Rome was not built in a day. Likewise, India ruled hockey before dropping down the pecking order. It will take sometime to catch up with the world’s best and the boys just need to keep on improving like they have shown in the last two years. — 1975 World Cup-winning captain Ajit Pal.
Hockey greats Balbir Singh (Sr) and Ajit Pal Singh hailed India’s Asian Games gold medal-winning effort but felt the players still have a mountain to climb to succeed at the World and Olympic level. “It was an excellent effort by the boys and they deserve this memorable win. It is a great morale booster for them ahead of the Rio Olympics. Having said that, India still need to improve drastically if they are to do well in world hockey,” Balbir, a triple Olympic gold medallist, told PTI after India beat Pakistan to win the top prize in Asian after 16 years.
The 89-year-old legend said anything less than gold would have been a disappointing result, considering the competition in the quadrennial event. “I had a feeling before the competition that we will win. Pakistan are not the side they used to be and Korea’s level has also dropped,” reckoned Balbir. The 1975 World Cup-winning captain Ajit Pal said Indian hockey needed this victory badly. “A major improvement is required in trapping, defence and marking”.
“This win has come after a long time and will help people reconnect with the game. I think the boys thoroughly deserved the win. Barring the first quarter which Pakistan dominated, India were the better team. The boys looked very comfortable on the field and made it look easy even in the shoot-out. It will give them lot of confidence for the future,” said Ajit Pal.
Watching the game on television, Balbir was happy to see the improvement in players’ fitness. “Today I saw a marked improvement in their fitness. The boys maintained the intensity for entire 60 minutes. However, they can’t be making the mistakes against top teams like Australia, Netherlands and Germany,” he said referring to India’s missed chances in the final. “The goal S V Sunil missed in the first quarter is something he should have easily put inside the goal. A major improvement is required in trapping, defence and marking. Unless we trap the well, we won’t be able create chances on the field. Marking too has to improve against the top teams that have such well built players,” said Balbir, who was part of the team which won India’s first Asian Games gold in 1966 when they beat Pakistan 1-0.
On the goalkeeping front, Balbir said India can’t only depend on P R Sreejesh but “he doesn’t see anyone matching his level”. Looking ahead, 67-year-old Ajit Pal said India must build on the rare success they got today. “Rome was not built in a day. Likewise, India ruled hockey before dropping down the pecking order. It will take sometime to catch up with the world’s best and the boys just need to keep on improving like they have shown in the last two years,” added Ajit Pal.
Gurbux Singh, who was vice-captain of the side that won gold in 1966, said with the win will help India concentrate better on the Olympics. “A gold medal in hockey at any international event is special. Now that we have qualified for Rio, the boys would be relieved,” he said. The former Olympian further said India should aim for the last four berth in Olympics, which will be quite an achievement considering they have never made the semis in a world event since their World Cup triumph in 1975 and an Olympic gold in 1980 when no big teams turned up. “Being the Asian champions now is a great incentive to focus on Olympics. We have more than a year’s time. We have to work very, very hard to make at least last four.”