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WCQ: Coach A.K. Bansal on Test (2/22/2001)
--K. Arumugam

Burstling youngsters: Eighteen of our Indianroos are all set to stake their claim for the World Cup ticket. Led by Manipur's Tingonleima Chanu, who was recently decorated with the government's sporting acclaim 'Arjuna', the girls would leave our shores on 12th evening for Amiens in France to take part in the much awaited World Cup Qualifier. At such a time the possibility of Brazil's exit from the World Cup football hogs the limelight world over, the women event may have been dwarfed in terms of publicity nevertheless it is as significant to any discerning hockey fan as would football to many. More so for Indian girls who wish to carve a niche in the hockey map.

Ever since the newcomer to women's domain A.K. Bansal took over the reins of coaching, the things started looking bright. Under-rated and under-valued, he took team of his vision to the land of Mandy Smith three months ago. Despite enlisting five girls from the team that did duty at the Buenos Aires Junior World Cup against one in the rank of the rivals, Bansal's angels bounced back in the series after losing the first two. The last two Tests were drawn for a 2-2 tie, a great achievment for the visitors and a huge embarassment for the host, who are ranked five in the world against 'rankless' India. Indian media let the great show go unnoticed, but the girls gained enormous confidence in themselves. The tour, first for the coach in the girls spectrum and the one that came after two years gap, proved to be a great motivator.

PLENTIFUL PENETRATORS: The selectors did one right thing when went for their job on the eve of team selection last month. By and large, they struck to the winning combination and stood by the opinion of the coach. As a result, only three faces had been replaced from the one that visited the Kiwiland. The axed are Annu Kumari, goalie Suman Dashwal and Pushpa Pradhan. In any case Suman was to go as she was taken in as the second goalie Helen Mary was injured then. Colt Annu Kumari lost out to another newcomer Kanti Baa. Even on macroscopic level, the team marks continuity unlike in the male's domain. Eleven players from the last Asia Cup and Olympic Qualifiers are here.

The team has an exciting frontline. Except Adline Kerketta, and to some extent Mamta Kharab, others have adequate experience. This is not the case with respect to any other layer - midfield or defence.

Surinder Kaur and Sanggai Ibemhal Chanu, grommed to be our main strikers, are full of poise, potential and skill. If the Haryana's hurricane Surinder has acquired a great name for her as a thrustful forward in the mould of Huiping of China since making her dubut four years ago during the South African tour, her age-sake Ibemhal, a jewel from Manipur, was the heroine of the New Zealand tour this year. The duo can wreck any fortified defence. I assure the uninitiated souls that the duo will be the `talked about stars' at Amiens. With rock steady Jyothi Sunita Kullu, one of the rare players in the team who had not missed any tour in the last four years, to pep up the attack, goals won't be in short supply in India's quest for the the Cup berth. Nippy Neha Singh, who carries the pedigree of Dhyan Chand, and Surajlata Devi at the left wing complete the forward line. A great strength here is age-less Majinder Kaur, lanky right-in. It's eleventh year in running for the pugnacious Punjabi who despite many adminos advocating her removal rode back to the team on the strength of seniority and stellar show she put up at the latest Inter-Railways tournament. She lends the solidity to the attack. Her experience is one vital thing that would channalise the energises of others in the attack

MID-FIELD MAESTRO: The mid-field revolves around the fulcrum of Sita Gossain. The Himachali does not need any introduction. She is Rechelle Hawkes of India. This alone should suffice her personification. The most capped Indian in the team have been marshalling the midfield admirably more than a decade. Having led India in many tournaments including Commonwealth Games and being our sole representative in the World XI that engaged Australia at the 75th FIH Congress, her astute distribution of ball is one thing that will lay foundation to many moves upfront. Anyone who followed her game would vouchsafe the degree of maturity the forward-turned-midifield had obtained over the years. Like Rajbir Roy of yore, she excels both at pivotal and upward positions. Up and coming Agnacia Lugun, considered by many as the most exciting player to grace the grounds in the current year on her side, the rivals will have to put in extra efforts to get past the duo. The ladies team has no problem with goalkeeping, a great bug-bear in men's domain. Eversince former coach M.K. Kaushi boldly introduced Tingonleima in place of Nita Thumre and later Air-India's Sybil D'Mellow, nay Miranda, she has been going great guns.

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