The WSH could be a tempting desserts-spread served up after India wrap up the main course of the Olympic qualifiers in Delhi – hopefully having sealed the London berth. In what will be an elaborate continuation of a long and rare hockey feast in the country this Indian spring,the city-based franchise league could indeed prolong popular interest in the sport in the country,should the bickering HI and IHF give civil co-operation,if not cordial co-existing,a patient try. The potential for all to not do anything petty,is immense.
Far from the nervous environs of Delhi – where the Indian team is looking to not do anything silly in its Olympic-qualification campaign,and where some ommitted players now with the WSH local franchise Delhi Wizards shot off sulky stingers via the media – an Australian tried to calmly drill in some set-piece moves into the Mumbai Marines. A wet coat of bright green paint was being dabbed onto the fences,though it would struggle to match the crisp green of the newly laid astro-turf at the MHA hockey stadium,or the freshness of the first dozen players who reported for their first training session prior to the WSH under Andrew Meredith at their home turf for the next few weeks. “It’s a unique product,and there’s nothing like this in the world. This could be a world-changer,involving local communities in supporting hockey and has great potential as an event. It could become a strong local competition and a great building platform for juniors,” the 40-year-old said.
Assistant coach with the World Cup and Beijing Olympic champions Germany,Meredith,refused to be drawn into saying anything that would add fuel to perenially burning forest fire in India,saying he had not much beyond the sporting-aspect to speak of. He insisted,though,that there was no harm in India-players joining in with their WSH units after national duty. “I know several Dutch national team players who are playing in pro and semi-pro leagues across Europe right now,” he explained. How to get the incoming players like Mumbai star Yuvraj Walmiki and right flanker SV Sunil to gell into the team,will be a challenge for the coach.
Meredith first saw Walmiki in the German league and was suitably impressed by the youngster. “He has the potential to become a world-class striker. How he makes that transition,will be important,” the coach said,adding that in the short time that he’d work with this mix-nationalities group,he would bring in small tactical tricks to the table,without overloading the squad with too much theory in this 4-quarter WSH format (as against the two-halves standard). “We’re awaiting arrival of couple of South Africans o chalk out strategy,though this is yet an undefined system,” he said after the first two sessions with his group.
Meredith last saw the Indian team in the course of its World Cup campaign in New Delhi in 2010,and stresses that having India at the Olympics is imperative for the game. He mainatianed that like India coach Michael Nobbs said,the affinity between Indian and Australian hockey went a long way back. “We’ve seen the two sides in some great battles while I was growing up,though at that time,Australia used to be beaten more often than not. I remember the London 1986 World Cup,when things seemed to have changed,the tide turned. But we’re all hoping India get to the Olympics. It’ll be exciting since London has such a strong Indian-origin population,” he said.
Captain and custodian Adrian D’Souza added that the Marines were trying to quickly adapting to the new pitch of what has emerged as a world-class facility after playing the Bombay Championships last week. While he was aiming at making the semis,he also added that the four-quarters format would also aid players whose physique could not take the entire toll of a 35-minute half,and was great for rolling substitutions.
Adrian still going good: Ballal
Ashish Ballal was the Indian voice at the BHA instructing players around as assistant coach with Meredith,and on the sidelines of the first training session declared that Marines goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza still had a few years of hockey left in him. “He has special qualities. If he plays well here,who knows,he could stage a comeback,” the former India man under the bar,said.
Ballal expected the Indians to qualify for teh Olympics with few or no hiccups. “I don’t expect any tough matches here,” he said. Commenting on the yet-to-be tested back-4 defense,Ballal maintained that they were a world-class talented unit,though a clearer picture of how good the preparations were would reflect in how comprehensively they won against France.