Mumbai: Former India hockey captain Zafar Iqbal does not see the national team ending its three-decade old medal drought at the London Olympics this year, but is of the opinion that a semi final berth would be a great achievement for the eight-time champions.
"Realistic chance (of India winning a medal in the July-August Games in London) is not there...there is no doubt about that. You can`t jump from low ranking to the medals straightaway.”
"You can try to improve the ranking to 5 or 6. If they can try and qualify for the semi final, then it will be a big achievement," the two-time Olympian, who was a member of the gold medal-winning Indian men`s team at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, told reporters.
India have not achieved a podium finish after the Summer Games in Moscow 32 years ago. The country, in fact, missed the last Olympics at Beijing by failing to qualify for the first time in their long and successful history before making amends by qualifying for the upcoming London Games through the pre-Olympic event held at Delhi last month.
The 55-year-old former left winger hailed current national coach Michael Nobbs, an Australian, as the perfect pick for coaching the Indian team when asked to compare him with his predecessor Jose Brasa.
"Brasa is a European (Spaniard). They (European hockey players) have a different style of play as compared to Australia. Australia learnt (hockey) from us when they (Anglo Indians) migrated to Australia after the partition (of the subcontinent)," said Zafar, who led India to the silver medal in the 1982 Asian Games at Delhi and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where they narrowly missed the semi-final spot.
"They (Australia ) still believe that Indian players are very good and they should play Indian hockey rather than defensive hockey. I would say he (Nobbs) is the right person, but he should have the right talent also like Sardara or Sandeep Singh. He should have 10-12 players of that caliber to keep the winning streak intact," Zafar said.
He did not see the likely return of former captains Rajpal Singh and Arjun Halappa into the squad for the London Games after having been omitted in the 48-strong probables` list by Hockey India`s selection panel.
"I don`t know how they can be considered now (for the Olympics) as they have not been considered for the camp. They are playing the World Series Hockey. It will be difficult (to see them making a comeback)," said Zafar who was here, along with senior India cricketer V V S Laxman, to distribute prizes after the conclusion of the Public Sector T20 tournament.
Zafar, while welcoming the cash-rich WSH floated jointly by the Indian Hockey Federation and Nimbus Sport, is sad that the feud between rival hockey bodies - Hockey India and the IHF - is yet to be resolved despite the Sports Ministry`s efforts and was of the opinion that it was a cancerous growth that needed to be resolved at any cost.
"World Series Hockey is a boost to Indian hockey, no doubt about that. It offers (significant) monetary benefits to players too; its helping the players get some money for 30-35 days they are playing (the league). Its a great booster to them too. Its a good beginning, I would say.”
"But I don`t know (its future). The two rival bodies, Hockey India and the Indian Hockey Federation are feuding. Its like a cancer in the body and has to be removed at any cost as otherwise whatever medicine you are giving is going to harm the body. The government is trying very hard," he added.