New Delhi: Drop the guard and punch the living daylights out of rivals -- this would be the Indian boxing team`s mantra for success during the Asian Olympic Qualifiers as national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu feels the new system of scoring encourages pugilists to be more aggressive.
The event starting April 4 in Astana, Kazakhstan is Asian boxing`s final qualifying tournament for the London Games and 25 slots are up for grab in 10 weight categories. India has already bagged four slots -- L Devendro Singh (49kg), Jai Bhagwan (60kg), Manoj Kumar (64kg) and Vikas Krishan (69kg) -- during the first Olympic Qualifiers (last year`s World Championships in Azerbaijan).
After more than three months of training in Patiala, six Indians are ready for a shot at Olympic qualification and given the new scoring system, under which points earned are shown only after the end of a round instead of live updates, Sandhu said it is important that boxers keep the tempo high.
"They have been told to do away with the closed guard and land as many punches as possible to ensure that judges can see the aggression. Now it is all about the rate at which you land punches because the bouts have become very high scoring," Sandhu said on the eve of the team`s departure for Astana.
"The boys have also been told not to back-paddle too much as that is perceived to be a defensive tactic. They should not keep a shell guard. But as and when the situation demands, they should be able to adjust," he said.
Talking about India`s prospects in the tournament, the team`s Cuban coach Blas Iglesias Fernandes said at least two should book London berths.
"I am expecting a minimum of two, that would make it a very happy situation. If we come back with three, that would be just brilliant," said the bespectacled Cuban, who has been with the Indian boxers for more than a decade.
"The stress that comes with expectations is there but we have learnt to deal with it. The key lies in keeping the mind uncluttered," added Sandhu.
Among the boxers who are going for the Qualifiers is Olympic and World Championships bronze-medallist Vijender Singh, who lost in the opening round of his first bid to qualify for London. But with his middleweight category (75kg) having four slots up for grabs, he is likely to make the cut this time.
"All my boys, including Vijender, have trained hard and are in top form. I am sure he will qualify this time," said Sandhu. Another four slots are there to be taken in the 52kg, in which the Indian challenge would be presented by Suranjoy Singh, who has been keeping a low profile after a prolific 2010 in which he won seven gold medals.
"My category features really tough opponents as Asians dominate this division. The biggest challenge for me would come from Uzbekistan and Thailand. But I have worked hard on my footwork and have gone through the videos of my previous bouts to ensure that I don`t repeat the past mistakes," said the Manipuri, who got married in December last year.
Three slots each are there to be taken in both the 56kg and 81kg divisions. Two promising teenagers -- Shiva Thapa (56kg) and Sumit Sangwan (81kg) -- would not just have to make the semifinals but may have to fight it out in a play off bout to book their London tickets.
"It is the biggest chance of my life and I am going to give my 200 per cent to it. It`s a dream that I have waited to live and finally it`s here. I will keep myself calm and just focus on giving it my all," said the 18-year-old Shiva.
The 19-year-old Sumit was bubbling with similar enthusiasm and claimed to be in the peak of his form.
"I beat an established boxer like Olympian Dinesh Kumar in the trials and I can say with confidence that I am on a high. My form and fitness is at its best," said the imposing counter-puncher, who feels his height would work to his advantage in a heavy weight category. Asian Games silver medallist Manpreet Singh and Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Paramjeet Samota will vie for the the one slot each available in the 91kg and the +91kg respectively.
The Team: Suranjoy S Mayengbam (52kg), Shiva Thapa (56kg), Vijender Singh (75kg), Sumit Sangwan (81kg), Manpreet Singh (91kg), Paramjeet Samota (+91kg)
Support Staff: Gurbax S Sandhu (Coach), Blas Iglesias Fernandez (Coach), Kuttappa C Achaiah (Coach), Jaydev Bisht (Coach), Brig PK Muralidharan Raja (Team Manager), Hari Varma (Physiotherapist), Abhishek Chowdhery (Doctor).