Hockey stars bask in Azlan Shah glory

May 20th, 2008 - 7:42 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, May 20 (IANS) The young Indian hockey team, the runners-up at the Azlan Shah Cup tournament, basked in its glory on return home Tuesday. Tournament’s top-scorer Sandeep Singh, Diwakar Ram, Innocent Kullu, and Gurvinder, along with coach A.K. Bansal, were the most sought by cameramen and reporters as the team members called on Sports Minister M.S. Gill and Indian Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi, the ad-hoc committee chairman.

The hockey team had returned from Ipoh, Malaysia, in the early hours of Tuesday and the players were pleasantly surprised to find a sizeable turn-out of diehard fans at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Considering that the sport had been going through one of its worst phases in the wake of the team’s failure to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, makes the Ipoh achievement sweeter. It came at a time when the federation was superseded following a TV sting operation that showed the secretary-general of the national hockey federation accepting cash for selecting a little-known player.

“I just told the boys not to think about the happenings back home and focus on their game. We did not allow the boys to get affected by the controversies,” coach Bansal told IANS.

“The team was mostly of juniors and after we lost the first two matches, I told them that the time to prove themselves has come and they have to grab the opportunity,” he said.

Bansal, who himself had gone with the senior national side for the first time, got a jolt when three players, including captain Tushar Khandekar, and team observer Joaquim Carvalho and manager R.K. Shetty returned home from Australia instead of proceeding to Ipoh.

“There was a lot of pressure on me. It was a challenging task to perform in such a situation. The turning point was the victory against Pakistan, which gave the team the confidence that they could even win the cup,” he said.

Comeback man Sandeep, the tournament’s top-scorer with nine goals, said he had put in a lot of hard work while he was out of the India squad.

“I have done a lot of training and that has helped me to do well. I was waiting for this chance and I knew I will have to make full use of it,” he said.

Coach Bansal was all praise for Sandeep.

“He has improved tremendously. His accuracy is marvellous and the most important thing is that he has worked on his defence too,” he said.

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