‘Our players are younger, fitter now... they play with passion’

India captain and midfield pivot Sardar Singh reached the milestone of 150 matches in style, guiding the team to the semi-finals of Champions Trophy. India face world champions and hosts Australia in the last-four, but whatever the result, the new-look team under Sardar has made remarkable progress in only a few months after the disastrous show at the Olympics in London. Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone from Melbourne, Sardar said better fitness, execution of plans and a set of young and hungry players was behind this turnaround. Excerpts.

Your 150th international appearance yesterday also saw the team winning a crucial match against Belgium. And you were also shortlisted for the 'World Player of the Year' award. What did it mean to you?

It's an incredible feeling. Not just playing my 150th game but also helping India reach the semi-finals. Also, being picked among the top five players is an honour, lets see who gets selected tomorrow. Speaking of the landmark, it has given me a lot of satisfaction, while the win gave the entire team much-needed confidence and self-belief.

At the London Olympics, India just couldn't win, while at the Champions Trophy the team have won three matches, and that too with young players. How has this turnaround come about?

Our poor show at the Olympics was down to three facts: poor man-to-man marking, ball-trapping and lack of aggression. We worked hard on it in the last one and half months and you can see the results. We have been much better in those areas here. Our players are younger and fitter, aur unke andar jazba hai (they are full of passion). They are so aggressive, in fact, that, because of inexperience, it's becoming a slight cause of concern, because we are picking up too many green cards. At the international level, we can't afford to do that. So I hope they will cut down on their mistakes without cutting down on their aggression.

... contd.

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