Still a long way to gohttps://indianexpress.com/article/sports/hockey/still-a-long-way-to-go/

Still a long way to go

With less than three months for the WC, Indian Hockey team Coach Walsh says India lags in key areas.

Sardar Singh-led India will play the World Cup starting May 31.
Sardar Singh-led India will play the World Cup starting May 31.

Terry Walsh has sprung quite a few surprises in his selection of 33 probables for the World Cup. In an interview with The Indian Express, he discusses the reasons for including 16 U-23 players, recalling three veterans — Gurbaj Singh, Sandeep Singh and Vikram Kanth — and areas where the team needs to improve ahead of the World Cup in May. Excerpts:

Sixteen out of 33 probables are under 23 years old…
Having worked from inside the Hockey India League, we’ve been able to do a fair and decent assessment of the players. The young players performed really well against some of the top international players. It is an opportunity to put pressure on senior players who have been around for some time.

Three of them — Affan Yousuf, Lalit Upadhyay and Devinder Walmiki — were ignored for the junior World Cup. What has changed so drastically in their game that they are in probables for the senior World Cup?
That’s a question that you shouldn’t ask me. These are three very talented players. It’s amazing what happens when young players gets an opportunity. The question with Affan is whether he has potential to go to another level. He’s been given a shot at the camp. Now he has to prove he is one of the best at that level to stay there.

Akashdeep (Singh) is another one of those promising names. Young Lalit has come a long way and was incredible in HIL. Ramandeep had been disappointing right up until his last match of the HIL but lot of people tell me he is an outstanding prospect. They all follow different processes. Some have a lot to offer going forward to the international team. We don’t know how they will perform until we put them in a pressure-cooker environment. Our most difficult task is to create such an environment in the camp and see how they respond.

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Three others — Sandeep Singh, Gurbaj Singh and Vikram Kanth — have returned after a very long time. How do you rate them?
Those three guys have an outside chance (to make the cut). Gurbaj is one of the most outstanding players. When you perform at that level consistently and have hunger to play, then no one can keep you out for long. I think Gurbaj has the potential to be one of the best internationally if he is in the right frame of mind.

I saw Vikram play at the Mumbai Gold Cup and was very impressed. In the HIL, his defensive abilities against top opponents were noteworthy. He has shown he can play in different positions. Flexibility and playing different roles is his calling card just as penalty corners is Sandeep’s.

Does Sandeep have a chance to get selected for the Cup?
Right now you wouldn’t pick Sandeep in the back three but now is not the time we will be picking the team. He has a history of being very slow on his feet and there’s a lot of work to be done in that area. If he does that then he has a chance. I am not saying he will be in. His penalty corners are a very lethal weapon.

But Raghunath, Rupinderpal Singh and Gurjinder Singh have been quite effective drag-flickers as well…
They’ve been performing at different rates. Gurjinder was lively but not so strong during HIL. However, he was one of the players who stood up and played with authority in the junior World Cup. Raghu and Rupinder are top exponents of penalty corners not just in India but also in the world. Sandeep’s presence will put enormous amount of pressure, if nothing else, on the other three and make the atmosphere quite competitive. It will be quite a battle for that position.

When would you pick the team for the World Cup?
Around three weeks before the World Cup. We play in Holland in mid-April on the pitch (where World Cup matches will be played). We’ll play a series of tests against different teams. We need to get our team playing outside India against European teams. Given our pool, that’s a pretty important thing.

Between now and then, what are the areas the team needs to focus on?
We’ve got 12 weeks between the start of camp and the World Cup, which is more than adequate time. We have some major concerns that need fixing. Fitness is the key. The second is field goal conversion, which is really poor, because or poor technique which needs working on. Structurally, we’re poor in defense. The cover, or counter-control, is weak. We’re getting better but still not good enough. We have to be 30 per cent better than what we are now to be effective internationally. There are many more things that are not even on my radar at the moment.

Is there any scope of including players who do well at the nationals?
It’ll be both ways. The players who don’t produce at the camp will go out. And those who do well at nationals, play at a really high level and deserve an opportunity, will be given an opportunity.