Rebuilding blocks fall into place
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India ended their Champions Trophy campaign with back-to-back losses — to Australia in the semi-final and Pakistan in the bronze medal play-off match. A podium finish would've been really nice, especially after the Olympic disappointment, but a fourth place, perhaps, summed up the post-London rebuilding in a more realistic manner: that is, progress has been made, but the road to redemption is long and winding.
Among the positives, the foremost was India's young back-line that included vice-captain VR Raghunath, Rupinderpal Singh and goalkeeper PT Rao. The trio played a crucial role in the quarterfinal against Belgium as India, leading 1-0, repelled repeated forays into their circle and thwarted no less than six penalty corners to make the last four.
In hindsight, their performance also justified dropping Sandeep Singh from the team. When the team was picked for the twin tournaments Down Under, Sandeep was one of the seven players from the Olympics team that were ignored.
A Hockey India source had suggested at that time that the prolific drag-flicker was sometimes a liability in defence. It was gamble to leave out their ace penalty corner specialist, but India chose safety first, and it paid off. And as result, Sandeep finds himself not in the squad but on the standbys list for the Asian Champions Trophy beginning in Qatar on December 20. Besides the defence, India's young forwards also stepped up, with Gurwinder Chandi, Danish Mujtaba and Nitin Thimmaiah hardly ever making Shivendra Singh and Tushar Khandker's absence felt.
But there are areas that the team need to improve on. Against Pakistan, India's poor finishing came back to haunt them as they failed to trap the ball properly in the striking circle. They also picked up a lot of green cards, something the young team will learn to avoid with experience.
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