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Coach Gregg Clark was looking behind the advertising hoardings and Baljit Singh Saini was searching underneath the dugout bench as the support staff hunted for a lost ball after Wednesday's practice session with some urgency. "We don't miss them in practice," said assistant coach BJ Cariappa. "We only miss them in matches."
The remark, more in jest than it was caustic, summed up the mood in the camp. A day after being knocked out of the Hockey Junior World Cup quarterfinal race following a 3-3 draw with Korea, there weren't slumped shoulders or long faces. Quite to the contrary, the players, who were in tears after the match on Tuesday, oozed joie de vivre as 20-year-olds do.
During their light training ahead of Thursday's 9-12th place qualification match against Argentina, the players were in a mood more cheerful than they have been in during such sessions over the last two week or so. They played a bit of what was a variation of rugby to warm up before proceeding to some penalty stroke and penalty corner practice.
For the first time in the tournament, it was palpable they were playing for fun. The result had knocked them out all right, but it also seemed to have liberated them.
Take for example Sushant Tirkey.
In the first two matches, India went ahead with Harjot Singh, the number one junior goalkeeper. However, for Tuesday's must-win game against Korea, the think tank opted to play Tirkey under the bar.
Tirkey, even though a talented goalkeeper, has a suspect temperament when it comes to handling big-match pressure. During the India U-21 team's tour of Europe earlier this summer, he let in nine goals against Belgium and later admitted to have panicked on the field.
Against Korea, he was beaten on the near side, on the far side and though the legs by dragflicker Seungju You. To blame Tirkey may also mean taking some credit away from the tournament top-scorer You (seven goals), but then the Indian goalkeeper allowed himself to be out-thought very easily.