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Bhaskaran optimistic as India run into Aussies in Azlan Shah opener

Written by: Staff

Kuala Lumpur, June 17 (UNI) Vasudevan Bhaskaran's first real test after taking over as the new hockey coach begins tomorrow when India troop out for their Sultan Azlan Shah Cup opener against Olympic champions Australia at the Bukit Jalil hockey stadium here.

Out of the elite six, the champions Trophy, India have had a disastrous Commonwealth Games too where they failed to qualify for the semifinals. Appointed after the Commonwealth Games, Bhaskaran, a three-time previous national coach, will be trying to infuse new life in an Indian team that has for most of the last decade seen more defeats than victories.

Two consecutive victories against the Kiwis here in training games would have raised the confidence of the team but the players themselves know how things can change when the tournment kicks off tomorrow.

''I know there are expectations that we will do well at the Azlan Shah,'' said Bhaskaran, ''But the players do understand that we face Australia and the good part is that they are raring to get on with the match.

''We will try and keep the ball involved in the midfield for the first 15 minutes which should give enough time for the team to settle down and then it will be a free game with lots of flowing moves,'' he explained.

India may have won two practice matches against the Kiwis but the defence has shown signs of brittleness. Sandeep Singh has been scoring but the problem remains when it comes to his defensive skills.

''The positive side has been that we have brought down his errors to 40 per cent from a high of 80 per cent and that's encouraging,'' says Bhaskaran, adding ''But I have high expectations from Dilip Tirkey and Kanwalpreet Singh.'' Bhaskaran is confident about his forwards and the midfield.

''The forwards are combining well and playing in tandem with the midfield. Vikram Pillay has a thigh strain but we expect him to be fit,'' he said.

In the matches against the Kiwis, Gagan Ajit Singh, Rajpal Singh, Tushar Khandekar, Hari Prasad and Shivender Singh have all got a look in. Even Arjun Halappa, sometimes playing withdrawn has also shown a penchant to move up, giving that much solidity to the forwards. No wonder that Bhaskaran has been speaking to his players not to let go when into an attack mode.

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