Japan were no pushovers
The recent four-Test hockey series against Japan was used an opportunity by the Indian team to fine-tune their preparations for the second FIH Men’s Hockey World League semifinals to be held in Brasschaat, Belgium from June 20-July 5.
Going by the number 16 world ranking of Japan, one would have imagined the Test series to be bereft of ‘competitive flavour’, as the general line of thinking was that the national side, riding high after their bronze-medal finish in the 24th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, would ease through their fellow Asian opponents during the four-Test series.
But what unfolded at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar surprised many and left the national team with some crucial lessons to learn. The biggest reality check for the Indian team was that there are no free lunches in modern hockey and that world rankings can be made mockery of. Of course, hockey is fast spreading across the globe and every team irrespective of its FIH ranking is working on ways and means to get better. So to think of any side as a ‘pushover’ will be embracing peril, if not anything else.
Summary of the series
The message was loud and clear in the first Test – India allowed Japan to take the lead in the second quarter as the home side summoned desperate measures to equalise in the second half, settling for not so convincing 1-1 draw. Japan looked agile on the pitch, not giving enough open spaces for the Indian forwardline to dish out their craft, often leaving the strikeforce bemused. The second Test saw Japan frustrate India to no end even though India battled to a 2-0 lead.
One got the feeling that Japan would surprise many hockey fans in India – such was their tenacity and one can see that when they reduced the deficit in the closing stages of the third Test – not throwing in the towel even though India appeared to have the match in their bag with a cozy 2-0 lead.
To be honest, India played their best hockey in the fourth and final Test – a 2-0 half-time lead was far more comforting than the anxious moments they endured in their earlier games. Another brace in the second half clearly showed India raised their game by a few notches with their performance demanding an answer – why they could not dish out such a performance in the first three Tests?
Clearly, there were lessons to be learned from the four Test series. The Indian forwardline really needs to create more scoring chances and optimize them and also create penalty corners for their talented fullbacks. The midfield play left a lot to be desired with Sardar Singh looking well below his best. Overall, it was a patch performance from the Indians, who looked like running out of ideas when they moved forward or either appeared a tad tardy in passing the ball.
One hopes, the vital lessons from the Japan Test series will stand India in good stead for the upcoming second FIH Men’s Hockey World League Semifinals next month.