Azlan Shah Cup stepping stone to India's hockey fortunes: Bansal

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New Delhi, May 20 (UNI) Marking it as the first step towards the revival of hockey in India, coach Ajay Kumar Bansal today hailed drag flicker Sandeep Singh's performance in the Azlan Shah tournament and termed the victory over arch-rivals Pakistan the turning point for his boys in Malaysia.

Talking to mediapersons here this morning, Bansal said, ''It is just the first step and we have everything to learn from here on.

''I believe our efforts bore fruit at the right time and the victory over Pakistan was the turning point for us in the tournament,'' said Bansal who started his national coaching career from the same tournament in 2000.

The Indian team which arrived here last night was present at the IOA president and ad hoc committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi's residence today in the morning.

Bansal further added that Sandeep Singh, who emerged as the leading goal scorer for India, has great potential and has climbed two steps further from the promise that Jugraj Singh showed some years ago.

''Jugaraj Singh showed great potential in him but unfortunately he met with an accident and I think Sandeep has moved steps beyond him which he proved in the Azlan Shah tournament,'' Bansal said.

However, Bansal rued the absence of striker Tushar Khandekar and said another forward like him in company of Sandeep Singh could have won India a gold in the seven-nation tournament.

''Now we just need a good forward player and had Tushar been there we could have won laid our hands on the gold medal,'' Bansal noted.

Bansal, who was appointed chief national coach for the first time, further added that the performance in Azlan Shah Cup will definitely help to boost the confidence of the junior players who comprised the core of this team.

''The exposure of playing against some of the better teams and the confidence of winning the silver will definitely help them in the World Cup and the junior Asia Cup later this year,'' Bansal conceded.

The coach pointed out the contributions from the support staff and said their time-to-time inputs helped the team to perform better after India were handed two successive defeats in their opening two matches.

''Ric's inputs along with some timely advice from the experienced Pargat Singh really helped the boys in a great way,'' Bansal said.

UNI RAR AB KN1220

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