India working extra time in fine-tuning penalty corners: Michael Nobbs
London: The Indian hockey team is working extra time to fine-tune the penalty corner drills ahead of the London Olympics as chief coach Michael Nobbs feels the fate of the competition will be decided by which team fires in more short corners.
"Forget the hockey, the Olympics competition here will be decided by penalty corners," said Nobbs, aware that in Sandeep Singh he possesses a potent weapon in executing penalty corners.
"The game here will be who gets in how many penalty corners, and we obviously want to join the goal fest," the Australian said.
Nobbs said the current Indian team`s penalty corner conversion rate was normally over 50 per cent, but he is keen to improve that further.
He said penalty corner specialists Sandeep and V R Raghunath were both capable of putting the ball through the best of rivals defences.
"Our general game plan is looking good. Raghunath`s good form is allowing us to rotate him with Sandeep and make sure one of them is on the pitch at any given time," said Nobbs.
He said this would enable Sandeep to get some time off the pitch and keep him energised for the entire duration of the tournament.
Sandeep`s penalty corner conversion spree in the Olympic qualifying competition in New Delhi saw India post a runway victory over France to secure passage to the London Olympics.
This marked India`s return to the Olympics after missing out on the 2008 Games in Beijing.
India`s absence from the Beijing Games was a big disappointment for the followers of the national sport in which the dazzling stickwork of yesteryears fetched the country six successive Olympic gold medals from 1928 to 1956.
After losing in the final of 1960, India reclaimed the gold in 1964, but had to wait for 16 years until winning it again in the boycott-hit Moscow Olympics of 1980.
Since then, India has failed to make the Olympic hockey semifinals.
India`s ranking has slumped, but Nobbs says the current Indian team is capable of causing a few surprises here in London.
"The boys are in high spirits and in good shape for the tournament. They know their responsibilty towards the team and the nation," the coach said.
Nobbs said he expected the team to give an impressive performance, which should spur Indian hockey.
In a rolling substitution scenario, the availability of different players to perform the roles becomes quite useful, the coach said, asserting that the effect of a penalty corner shooter of Sandeep`s calibre was enormous.
Nobbs said he was not unduly worried about India`s penalty corner conversion rate in the just-concluded tour of Spain.
India could only score three goals from 33 penalty corners in Spain, which could be the reason for the resultant extra focus on penalty corners.
"The penalty corner scoring rate in Spain was dismal, but then it was the case with all teams," said Nobbs.
"We were not the only ones affected, and it was caused by a series on things. The pitch was very slow and that effected the speed of the ball from the push-in.
"On the slow turn, the timing was different. Because of the slow nature of the turf, Sandeep was getting to the ball marginally slower and that upset the whole rhythm," he added.
Nobbs said the ball would travel faster on the pitch at the Riverbank Arena here, where hockey would be played during the Olympics.
The new blue turf at the Olympic venue was dubbed slippery and bouncy by all coaches then, but Nobbs said it seemed to be less slippery from what the Indian players experienced during practice over the weekend.