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Indian hockey review : Hockey world Cup 2010

How many Penalty corners will we miss,
Before we finally score from one,
Yes n’ how many times will we lose the ball,
Before we can trap it?
Yes n’ how many times will we miss sitters,
Before we score a goal?
Yes n’ how many times will we lose a match
Before we win any,
Yes n’ how many times will we lose tournaments
Before we regain our lost glory?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Sorry for that torturous parody of the great song Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan. But I couldn’t control myself after looking at Team India’s performance in the World Cup! Which, in many ways, was a parody of our lost glorious days. The Indian team has settled for 8th place in the World Cup. It’s time to do a post-mortem and deep introspection of the performance of the Indian team now.

World Cup hockey 2010

World Cup hockey 2010

Another tournament has ended, another disastrous performance has been turned in, another dream has been broken, and yet again hockey lovers have been given their regular dose of frustration. But such has been the story of our hockey team over the past couple or more decades.
Let us first address a few basic questions that have cropped up after the team’s dismal performance at the World Cup. Does India really deserve to play at the world level? Do we have sufficient talent pool to regain our last glory? What, if any, tactical blunders is the team making?

First things first: India is ranked #12 in the FIH rankings so I think we deserve to get the chance to play at the highest levels. But as far as talent pool is concerned, the situation is not encouraging. Also, it’s high time we adapt ourselves to the modern game and avoid unnecessarily burdening ourselves with the expectations and shackles born out of our past successes.

After the initial success over arch-rivals Pakistan in the opening game the whole nation went into a frenzy. So much so that there were knee-jerk reactions like announcements of cash prizes from all quarters; people behaved as though we had won the World Cup already. Then in the next game the Aussies put on a masterclass performance and all the euphoria died down. We were shown our real place in world hockey in the games against Australia & Spain. It was only a matter of time before we were out of the running for the semifinal spot.

But the question we should ask ourselves is – did we really deserve a place in the semi final? You can’t expect a team that goes on a strike just a few weeks before the tournament to perform well. Also, no serious connoisseur of hockey can expect a team ranked No. 12 in the world to lift a tournament as prestigious as the World Cup. The game against Pakistan was not a flash in the pan; Pakistan have played far poorer than us and are lying at the bottom now. So that game only reflected the reality, although it must be said that credit should be given to Pakistan for defeating Spain.

Looking at our previous performances in preceding World Cups, we can surely take solace in the fact that our standing has improved from 11th to 10th to 9th at the Mochendangblach, Kuala Lumpur & Utrecht World Cups respectively. It is a sure sign of improvement. And we should remember that the team played with lot of constraints like lack of co-ordination & the strike just before the World Cup. So looking at the performance objectively and taking into consideration our ranking any serious follower of hockey will remark that the performance of Team India was fair enough.

Having said that there is lot of scope for improvement; India had an outside chance to make it to the semis because Pool B was thrown wide open by the early defeats suffered by Australia & Spain. In all I can identify 7 Deadly Sins committed by the Indian team in the tournament:-

1. Poor Basics like inadequate trapping of the ball. Our trapping of the ball was horrendous especially by Sandeep Singh who gave away a lot of loose balls which caused lapses in the defense and goals being conceded.

2. Poor penalty corner conversion. Our conversion rate was not even 30% which is criminal in modern hockey. Also, basic trapping of ball while taking penalty corners was horrible to say the least.

3. Holding the ball for too long. When there was a need to release the ball we just weren’t doing that quickly enough.

4. The defense was not moving up and as a result there were gaps in the back and midfield. There was no real pressure on the forwards of the opposition team.

5. Inability to mark the last man of the opposition team while on the defense. This cost us many opening goals; actually, all the goals scored by opposition against us right from the Australia match till the match against South Africa were on account of the lapses and lethargic moves of our defense.

6. Playing mindless centers outside the “D”. There were many instances of hitting the ball hard in the “D” from all around the field; the players just kept hoping that the powerful hit would kiss the opposition defenders’ feet which would result in a penalty corner. But in modern hockey it’s rare for players to get deceived by such tactics – in most cases the opposition players were smart enough to trap the ball and in the process we lost the possession over the ball which turned out to be crucial.

7. Last but not the least, the finishing process as a whole. We made enough circle penetrations in the opposition’s “D” but were simply not able to score goals. In sharp contrast to our team, teams like Australia, Spain & England made almost all penetrations change the score line. We lost many sitters; at times only a gentle push towards the goal past was needed and yet we couldn’t finish. This certainly is unpardonable and was a big reason for why we were shown the door.
What is interesting to note is that the above-mentioned problem has been our bane since the last decade or so and we still haven’t learn from our past mistakes. This fact certainly adds to the frustration of hockey lovers. If India wants to be a world class team again it certainly can’t falter over the basics and play like a bunch of school boys.

All said and done, however, all is not lost for Team India. Gurbaj Singh’s performance was like an oasis in the desert. He is certainly the find of the tournament. Also our midfield is playing pretty well but they have to be more consistent. And who can forget the support of the spectators who kept crowding the stadium, sometimes even purchasing tickets in black! Doordashan & TEN Sports recorded the highest TRP ratings of matches – the match against Pakistan got a rating of 8.9 which is on par with any cricket final (The recent Sri Lanka v/s India cricket match final attracted a rating of only 3.4 or so!).

The Indian team should take positives from this tournament and should look ahead at the Commonwealth Games in October. The support that they are getting is enough to show that hockey is still not dead in India.
In conclusion, I have to say that we should have a sense of perspective while judging a team; miracles cannot happen overnight. We should give some time to hockey to rebuild itself. We should not unnecessarily burden ourselves with past glory; instead, we should let bygones be bygones. The administrators would do well to avoid knee-jerk reactions to any result, and grass root development of our national sport is of the essence. Above all, the Indian players should try to play like international players and not like school kids making basic mistakes which can cost them dearly. We fully deserve the low ranking that we were left with at the end of the tournament. Overall it was an okay performance by Team India. The way ahead, however, is full of golden opportunities and if we miss them then posterity will never forgive us.

LONG LIVE INDIAN HOCKEY!!!

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