happy with Halappa's show to some extent. Of course Sandeep's all-round play was quite appreciable.
But again when experienced players like Prabhjot and Halappa do not maintain their consistency, there is cause for concern. You cannot depend on Sandeep everytime.
I also heard that Dileep Tirkey, who has played more than 400 internationals, is planning to call it quits. This might disturb our rhythm. Ignace Tirkey is maturing fast. The goal impressed me more than anyone. He was fantastic at crucial junctures. I hope we can win more, provided the youngsters are nurtured properly.

Q: But there aren't too many kids taking to hockey in India?
Ans: It is really pathetic. We should blame the state governments for the lack of interest in youngsters. There are no grounds provided for hockey and there is a serious dearth of special coaches. The Central and state governments should think seriously about this. Otherwise things can never improve and we should not dream of Indian hockey regaining its past glory.

Q: Were you upset that Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh did not come to receive the Padmashri awards even through they were in New Delhi?
Ans: I think Dhoni and Harbhajan should have attended. I really wondered how they could avoid such an important function.
We also heard that they were here in India but were busy with commercial commitments.
Everyone knows that the President of India, who is the first citizen of the country, gives out these awards.
It really surprised me. A responsible person like Dhoni, whom I respect as a cricketer and a captain should not have missed the ceremony. There were reports that there might have been some communication gap but as far as I know (Mukesh is a recipient of the Padmashri) recipients are informed at least fifteen days in advance. I am not saying Dhoni and Harbhajan do not know what the value of the award is but what happened was appalling. After all, we know that Dhoni likes to lead by example.

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