How do you assess the Indian squad?
Every player is very young, and the younger generation has taken over Indian hockey now. Sardar (Singh) is the most senior player, but other than him the rest are very junior. But hockey has changed now. It has become a power game. Skillful hockey is very rare. There are only one or two players in this Indian team that can show their skills. However, I am confident. This team has very worked hard. (Roelant) Oltmans has been there as the high-performance director for the last 14-15 months, observing the younger talent. It's a good sign, no doubt.
But if you ask me personally as an international player, in the last six to eight months after Terry Walsh took over, the results have not come. Maybe he was working on it, experimenting on strategies, gameplans and formation. But you should now stop everything and concentrate on the World Cup. The time has come now to show your strength, and show how confident you are.
Any omissions in the team that you think would've added more strength to the team?
Sandeep Singh. He was the highest-scorer in the Hockey India League two months ago. As a player, and as a defender also, he has proved that he has improved in his tackling. Somewhere I feel that the federation should have considered him for this World Cup. Other than that, injuries have struck the team (Ramandeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah). But two talented players have replaced them, Yuvraj Walmiki and Lalit Upadhyay. The two are very young, and Yuvraj is also very experienced. He's been there in the team for many years and I've also coached him. So I think he should prove himself now.
Walsh thinks a top-eight finish would be a realistic target. Your thoughts...
I think that we can finish in the top six. He has underestimated the team by laying down a top-eight target. Any Indian national or club level coach can make this team reach the top eight. Walsh and Oltmans are getting paid handsomely by the government of India. I think it's time for them to repay the money and deliver results. He (Walsh) has been talking a lot about preparations, process and all that. But now, time has come to show what you have done with the team.
We have Belgium, England, Spain, Malaysia and Australia in our group. How do you see us faring against these teams?
If I were the coach, I would be targeting three wins, and building my strategies around that. Belgium is not such a great team and we are playing them first. So we should look to earn three points in the first match itself. Then we play England, who have improved a lot over the past five years and have some of the best players in the world. Next is Spain, a team ranked below us who we should beat. Malaysia again is a good team but if we strategise well and play to our strengths, we can beat them too. Finally, if you think you just can't beat Australia, then play for a draw. Pack your defence and ensure no goal is scored. You can keep one or two forwards and counter-attack, but the focus should be on defence.
Finally, as someone who has played four World Cups, what would your advice be to the boys?
I urge the players not to be individualistic. If there is half a chance (to score a goal) and you're not in a position to score, pass the ball to your teammate. Don't try and be a hero. Play collectively. The result of the Indian team is more important than your own personal results.
I wish the team the best. I will tell them to leave whatever is happening back home behind now. Just give your best in these 15 days. Remember that you are representing your country and you are all ambassadors of your nation.