London: Seasoned defender Ignace Tirkey's sprained ankle and star mid-fielder Sardara Singh's injured shin has left the Indian hockey team management worried ahead of the Olympic Games starting July 27. (Agencies)
Injuries sustained by star midfielder Sardara, by far the most outstanding Indian player in recent times, and defender Ignace during the practice matches in Spain have kept the duo away from the turf for an entire week.
The team's medical staff is working overtime to help Sardara back on his feet after a crushing blow on his shin from close range.
Ignace's ankle sprain nearly saw India lose the most experienced player in the squad, but after a week of limping, he stepped back on to the pitch for a training session last evening, to the delight of the fellow players.
"We had a bad time with these two key players injured, but luckily they have shown good signs of recovery and should be back in good shape ahead of our first Olympic Games outing," coach Michael Nobbs told media.
Nobbs said Sardara was unlucky to have been smacked on the leg from very close range during India's first match of the Spanish tour, after which he did not feature in any game.
Ignace, on the other hand, had to sit out of three matches after spraining his ankle in a match against South Africa during the European tour before arriving in London.
"These two players have a crucial role to play for India and we were obviously concerned with the injuries, but they are getting back into shape," said Nobbs.
Their workout will be increased gradually as India move closer to their opening match against multiple Olympic champions The Netherlands on July 30. The team management is heaving a sigh of relief watching the recovery of the key cogs in the Indian squad.
Sardara, the central midfielder, plays the crucial role of a game-maker and also falls back to bolster the defence, while Ignace's composure is of vital importance in the deep defence.
"We have to learn to have Ignace on the pitch in the last 10 minutes of each session when pressure mounts on our defence," said Nobbs. "Ignace's experience and composure can play a very important role out there."
"And Sardara, of course, is an outstanding world-class player," said Nobbs.
"What is important is that they are in high spirits, and are slowly going to get back into their rhythm," the coach said.
Ignace is one of the two Indian players who have previously played in the Olympics Games, having done so at Athens in 2004. Penalty corner ace Sandeep Singh is the only other player in this Indian team to have featured in the Olympics.
This is because the Indian team, eight-time Olympic Games gold medallists, failed to qualify for the 2008 Games in Beijing.
That was the first time that India did not feature in the Olympic line-up.
Winning their Olympic qualifiers event, India are now back in the frame at London, where they won the 1948 Games hockey gold medal -– the first sporting achievement of a team after independence.
London: Seasoned defender Ignace Tirkey's sprained ankle and star mid-fielder Sardara Singh's injured shin has left the Indian hockey team management worried ahead of the Olympic Games starting July 27.